Amazon Article Sparks Work-Life Debate

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This weekend, The New York Times published a lengthy report about working conditions for white-collar workers at Amazon.

Describing the e-commerce giant as a “bruising workplace,” the report paints a picture of a Darwinian environment in which data is used to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of workers, and where conflict and secrecy are the norm. One former employee told the Times that Amazon is a workplace “where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”

Within hours of the article’s release, Amazon pushed back hard. “The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes,” CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in an internal memo given to The Verge. “It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.” Midway through the memo, he encouraged employees encountering brutal behavior to either escalate to HR or share the story with jeff@amazon.com.

Bezos also included a link to a LinkedIn post from an Amazon employee, Nick Ciubotariu, who attempted to dispute the Times article almost point for point. “The Amazon described in this article may have existed, in the past,” that posting concluded. “Certainly, I’ve heard others refer to ‘how things used to be’ but it is definitely not the Amazon of today.”

In The Everything Store, a book-length account of Amazon by Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter Brad Stone, the Amazon of yesteryear is indeed described as an aggressive place in which Bezos pushed employees relentlessly. Is Ciubotariu right? Has Amazon evolved, or is it still the dystopian nightmare described by the Times article?

On Quora and Glassdoor, current employees suggest that the company presents its workers with interesting challenges, and that the culture is fast-paced. While there are complaints about the hours and workload, many don’t seem Amazon-specific: The world is filled with tech pros struggling to achieve work-life balance in the face of incredible goals on tight deadlines. Many cite issues with the company’s frugality—its lack of perks vis-à-vis Google or Microsoft—but for those tech pros hungry for a huge professional challenge, Amazon seems more than willing to deliver.

Image Credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

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