"A bruising workplace"

Amazon’s revolutionary influence on tech overshadowed by its work culture

Natali Vlatko
Parcel image via Shutterstock

Amazon’s effect on eCommerce and cloud computing is nothing short of extraordinary, however recent revelations have now put the spotlight on Amazon’s alleged “dystopian” corporate culture and employee policies.

The New York Times recently published an article investigating what they call the “bruising” workplace culture of Amazon. Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld write that the American cloud computing and eCommerce company are “conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions”.

The Register have also published a similarly-tinged piece in the aftermath of the Times’ investigation, saying that Amazon “treats white-collar and blue-collar workers just the same” amid claims from the GMB trade union that working conditions for their UK distribution staff are “exhausting”.

After the furore, Amazon CEO and president Jeff Bezos came out to comment on the claims and said that the report “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know”. Geek Wire published in full the all-hands email that was circulated by Bezos to his “Amazonians”, where he encouraged staff to report any instances similar to the NYT article directly to him:

The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. 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.

The revelations about Amazon’s gruelling corporate culture published in the NYT have come directly from current and former staff of Amazon. Amazon was reported to have “only” allowed a handful of senior managers to speak with the article’s authors, yet more than 100 current and former “Amazonians” make up the breadth of its claims.

Crying at their desks, employee rankings resulting in termination and the erosion of work-life boundaries are apparently all part and parcel of the job. Even Bezos himself has been credited as telling potential future employees that working for Amazon is “not easy”. So why is there a need to perpetuate an allegedly soulless working culture?

Amazon aren’t the first successful company to push its unrelenting corporate ideals onto staff. The legacy of the late Steve Jobs at Apple was recently chastised by former employee Ben Farrell as operating on a “soul limiting entrenched dogma” that thrived on a “toxic culture of manipulation, intimidation, threats and politics that are so incongruent to the values they preach”.

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Google’s “culture of success and employee happiness” is described by KISSmetrics blogger Zach Bulygo as the key to their many accomplishments. Google’s perks include meals, healthcare, haircuts, dry-cleaning, massages and access to gyms and swimming pools – all of which aim to ensure that not only are employees kept happy, but that they’re also kept on-site for longer.

Of course, Amazon’s working culture (as described by the NYT) differs greatly from the long list of perks that Google offers to make sure it stays at the top of those “best places to work” lists. However, as this string of answers on Quora suggests, the “Google lifestyle” can allegedly render staff “basically unemployable anywhere else”.

Google, Apple and Amazon have all been scrutinised at some point for their approach to office culture, with Amazon’s recent time in the spotlight highlighting what they’re willing to do to achieve really big, groundbreaking things. Kantor and Streitfeld say that this ability to extract the most from its employees is what’s made Amazon stronger than ever.

One key question remains for all IT teams in the wake of the Amazon scandal: what is the cost of innovation in tech?

Natali Vlatko
An Australian who calls Berlin home, via a two year love affair with Singapore. Natali was an Editorial Assistant for (S&S Media Group).

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