Amazon storm: Bezos blasts ‘bruising workplace’ label as incorrect

17 Aug 2015

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has refuted his company’s portrayal as a bruising, data-driven Darwinian workplace in a weekend article.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has refuted his company’s portrayal in a weekend article as a bruising, data-driven Darwinian workplace, saying it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know”.

At the weekend, the New York Times published a feature titled Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace by writers Jodi Kantor and David Streitfield.

The reporters behind the story had access to senior Amazon managers who were given permission to talk to media, but not Bezos or his management team, and also featured insights and views from former Amazon employees.

The article portrayed a workplace where workers were encouraged to toil long hours, report on each other behind one another’s back and employees suffering life crises or health issues were effectively “managed out”.

In striving to be a big, groundbreaking technology giant, the reporters portrayed a company where those who thrived at Amazon pushed themselves beyond their limits in an athletic way and leadership dictates were followed to the letter in an almost religious way.

Amazon was in many ways portrayed as the antithesis of Silicon Valley rivals like Microsoft or Google where frugality ruled and costs for food, mobile phones and travel expenses were often covered by workers themselves.

“If Amazon becomes like Microsoft, we would die,” Bezos is quoted as saying in the story.

Amazon CEO Bezos denies bruising workplace claims

However, Bezos responded swiftly to the claims and issued a memo to all staff of the company.

“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,” Bezos said.

“The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. “

Bezos went on to say that 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,” Bezos said.

Amazon employee describes how the data-driven company really crunches data

Bezos pointed to a LinkedIn post by Search Experience (SX) head of infrastructure Nick Ciubotariu, who also hit out at the New York Times article as being “blatantly incorrect” and said that no one at the company is encouraged to “toil long and late”.

He wrote: “During my 18 months at Amazon, I’ve never worked a single weekend when I didn’t want to. No one tells me to work nights. No one makes me answer emails at night. No one texts me to ask me why emails aren’t answered. I don’t have these expectations of the managers that work for me, and if they were to do this to their engineers, I would rectify that myself, immediately. And if these expectations were in place, and enforced upon me, I would leave.”

He later said: “One of the few things the authors got right is that Amazon is a very data-driven company. If the feedback does not have very specific data, as a manager, you are trained to dig deeper before accepting it (whether it’s positive or negative), and the tool allows you to do just that: reject the feedback by sending it back for clarification.

“Managers are also coached on diving deep into feedback to ensure that what Jodi and David state happens – employee sabotage – actually does not.”

Amazon image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years