Does Amazon Abuse Its Employees?

Indrani Sengupta
One employee claims she developed an ulcer from the stress of working at Amazon. Another claims she didn't sleep for four days on one occasion.

If a recent New York Times exposé on the inner workings of Amazon is to be believed, the company so trusted by its customers may in fact be a hellscape for many of its employees.


From encouraging employees to tear each other’s ideas apart during meetings (so as not to “settle” for less), to demanding that workers exert themselves to degrees that the company itself claims are “unreasonable,” it seems that Amazon may be attempting to push its people to their limits, just to see how much they can wring out of them. 

A former member of the marketing team, Bo Olson, paints a devastating picture:

“You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

Are these employees just cut from lesser cloth, and incapable of keeping up with Amazon’s standards for competition, innovation and continual improvement? 

joh rossman

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That doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at the philosophy at other equally (if not more so) successful companies such as Google and Facebook, you’ll find that the emphasis there is on motivating through a nurturing environment. Such companies offer gym memberships, free meals and benefits for new parents, all designed to “take care of the whole you.”

And those companies aren’t doing too bad, are they?

Noelle Barnes

What’s more, a number of star employees say that they found the tide of approval turned for them during times of intense personal crisis. People who took off time or otherwise struggled with maintaining the same level of productivity during loved ones’ illnesses or their own, after miscarriages or stillbirths, found themselves in danger of being fired.

Liz Pearce

One employee who’d recently had a child had made arrangements with her boss to start work earlier in the day and leave sooner so to take care of her child. When her co-workers, who weren’t aware of this arrangement, assumed she wasn’t pulling her weight and complained to the boss, he reneged on the agreement. 

"I can't stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you're not doing your work."

From its pitifully low retention rate, to its system by which employees can anonymously tattle on others (truthfully or otherwise, in an attempt to sabotage the competition), it’s clear that Amazon may not be as rosy on the inside as its public image suggests.

CEO Jeff Bezos

CEO Jeff Bezos responded to NYT’s scathing critique, claiming that the picture provided was not the Amazon he knows and loves. He also encouraged employees who had experienced any of these injustices to contact HR or email him directly. 

"Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero. 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."

What's more, current Amazonians themselves are beginning to contribute to the conversation in defense of their company. Nick Ciubotariu, Amazon's current head of infrastructure development, published a line by line dissection of the original New York Times article, stating that the criticisms launched therein are either not representative of Amazon today, or else straight-out false. Ciubotariu paints a picture of the company that is the stark opposite to the one that the NYT poses:

"We work hard, and have fun. We have Nerf wars, almost daily, that often get a bit out of hand. We go out after work. We have 'Fun Fridays'. We banter, argue, play video games and Foosball. And we’re vocal about our employee happiness. And that’s encouraged from the Corporate Vice-President I skip to, and the Director I report to."

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