Amazon is getting a lot of good press today for a smart marketing move it pulled: offering a “thank you” discount code to its customers based on some stupid corporate reputation poll. But, here’s something to consider: Amazon treats its massive army of laborers like garbage.
If you ask the average person what they think of Amazon, the response will most likely be positive. After all, it is a convenient service to quickly purchase whatever your heart desires. But few will consider the human cost associated with fast shipping times and low, low prices.
Amazon, like most tech companies, is skilled at getting stories about whatever bullshit it decides to feed the press. Amazon would very much prefer to have reporters writing some drivel about a discount code than reminding people that its tens of thousands of engineers and warehouse workers are fucking miserable. How do I know they’re miserable? Because (as the testimony below demonstrates) they’ve told every writer who’s bothered to ask for years.
Gawker, May 2014 - “I Do Not Know One Person Who Is Happy at Amazon”
From an anonymous Amazon employee:
I’ve been with Amazon for a little over a year and you can count my experience in the Ugly category.
This soulless machine looks down on employee work-life balance as “weak” and “uncommitted to the customer.” I’ve got to hand it to them though. Amazon does put the customer first. Many other huge corporations make the same claim, but this company backs it up. The problem is that it comes at the expense of the employees, their health and their families. I’ve heard that the average employment of an Amazon corporate staffer is less than a year and a half. I am not sure if that is true, but it would not surprise me at all.
Think about how expensive it must be (financially and to their reputation, which are not so different in the long term) to lose hard-working, smart people at such a frequency. Trust, morale and institutional knowledge erode every day, only to be buoyed by the wide-eyed n00bs who start in their place. It is not long until those people get tired too, and so it goes. That approach to employee replacement cannot go forever. It is only a matter of time until the tech world runs out of smart people who believe it will be “different for me.” (My theory: they bank on candidates from other countries who are not only unaware of the rumours, but who see the compensation as a windfall and don’t care about the consequences.)
This company counts every single penny (to offer the best price and selection for the customer, which is admirable), but when it is all added up, running a business this way just has to be more expensive than an environment where “lifers” exist with the mental and physical fortitude to keep everyone around them motivated and serve as an aspiration. Not so here. Everyone is so tired, all the time. Dark eye circles, muttering under yawns, all. There could never be “lifers” here. Not at this pace anyway. When there are so few long-lasting employees around, it kind of goes unsaid that other smart people like you can find a better situation elsewhere and move on. You cannot help but start looking within a few months. So the proof is in the other people you see in the hallways every day. It is always “Meet Bob, he’s the new Jim” and I had no idea Jim was gone. You are told all the time of really great people who leave without so much as a goodbye email. To me that’s crazy and a big problem.
I’ve had worse jobs in my life (we all have), but I’ve never hated a job or a supervisor more. Does that make sense? I dread like a root canal appointment every Sunday night, knowing Monday morning is on its way. When I walk through the doors my head is ringing with regret, mind-numbing repetition, and expectations of browbeating. My expectations have never once gone ungratified.
I am doing all I can to leave as soon as possible, despite my team mates who are great and intelligent but who are just as miserable. Sad. Such a waste. As incredible as this company is, it’s hard to imagine how much more powerful it could be if anyone here, more than the odd few, were happy.
I do not know one person who is happy at Amazon. They are putting their time in for the cash or their family or a new house or kids in college and then walking “as soon as I [expletive] can.” Everyone has a time table for quitting. No one says, “I hope I stay here forever.”
It is difficult to get a job at Amazon. Really hard. (Those descriptions of the interview day you read in the other posts are right. It is a gauntlet.) But it is much harder to want to stay. I sensed it when I came on, and I’ve learned since then that my hunch was right. Isn’t the job of management to motivate people from every background to believe in one objective and then reward them for driving at it? It is not the job of management here, I can assure you. Their job is to demean and threaten. And that comes from the top.
So I’ll be moving on as soon as I can with fond memories of those rare nights getting home before 8:00 pm. And learning from really smart, burned-out people for about 14 months. Man, there are smart people here. But they are also smart enough to know that they have been had. That is the thing with smart people, they have high expectations of their work place.
Amazon, if you want to run a corporation this way, that is great and your prerogative of course. You make millions of dollars every minute and millions of customers happy with excellent service and low prices. You do all that for myself and my friends and family as customers (though I don’t think I can remain a customer for long, knowing the ways by which it is all achieved). There are no laws against asking your employees to work really hard. That is America. But you should be honest in the interview process and let people know the amount of time they will be required to put in just to keep their heads above water. You will pay a steep price someday if you do not. That is a price that will be passed on to the customer I’m sure. I hope you are be honest with yourselves when that day comes.
Amazon is an amazing company. As long as you don’t work here.
The New York Times, August 2015- “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”
“This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” said Susan Harker, Amazon’s top recruiter. “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”
Bo Olson was one of them. He 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.”
The Huffington Post, October 2015 - “The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp”
Mike Roth, vice president of North American operations for Amazon, said the company ensures employees are working at a safe pace. “We do have goals for employees in regards to performance metrics,” he says. “We have a team that regularly looks at the metrics to ensure they are safe, fair and attainable.” Like many warehouse staffing companies, Integrity doesn’t require workers to take a physical to work in an Amazon facility. 3 However, the company said it provides prospective employees with extensive information, including a video, so they understand the physically taxing nature of the work. “IT’S GOING TO BE HARD,” one brochure warns. “You will be on your FEET the entire shift and walking upwards of 12 MILES per shift. (yeah, that’s really far!) ... YOU WILL HAVE TO: LIFT, BEND, SQUAT, REACH & MOVE (there are no sit-down positions.) DON’T BE AFRAID; YOU CAN DO IT.” Applicants are also quizzed on their ability to perform basic requirements. If an employee has a medical condition, Integrity says it will allow for more frequent breaks or lifting restrictions.
A former supervisor at Jeff’s warehouse described the safety culture as “very, very methodical,” with “exceptionally high standards.” Amazon, she said, required Amcare to call 911 in certain situations even when there was no obvious emergency —say, if a worker’s blood pressure reached a certain level. Still, she said, some workers were clearly unprepared for the pace. “We had people who were bookkeepers or laid-off accountants or other desk-type jobs,” the supervisor said. “We tried to be very, very upfront. ... I said, ‘You are going to hurt after the first week. ... You are going to crawl into bed and pray you can get out in the morning.’”
If you know anything about what it’s like to work at Amazon, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org