Jeff Bezos hopes his minions are “having fun” and “laughing along the way.” The mega-billionaire said as much in a staff memo to address the accusations of widespread villainy and abuse in the ranks of Amazon’s best and brightest. “Dear Amazonians,” the memo begins. It should say: “Dear Amazombies.”
If you believe a single account in the recent New York Times investigation into the corporate culture at Amazon, you’ll have a hard time understanding the response from Bezos. It’s almost uncanny how Bezos manages to both refute and confirm reports of his company’s oppressive work environment. He acknowledges how the Times paints Amazon as a “soulless, dystopian workplace” with “shockingly callous membership practices,” while insisting:
The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at email@example.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.
The Amazon chief executive goes on to tell his employees exactly how they should feel about the news report. Furthermore, he adds, “anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay.” If the NYT’s version of Amazon is true, he seems to ask, why is anyone still working at Amazon?
Yet accusations that Amazon abuses its employees have been circulating in the press for years. We’re used to hearing horror stories from the warehouse floor, where pickers have worked in hundred-degrees temperatures until they pass out and fall into the back of an ambulance—among other travesties. We’ve also heard some rather disturbing tales about the “soul-crushing experience” of working in Amazon’s corporate offices. Over a year ago, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan published accounts of brutal bosses and high turnover at Amazon from white collar employees that line up eerily close to the Times report, which was culled from over 100 interviews with current and former employees. One employee told Gawker:
I worked for a manager that slept in his car on Sunday’s so he could be in the office bright and early for the weekly business review with top management. … My manager even stated that it wasn’t his job to help develop my career - it was mine. I was in the office 60 hours a week. I worked on Christmas almost every year I was there.
Another said that the average length of employment at Amazon was just 14 months. The Times cited a survey that put the average at one year. Well, no wonder—when the expectation is that employees work 80 hours a week and get criticised by bosses for having cancer. (True story.)
But Bezos says he was dumbfounded by this vision of his corporate culture—and, again, thinks that you shouldn’t work at his company if you think it’s a bad place to work. Apparently, many employees agree; that would certainly explain the company’s high turnover. Yet on CBS today, Amazon spokesperson Jay Carney explained the turnover rate, saying, “attrition, people leaving, cycling in and out of this company, is completely consistent with other major tech companies.”
That’s a Mobius strip of a justification that boils down to “if you don’t like it, you can leave.” If you have questions, you may contact Jeff Bezos directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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