The recent article about Amazon’s employment practices that was published by The New York Times pictures a truly horrifying picture of a hell-like employer who strives to burn out employees for the sake of profits and success, irrespective of how it may impact the latter. The authors of the article claim that Jeff Bezos has instilled such a corporate culture that tolerates high turnover rates, instead focusing on increasing customers’ overall satisfaction and turning retained employees into robot-like workaholics with a perfectionist attitude to work. This article has become highly controversial, consequently resulting in thousands of comments and several response articles. The arguments presented by both sides can be deemed more or less reasonable and based on experience of real people. However, there is no reason to claim that described inhuman employment practices are currently the norm at Amazon even though they may have been present in the past. Based on the arguments described in various sources, it seems that all employment practices mentioned in the scandalous article are either an exaggeration or practices of the past abandoned because of their ineffectiveness. Even though present employment practices of Amazon may not be perfect for all employees, they do not differ much from the ones of other tech companies and comply with the industry’s norms.
Current Employment Practices at Amazon: Basic Facts
It is a well-known fact that employers cannot be perfect for all employees because of different expectations and experiences of the latter. All managers and human resource specialists are human beings just like ordinary employees, which is why errors cannot be ruled out from daily practice. However, the corporate culture governs basic employment practices and interpersonal relations between employees inside any company. Amazon’s culture is based on striving towards perfection and maximum satisfaction of customers’ expectations, which is often referred to as obsession with clients, as well as three other characteristics, including growth opportunities, “strong returns on capital”, and durability in time (Bezos). The latter characteristic also requires retention of talented personnel and their constant improvement so that the business is able to innovate and grow, while retaining existing and gaining new competitive advantages in a highly competitive market. However, Amazon has often been criticized for its harsh employment practices that are not suitable for all employees and are deemed responsible for a high turnover rate.
Thus, Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld from The New York Times have made a conclusion that Amazon is “a bruising workplace” where all employees are subjected to an experiment “in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions” (Kantor and Streitfeld). Prior to analyzing credibility about some obviously inhuman employment practices described by the above authors, it seems reasonable to point out some undisputed practices present at Amazon. First of all, the company holds regular orientations for new recruits and tells them about 14 leadership principles guiding everyday work. These principles have been acknowledged to play an instrumental role in the company’s success, but they can hardly be called a mystery as they are publicly available to anyone interested in reading them. Moreover, these principles do not differ essentially from core values established by other companies within the industry, which are by the way usually mandatory for employees. Secondly, Amazon is “a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy”, which is why it is always looking for the best talents and the most competent workers (Kantor and Streitfeld). However, a harsh selection process of prospective employees is not something new invented by Amazon as it is a common practice for successful companies who cannot afford wasting time and money on incompetent and idle workers who threaten reputation of the company. Therefore, a requirement to undergo annual performance assessments should not sound shocking even though it is described as a hellish practice in the scandalous article.
Thirdly, all big companies encourage their employees to be innovative and willing to work hard so that obstacles are overcome and customers are satisfied. Finally, not all tech companies are willing to offer their employees various job perks like free meals or others similar to the ones offered by Google or Apple who can be considered as unique in terms of these additional perks rather than as the companies establishing a common practice. In turn, Amazon offers its employees opportunities for career growth, professional challenges, generous compensation, and standard law-compliant employment packages. At the same time, it is impossible to claim for sure that Amazon has not made mistakes relating to employment practices in the past. However, the most significant thing is to establish whether these mistakes have been appropriately addressed and are no longer an established practice in the company.
Anecdotal Evidence about Past Employment Practices at Amazon
Hence, some anecdotal evidence presented in the article that concerns past employment practices at Amazon described by its former employees is undeniable and horrifying at once. There are justified claims proving that the company committed serious mistakes relating to employment practices, but it is significant to find out whether they are not going to be repeated again. Hence, there is evidence that Amazon’s employees were once “pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured” (Nocera). These cases were driven by Jeff Bezos who wanted to turn his start-up into a leading company in the industry and who “doesn’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks” (Nocera).
The latter claim about Bezos is the key reason why there is little doubt about credibility of some work experiences described by former employees. They were expected to work hard, to innovate constantly, and to solve problems at any time they might arise, which is why some managers might have taken their duties too seriously and expected too much from their subordinates. Nonetheless, it does not mean that the lack of empathy was authorized by the top management in case employees got serious health problems or family issues. Besides, it seems strange that employees hurt by Amazon’s inhuman practices did not try to escalate the problem to the top management or HR senior specialists, but instead merely quit. It raises some suspicions as to whether the alleged lack of empathy was the only reason why they had to quit. Moreover, in Bezos’s memo sent to all Amazon’s employees genuine surprise is evident as the CEO claims that he not only fails to “recognize this Amazon”, but also does not “think that any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s competitive tech hiring market” (TOI Tech).
