By design, Amazon constantly sets unbearably high goals whilst measuring and evaluating every aspect of a worker's productivity. Never are employees at Amazon not constantly watched and expected to reach impossibly high standards. Workers at Amazon put in long hours, almost double the normal 40-hour week that was once a standard for companies. They also rarely have vacation days and when they do they are still working, just by a beach. It is said to be that everyone is attached to their cellphones so they can be reached by bosses at all hours of the day; a constant push to perform and produce.
According to the NY Times article, those who succeed in this type of environment are rewarded with stocks. Employees that cannot “cut it” leave after a few years and those who are not willing to sacrifice their personal lives for work are castoff even quicker. At times, ex-employees of Amazon have said that they were even encouraged to spend less time with their families. Apparently, one woman was even expected to get back to work the day after her miscarriage. Other people have been penalized for taking time off to care for ill parents and for expecting to be given slack when dealing with major diseases.
After reading all of this, it is easy to say that the workplace at Amazon is abusive and yes it could very well be seen as that for many people. However, many of this is also only based on word of mouth and Bezos acknowledged this in a letter that stated, “Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero,”. I believe that overall, there are isolated instances where abusive behaviors and lack of empathy occur, but that could happen in many companies; not just particularly at Amazon. I suppose that it takes a certain kind of employee to work at Amazon, and for those who can do it, they love it. However I can also understand that those who are not naturally adept in the way of Amazon employees can see the environment as abusive. At the end of the day, everyone is different and those differences influence how people see the same environment differently.
As mentioned previously, it takes a certain type of person to be motivated to work at Amazon, more especially, to love working there. A top recruiter at Amazon said, “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren't easy. When you're shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn't work.” Those who go to work at Amazon and stay are those that truly understand that it won't be easy but it will be worth it, Amazon doesn't lie to prospective employees; from the beginning they know that it will not be a walk in the park at Amazon.
Amazon employees described how they tried to forgive the sometimes grueling aspects of their workplace with what many called its thrilling power to create. Other employees who have come and gone have said that what they learned in their brief time at Amazon helped their careers take off. And more than a few who left said they later realized they had become addicted to Amazon's way of working. “A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It's the greatest place I hate to work,” said John Rossman, a former executive there. Employees who decide to work at Amazon do it because they gain gratification from also being given a lot of responsibility at such an early stage at their career. Some have said that even at entry-level they were trusted with six figure marketing budgets; they value ownership. “There's no reward for not speaking up. ‘Good backbone' is a compliment. It's a very seductive quality about the organization because people want to contribute.”
In summary, workers chose to commit themselves to working in this kind of environment because they are motivated to constantly push themselves to do and be better. As a former employee said, “Amazon will work you to death, either you're gone after two years, or you stay forever because you love working hard”. In a way, I believe that in order to be successful at Amazon, with such a culture, you have to be some sort of a masochist. Gratification is gained from working that hard, every day, because it is the kind of person they are at their core; they are addicted to it.
The individuals that are better suited to work at Amazon are those that are resilient and strong, they cannot cower at the first sign of difficulty. As mentioned above, individuals who succeed at Amazon are those that love working hard, sometimes to the brink of madness. Amazon either breaks you or makes you. In interviews, some employees said they flourished at Amazon precisely because it pushed them past what they thought were their limits. Many are motivated by “thinking big and knowing that we haven't scratched the surface on what's out there to invent,” said Elisabeth Rommel, a retail executive at Amazon.
Those who are addicted to success, are more likely to prosper. As Dina Vaccari said in an interview, “For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from”. Also those who want a lot of responsibility from the beginning and are okay with figuring things out on their own are more likely to succeed. At Amazon, if you do not know something, you better get to know it quickly, a lot of times, without help.
To work at Amazon, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices and be okay with it. They must be prepared for “conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.” Employees at Amazon need to be able to put their ego aside of being the best at what they were doing before Amazon. Those kinds of people will not get far at Amazon. “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”
Finally, the kind of employees who are more able to survive and thrive at Amazon need to have thick skin because at Amazon they will constantly be in competition with their fellow co-workers.
“The rivalries at Amazon extend beyond behind-the-back comments. Employees say that the Bezos ideal, a meritocracy in which people and ideas compete and the best win, where co-workers challenge one another, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting, , has turned into a world of frequent combat.”
I think Amazon is in a league of its own and I believe it's not something that could easily be emulated. Amazon may be unique but perhaps not quite as uncharacteristic as it appears to be. Amazon has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the world is now just experiencing; global competition where companies rise and fall overnight. “Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.”
Amazon, on the outside, appears to be similar to other tech giants such as Google and Facebook, but where the similarities end is that Amazon does not motivate its employees with gyms, meals and benefits (eg. cash handouts for new parents) like Google or Facebook. At Amazon, what motivates are those who want to embrace risk and strengthen ideas by stress test. Amazon employees often say their colleagues are the sharpest, most committed people they have ever met; never settling and that no task is beneath them.
Overall, I personally believe that companies should not emulate this kind of organizational culture. Yes, there are people that enjoy and thrive in this work environment but to many they would not work at Amazon. I am a firm believer in the fact that you need to be happy where you are working. I am motivated by encouragement and uplifting workplaces, not those places, like Amazon, that pit you against your colleagues. According to the NY Times article, Amazon holds something called an Organization Level Review, where managers debate subordinates' rankings, assigning and reassigning names to boxes in a matrix projected on the wall. Those who fall at the bottom, usually find themselves let go from Amazon. In recent years, companies like Microsoft have dropped this practice, often called “rank and yank” — in part because it can force managers to get rid of valuable talent just to meet quotas.
With this, I believe Amazon should not change because this kind of culture works for them, and the world sometimes needs a place like this. However, I do not think that other organizations should attempt to emulate them. Although, I believe that mimicking some of Amazon's practices may have the ability to better aspects of other companies, because at the end of the day Amazon has successfully turned itself from Bezos selling books from his garage into the world's largest online retailer. So, Amazon has to be doing something right.
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