Amazon is a company known for being brutally competitive with other retailers (and suppliers), and for fostering a Darwinian working environment. This company maintains a grinding pace in its warehouse and backs it up with a $5,000 bribe to quit, but that’s nothing compared to the way it treats the office workers.
The NYTimes reported on Saturday that Amazon has created an environment which is literally Darwinian (the weakest percentage of employees are fired annually):
On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.
They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.
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.”)
Ms. Willet’s co-workers strafed her through the Anytime Feedback Tool, the widget in the company directory that allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management. (While bosses know who sends the comments, their identities are not typically shared with the subjects of the remarks.) Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.
Resources are sometimes hoarded. That includes promising job candidates, who are especially precious at a company with a high number of open positions. To get new team members, one veteran said, sometimes “you drown someone in the deep end of the pool,” then take his or her subordinates. Ideas are critiqued so harshly in meetings at times that some workers fear speaking up.
We’ve been hearing reports like this for years. Amazon’s practices have been described as secretive and adversarial, and they’ve been likened to The Godfather.
According to one anonymous report, Amazon has been maintaining this environment for at least the past decade. (Edit: And yet, Amazon’s turnover rate is not any worse than other huge corporations. ) It’s all part of what the Financial Times called Bezos’ policy of ruthless pragmatism.
I hope you like your Kindle with a dash of the tears of the overworked and a sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial employee, because this is Amazon’s core philosophy.
image by Drab Makyo