You've read, or read about, The New York Times cover story Sunday, "Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace."
And yesterday, we saw an employee memo sent by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Since Bezos didn't think to send this to me for edits before blasting it to all Amazonians, I'm forced to critique it in arrears. Bezos is in Roman, I'm in italic.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to give this (very long) New York Times article a careful read:
I also encourage you to read this very different take by a current Amazonian:
It's impressive that he encourages employees to read the Times article. But implying that they should give equal weight to a pro-Amazon testimony by one employee? Say the Times had written 4,000 glowing words on the company, quoting people up and down the org chart on what a warm, compassionate, whimsical place it was to work. And then someone had suggested, "Not so fast, New York Times. Check out this blog post by one disgruntled engineer in the Infrastructure Development!" What would Bezos think about that?
Whether or not you trust The New York Times, the whole point of a newspaper article like this is to sort through the random likes and dislikes and rumors and tall tales that lots of people hear from employees from all kinds of companies, and attempt to present a more comprehensive version of reality.
The, "This guy doesn't seem to have a problem with Amazon" defense is weak, and its use is embarrassing.
Here’s why I’m writing you. The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at email@example.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.
The Amazon you know, Mister CEO? Rather than to express shock that The New York Times uncovered a few incidents among your 150,000 employees that escaped your notice—you didn't ever suspect that there might be a few dark corners of your company where some bad shit goes down?—perhaps the healthy response might include a hint at introspection. Maybe a sentence like, "I'm sufficiently disturbed by these reports that I plan to undertake an investigation of the culture of Amazon, and examine the question of whether our longtime 'hard work' ethic has perhaps morphed, in some cases, in some places, from something positive into something negative."
Again, whatever you think of journalists and journalism—and Bezos owns the Washington Post, so he can't be totally dismissive—Times journalists gave months of their professional lives to reporting and writing a comprehensive and difficult story about a powerful company. To dismiss the whole article with a shrug—"gee, doesn't look like the company I see from my corner office"—is arrogant at best.
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. More broadly, I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
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.
This is a fancy, Silicon Valley version of what a gas station manager would tell a 16-year-old employee: "If you don't like it here, get the fuck out." But these aren't 16-year-olds working for Amazon, and it's really only high-flying CEOs who fail to understand the complicated relationship that people have with their jobs, their company, their industry and their community. Forgive the CEOs. Human beings are hard to spot from 40,000 feet.
But hopefully, you don’t recognize the company described. Hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.
Hopefully, huh? HOPEFULLY! Hopefully, the company you lead, the company that will be your legacy, the company that they will ask you about when your limo pulls up to the Pearly Gates—hopefully, that company isn't relying on a Medieval culture to create creating a bright yellow futuristic model for commerce.
Hopefully, the Times found every last grump and ingrate at Amazon, and they had their say on Sunday.
It's Monday. Back to work.