The major takeaway from Saturday’s New York Times’ exposé (Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace) is that it’s no longer ethical to shop at the company.
Reporter Jodi Kantor’s and David Streitfeld’s interviews with one hundred current and former Amazon employees outline a disturbing corporate culture:
- 85 hour workweeks, “the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings”…“I would see people practically combust.”
- “Amazonians are instructed to ‘disagree and commit’ … to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful,” “Ideas are critiqued so harshly in meetings … a senior developer, said he … could not tolerate the hostile language used in many meetings, a comment echoed by many others.”
- “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
- “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. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — ‘purposeful Darwinism,’”
- “Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.”
- Amazon works quickly to cull weaker employees “requiring them to repay a part of their signing bonus if they leave within a year, and a portion of their hefty relocation fees if they leave within two years,” also reported here.
- “Several fathers said they left or were considering quitting because of pressure from bosses or peers to spend less time with their families.”
All this expands upon my articles about Amazon’s harmful impacts on Seattle: ‘Amageddon’ and How Our Success is Ruining Seattle while Gawker began reporting on Amazon’s abuse of warehouse workers in 2013. The Times piece adds credence to the employee driven to hunger striking in protest against the company. And, Mashable’s Heidi Moore tweeted these pieces today from Salon and The Guardian.
But there’s something deeply sick about the workplace culture described by The Times’ interviewees. Professor Erik Loomis called it “sociopathic.” Likely, the mindset at Amazon will be nonplussed by the article … because it only reflects their adopted values.
When former Amazon employee Dina Vaccari told The Times, “I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from,” it reminded me how people struggling from low self-esteem are more vulnerable to cultures like Amazon’s than those with a healthy, well-adjusted lifestyle and support network.
Amazon’s Workplace Discrimination Against Women
While Amazon’s taken heat in the past for its lack of diversity and scarcity of women in technology, the New York Times piece highlights a culture of workplace discrimination towards women bordering on abuse:
- Elizabeth Willet said she was “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” after she adjusted her hours as a new mother.
- “Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three … said her boss .. had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required.”
- “Several former high-level female executives … said they could lose out in promotions because of intangible criteria like “earn trust” ([Amazon] principle No. 10) or the emphasis on disagreeing with colleagues. Being too forceful, they said, can be particularly hazardous for women in the workplace.”
- “Molly Jay…said she received high ratings for years. But when she began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends…her boss told her she was ‘a problem.’ … she took unpaid leave to care for him and never returned to Amazon.”
- “A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment.”
- “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.'”
- “A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a ‘performance improvement plan’ — Amazon code for ‘you’re in danger of being fired’ — because ‘difficulties’ in her ‘personal life’ had interfered with fulfilling her work goals.”
- “A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans…The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. ‘I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life, the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored ‘to make sure my focus stayed on my job.'”
Time to Cut Your Spending at Amazon
All this makes it crystal clear … it’s no longer ethical to shop at Amazon — until the company acknowledges its dysfunction and overhauls its culture. We launched Flee the Jungle to help you find alternatives.
Over the past five years, retailers small and large have worked hard to improve the usability of their websites and match Amazon’s offers of discounts and free shipping. There are a number of companies beginning to offer comparable services to Prime such as Jet and Shoprunner. While you may have become used to shopping with Amazon, I encourage you to check out Flee the Jungle’s guide to these quality alternatives.
We’re inspired by New York Times reader Katie who reflected the views of many commenters: “after reading stories of how employees going through devastating personal losses were treated, I cancelled my Audible membership, deleted my Kindle app, and will no longer be shopping from Amazon. I cannot support a company that so purposefully creates a negative environment for its employees. It’s disgusting, it’s immoral, and I hope others feel the same after reading this article.”
— Flee the Jungle (@fleethejungle) July 26, 2015