Inside Amazon

August 17, 2015 by Gabe | [mmd] |

Amazon has long been derided for employment practices governing blue-collar workers in their warehouses but now The NYT takes a look at their management of information workers.

A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”

By way of Andy Ihnatko on Twitter, there's several corrobarating articles, such as this Reddit post:

Now, the average employee stays at Amazon for LESS than two years, so when you do the math to compare offers from various companies go ahead and factor that in. The entire system is designed to bring you in, burn you out, and send you on your way with as little equity lost as possible.

Or this LinkedIn essay:

During my 18 months at Amazon, I’ve never worked a single weekend when I didn’t want to. No one tells me to work nights. No one makes me answer emails at night. No one texts me to ask me why emails aren’t answered. I don’t have these expectations of the managers that work for me, and if they were to do this to their Engineers, I would rectify that myself, immediately. And if these expectations were in place, and enforced upon me, I would leave.

If Amazon used to be this way (and it most likely was, as you’ll see in the quote below), from my 18 month experience working in two of its biggest product groups, that Amazon no longer exists.

This all has been followed closely by Jeff Bezos, who delivered a weekend email to employees about the controversy:

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.

I had a few reactions:

First, Bezos is actually concerned about their image among white collar workers since he felt the need to respond to employees about the NYT article within hours of it publishing.

Second, sending a company email on the weekend implies that the company culture encourages working on the weekend and considers it completely normal.1

Third, it sounds like the NYT article is exactly right and Amazon is now notorious among the engineers they most need.

Maybe this all explains how bad Amazon is at iterating on their big releases (Fire Phone, Fire Tablet, Fire TV, Ring of Fire, etc.).2 It makes sense that technology advancement stalls when you retain so few seasoned veterans. Those are the people that remember the long product arcs that got you to where you are. The organizational knowledge base is not easily transferred between employees that stay less than two years.

  1. "But, but, it just shows how important Jeff B. thinks this topic is!! He couldn't possibly publish the memo asking people to contact HR on Monday morning. What kind of message would that send?" Yeah. Sure. Anyone that has worked with tyrant bosses know that weekend and after hour messages are almost always done to set the working standard. At least you know that once you work for a healthy human being.  

  2. Before I hear that they are only bad at hardware, try using Amazon PrimePantry, AmazonFresh or Amazon Home Services. Man, that's some stale stuff.