Corporate culture at Amazon hit by iceberg symptom

August 23, 2015 Torben Rick


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If there was anyone left who thought Amazon was a doe-eyed startup with a penchant for brightly coloured bean bags and office trampolines, they must have been shocked after a recent New York Times article about the business culture at Amazon.

Having spoken to more than 100 current and former Amazon employees, the NYT painted a picture of a firm “where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves”, where workers are encouraged to tear apart each other’s ideas in brutal meetings or stab colleagues in the back with anonymous reviews, and where the bottom-ranked employees are sacked in a kind of ritual, annual cull.

Some “Amazonians” backed up the article’s description of a brutal, unrelenting workplace. Others – including CEO Jeff Bezos himself in a memo to his employees – questioned its accuracy:

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.

I don’t recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don’t, either. 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.

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.

In the memo he asked anyone who witnesses such displays of corporate callousness to report it to human resources or e-mail the CEO.

Iceberg symptom

Are the allegations true? It’s hard to say! It’s true that the article was mostly built on interviews with ex-employees, who are by definition more likely than current employees to have fundamental differences with Amazon’s way of doing things. But, on the other hand, it’s also true that current employees aren’t exactly likely to go on the record against it.

But one thing is for sure – there is a mismatch between “The way Amazon say they get things done” and “The way Amazon really get things done”.

 

Organisational Culture - Iceberg symptom

The allegations about challenging working conditions at Amazon are not new. In 2013, the BBC reported that an investigation into a U.K. warehouse found conditions that could cause “mental and physical illness.” What was different about the Times’s story was that is focused almost exclusively on the company’s white-collar workers.

Has Amazon’s reputation just taken a blow?

 

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Torben Rick
Corporate culture at Amazon hit by iceberg symptom

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