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What's it like to work at Amazon?*

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What's it like to work at Amazon?*


*according to the New York Times

In a long exposé published on Sunday, the New York Times investigated, based on a large number interviews, some of the controversial work practices at online retailer Amazon’s HQ in Seattle. The report concerns mostly the working conditions of white collars workers, pushed to their limits.

Of course, the tough environment at the firm’s distribution warehouses has been reported on a number of times, for example in the US and the UK but the New York Times looks at the situation for some of the senior figures, many earning giant salaries at the company’s headquarters.

It’s worth noting for context, that the New York Times’ main competitor is the Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Here are some of the controversial working practices in place at Amazon:

Secret feedback system

Employees are instructed to send secret feedback to the management, which is reportedly used to sabotage others, including via a tool called the “Anytime Feedback Tool”. This creates according to the Times “rivers of intrigues and scheming”: people being sunk or elevated by groups of others. At times, anonymous feedback from co-workers ended up in the employee’s performance review.

Laminated 14 rules

White collar recruits have Amazon’s 14 principles on laminated cards. If one recruit memorized them all, he or she gets a virtual award.

Frugality above all

One of the 14 principles, frugality at Amazon must be embraced: employees often pay professional cellphones and travel expenses themselves. In one case a worker even paid herself for an outsourced data-entry job.

Very long hours

The NYT reports that some employes complained that “emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered.”

Unflaterring nickame

“If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot,” said one employee, using a term that means you have become at one with the system, reports the NYT.

Harsh ranking system

A review system forces managers to grade employees within quotas, based on their performance relative to peers. The practice means that that those outperformed by their co-workers can be pushed out irrespective of their own achievements.

Disagreement is key

Jeff Bezos believes that harmony is often overvalued in the workplace according to the NYT. So employes must “disagree and commit” (principle number 13) — or as the NYT puts it “to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision.”

“We always want to arrive at the right answer,” said Tony Galbato, vice president for human resources, in an email statement to the Times. “It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.”

Lack of empathy

The articles reports that employees with cancer, women who suffered a miscarriage, and other personal crises were criticised for their reduced performances and threatened to be put on “perfomance improvement plan,” the step before getting fired. Amazon disputes that this is company policy and has promised to prevent such incidents.

Amazon CEO reacts

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent out a memo on the issue, encouraging his employes to read the NYT article, as well as the response by a current “Amazonian”.

Bezos wrote, in a memo obtained by Geekwire : “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day … I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.”

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