In general, most anecdotal evidence from the article that makes Amazon look like a hellish employer is authored and seems to be credible, which is why the article on the whole seems to be authentic, persuasive, and extremely shocking. However, when the discussion comes to the most horrid and inhuman employment practices, most comments are anonymous and there is no solid opportunity to verify them (Sullivan). Furthermore, some statements like the one about Bozes’s grandmother and smoking are taken out of context so that the CEO would seem inhuman and soulless when the whole story should have been about him urging people to differentiate between intelligence and kindness and to practice the latter more often (Sullivan). Such omissions raise suspicions about objectivity of the authors and their claims, which are only intensified by a conclusion that most evidences are anecdotal rather than data-driven. Therefore, the question of whether the article captures “with complete fairness … the reality of life as an Amazon employee” comes to the foreground and calls for a thorough consideration (Sullivan).
Amazon’s Employment Practices as Perceived by Current Employees
The current employees and top management of Amazon have been enraged by the article that have labeled them as Ambots who are disciplined into perfect and emotionless star employees or are driven out of the company if they are unable to survive the competition and pressure. One Amazonian has published a response to the article at LinkedIn as he felt “compelled to respond” to “so many inaccuracies (some clearly deliberate)” (Ciubotariu). In fact, this response is extremely detailed and convincing as its author addresses all key points raised in The New York Times and eliminates doubts point by point. By the end of reading the Ciubotariu’s paper, readers start doubting credibility and objectivity of the piece they have previously read in the newspaper and start thinking of whether Amazon could have improved its employment practices or whether the inhuman practices had never been the norm, but rather an exception experienced by some unfortunate former workers. The current Amazonian described in detail such employment practices as 14 principles, New Hire Orientation, customer obsession that has brought Amazon to the top of the Fortune 500 list, Anytime Feedback, corporate culture, hiring the best employees, innovation, Travel Tool, and all other management and employment practices that he considers to be highly inaccurate and has never witnessed during the 18 months of his employment.
Finally, the credibility of the response is increased by the author’s objectivity as he does not deny a possibility that “the Amazon described in this article may have existed, in the past”, and adds that “Certainly, I’ve heard to ‘how things used to be’ but it is definitely not the Amazon of today” (Ciubotariu). This claim is supported by the recently announced changes in the Amazon’s policy, particularly relating to the launch of the Career Choice program that strives to attract new promising talents to the company and to contribute to the community in general (Bezos). Finally, Bezos’s memo casts doubts on the authenticity of the nightmare described by The New York Times as it is true that “anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay” (TOI Tech). Besides, such a company would hardly find itself coveted and dreamt about by job applicants who are standing in long lines just to get an opportunity to come to the job interview for a new position at Amazon.
It is also worth noting that Amazon’s employment practices are not drastically different from those accepted in the industry in general. The company is operating in a highly-competitive market, and it needs only the most competent employees who would be able to tackle complicated challenges and solve arising problems. Furthermore, “brutal completion remains an inescapable component of workers’ daily lives” in all successful companies as employees are ready virtually for anything to be hired by such companies and succeed in their jobs (Scheiber). In the “winner-takes-it-all economy”, long working hours and intense competition are a norm, and employees “typically know where they stand” and how they can thrive (Scheiber). Besides, “Amazon is at the top of the food chain” and some shortcomings in its employment practices are highly likely to be overlooked and tolerated by prospective employees who are able to withstand pressure and competition, while striving for professional recognition and lucrative compensations (Scheiber). Amazon’s employment practices may not be the best and kindest in the industry, but the company has proved its efficiency and effectiveness in addition to its willingness to correct its past mistakes.
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Conclusion: Is Amazon Really a Brutal Employer?
All things considered, Amazon can hardly be called a brutal employer based on its current employment practices. Obviously, the history of its employment practices is not perfect and has a lot of shortcomings, some of which might have even led to nervous breakdowns and burnouts of its former employees. However, the company has significantly improved in this respect and none of the current employment practices can be labeled as shocking or inhuman. Moreover, Amazon is open and transparent about its demands and expectations, which is why employees always know where they stand and how they excel in their jobs. Thus, if someone feels that the Amazon’s corporate culture is too demanding or intense, he/she can always choose not to apply for a position at the company, leaving it to hundreds of eager applicants ready to work hard and thrive in a competitive environment full of challenges.
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