‘The Greatest Place I Hate to Work’

Management Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: If recent investigative journalism is valid, Amazon’s overall culture makes me want to puke. While I admire the company’s passion for achieving exceptional customer value and their extraordinary execution based on data science, I believe there is something fundamentally wrong, perhaps even sinister about the application of their belief system. According to an intriguing article published in this Sunday’s New York Times, only 15 percent of Amazon’s 180,000 plus employees have been there for more than five years. Apparently, they proudly admit to being a “grind and spit you out” machine. 

“‘A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It’s the greatest place I hate to work,’ said John Rossman, a former executive there who published a book, The Amazon Way.

According to this NYT article, another employee quipped: “The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.”

I want to pull out a couple of excerpts from this extensive article to make a point: 

“At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’ The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: ‘I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.’)”

“Bo Olson lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. ‘You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,’ he said. ‘Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.’”

“Molly Jay, an early member of the Kindle team, said she received high ratings for years. But when she began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends, her status changed. She was blocked from transferring to a less pressure-filled job, she said, and her boss told her she was ‘a problem.’ As her father was dying, she took unpaid leave to care for him and never returned to Amazon.”

“In Amazon warehouses, employees are monitored by sophisticated electronic systems to ensure they are packing enough boxes every hour. (Amazon came under fire in 2011 when workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away laborers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, the company installed air-conditioning.)”

WOW!! My question is WHY have this kind of culture? Who says we have to grind the hell out of people, tear each other apart, and work until the waiting ambulance carries us out, in order to accomplish greatness? Frankly, I believe this thinking and leadership is based on incredible emotional ignorance, perverted leadership ego and a distorted sense of mission. (Perhaps the means would justify the end if the Amazon’s mission was finding a cure for cancer or some other truly noble cause)? Amazon likes data… Ok… Try this: The Great Place to Work (GPTW) survey is taken by thousands of companies and by more than 11 million workers globally. The top rated GPTW organizations develop cultures that are not perfect but they are places where people generally thrive. Independent financial analysts regularly study the financial performance of “100 Best” companies. Analysis shows publicly traded 100 Best Companies consistently outperform major stock indices by a factor of two. Great cultures that have a huge human dimension do drive extraordinary financial results. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Be a real leader and find a way to achieve “moon shots” and extraordinary results in a culture that reflects accountability, respect and abundance. I believe that a culture of short-term performance based on exploiting weakness, ill founded employee competition, and dog eat dog fear will ultimately implode.
  2. The greatest teams, organizations, other dynasties of sustainable true value, are renowned for their culture of teamwork, people deeply caring for each other, while working towards a purpose with exceptional meaning and positive contribution to humankind. Challenge the heck out of Amazon’s assumptions and ideas that take us in the other direction. Unless of course you want to be an “Amabot” and eventually experience that “ambulance ride.” 

Better in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: It should be noted that Bezos has since refuted these claims, making a statement that, “This 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.” Now, all that reveals is ONE certain truth: If Amazon REALLY is like that, the CEO (at least to save face publically) recognizes that it’s wrong… The “true” story is likely a very personal interpretation of what really happens at Amazon. But many U.S. Millennials, because of a slow economy, have learned put up with a bad situation. I’ve heard many stories of friends disliking their positions, (in some case crying in bathrooms), bad bosses, and just “sucking it up” the same way many of us once threw up during “two-a-days” during sports drills and didn’t quit the team. Check out the demands of investment banking interns on Wall Street, or starting schoolteachers. It might be muddy now, but is there promise for a “starting position” later? Do the future pros outweigh the current cons? There are dirty jobs out there that are underpaid and/or overly demanding. Regardless of all, the ONE thing that can’t be compromised is the way employees treat others and operate with their co-workers… Workload, hours, and pay not withstanding, the reason you don’t quit that tough team is because you are a “team,” a “work family,” getting through it together for future success. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis