clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Amazon's Terrible Working Conditions Revealed by the New York Times

Photo: Getty Images

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Amabots. Amholes. Those are some of the nicknames for Amazon corporate employees according to an article in the New York Times that describes what sounds like an absolutely brutal working environment. The Times interviewed 100 current and former Amazonians about the company's secretive culture, driven by leadership principles of founder Jeff Bezos that encourage employees to be incredibly driven and incredibly blunt. One of the jokes between Amazonians is that "Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves." With so much pressure and so much turnover, here are some of the most harrowing accusations about corporate life at Amazon:

"Performance improvement plans" for employees with cancer. If you have a health crisis or anything happening in your personal life that might prevent you from working 85-hour weeks, Amazon doesn't sound very compassionate, according to the Times. One woman who had breast cancer said that Amazon put her on a "performance improvement plan," which at Amazon means you're in danger of being fired. That same thing happened to an employee who returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another employee who had just had a stillborn child.

A woman who miscarried twins went on a business trip the day after her surgery. "I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done," is what she told the NYT that 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."

Office weeping. Former Amazon book marketing employee Bo Olson told the Times that his enduring memory from his two years at the company involved watching people weep in the office. "You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face," he said. "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

A major gender gap. Amazon does not currently have any women on its top leadership team, and the Times asserts that many women at Amazon think this is due to the company's competition-and-elimination system. Others said that Amonzon's leadership principles worked to their disadvantage.

Employee backstabbing straight out of Survivor. Amazon's Anytime Feedback Tool is a widget that allows employees to secretly tattle on each other to management. NYT reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld write: "Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else." They report that employees make alliances and pacts to simultaneously criticize one person all at once, in order to protect themselves.

Nonstop hours. "One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight," said one Amazon employee, who on her own initiative and with her own money, paid a freelancer in India to enter data so she could do more work. Another Amazonian described working every day of her vacation in Florida at a Starbucks. "That’s when the ulcer started," she said.

Amazon's founder refuted the New York Times article in a memo to all employees. "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," Bezos writes. "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."