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Amazon had a rough weekend.
On Saturday, The New York Times published a piece by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.” The article was damning to say the least, painting Amazon as a ruthless work environment where frequent criticism, tears in cubicles and a constant refrain of “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves,” are part of the employee experience.
Through more than 100 interviews with current and former employees, the article highlighted a number of egregious episodes. In one case, an employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after her surgery, having reportedly been told by her boss “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done. From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”
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In an email to all employees, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos attempted to re-engage with his staff, urging them to take a close look at the article and reach out to him personally if they experienced situations like the ones reported.
He also said the article doesn’t reflect what he sees at Amazon, nor would he tolerate it. "The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day…It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” he wrote. “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."
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Jay Carney, the company's SVP for corporate global affairs and former White House press secretary, also weighed in, telling CBS News that neither he nor many long-time employees recognize the "Darwinian, Dickensian" culture detailed in the piece. He also says the company wouldn't stay competitive in the tech industry for very long if this kind of culture was in place.
The piece caused a major splash on social media. From calls to boycott Amazon to meditations on the nature of startup culture, here are just a few of the strong opinions the article provoked.
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Meanwhile, working at Amazon sounds like working in the seventh circle of "distruptive" hell http://t.co/Fd2rlvioYF
— Marc Fennell (@marcfennell) August 16, 2015
The anonymous feedback system at at Amazon is insidious. I've seen it in action at another tech company – a toxin. http://t.co/x8aqdYAtfc
— Vivian Schiller (@vivian) August 16, 2015
The thing that makes me not want to work at Amazon is the systematized, anonymous, political backbiting. That doesn't need new tools.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) August 16, 2015
Posit: one reason for Amazon's focus on results & invalidity of excuses (even illness) is extreme decentralization. Everything is a startup
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) August 16, 2015
Remember, things could always be worse – you could work at Amazon: http://t.co/asJKqJLqaQ
— Tony Martin (@mrtonymartin) August 16, 2015
I had no idea the Amazon stuff was news. It's not even an open secret, it's just something we always knew.
— Quinn Norton (@quinnnorton) August 15, 2015
Amazon is probably one of the worst companies in the world but the idea of not using Amazon fills me w/ incredible spoiled baby dread
— eating hame (@ScottyTonga) August 15, 2015
People who want to give up Amazon due to that article: take a trip to one of the factories where your iPhone components are made.
— Michele Catalano (@inthefade) August 15, 2015
According to the New York Times, Amazon is a cross between Wal-Mart and Scientology
— John DeVore (@JohnDeVore) August 15, 2015
Real lesson of Amazon: If your startup finds success by making unreasonable demands of employee time, it won't get better when it grows up.
— murphy_slaw (@murphy_slaw) August 16, 2015
re: the Amazon article; a lot of that cutthroat culture reads like a company trying to maintain startup level fear way past startup phase
— Kate Losse (@katelosse) August 16, 2015
I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. But I wouldn't work there, so maybe I oughtta consider those clicks more carefully. http://t.co/RzKy9P0wSA
— Chris Klimek (@ctklimek) August 16, 2015
I'd rather spend an extra few dollars to keep my friendly local bookstore alive than save $ by supporting a labor abuser like #Amazon.
— Suzanne Trimel (@STrimel) August 16, 2015
How disappointing and unethical. Dammit @amazon I loved you. #Amazon #WorkEthics https://t.co/J4NUFMt269
— rabia chaudry (@rabiasquared) August 16, 2015
Wow, Amazon's corporate culture sure seems toxic. I'd sooner leave tech forever than work under these conditions. http://t.co/yobHJmNPWp
— Andrew Gerrand (@enneff) August 16, 2015