For 20 years, Amazon has reveled in its toughness. “Work hard” are the first two words of a company motto. An oft-repeated line from Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive, calls the company culture “friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove, we’ll settle for intense.”
That uncompromising attitude played a large role in building a retail powerhouse with a market capitalization of US$250 billion.
However, now Amazon is taking issue with a depiction that its culture is “all toughness, all the time” for many of its workers, and says it wants to clamp down on excesses that have left many bruised employees in its wake.
Bezos, responding to an article published by the New York Times over the weekend about Amazon’s hard-hitting management style, decried what he called its portrait of “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” saying: “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market.”
“I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either,” Bezos told workers.
The article, Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace, told of workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises who said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover in a company that could not slow down.
In his memo to employees, Bezos said Amazon would not tolerate the “shockingly callous management practices” described in the article.
He urged any employees who knew of “stories like those reported” to contact him directly.
“Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero,” Bezos said.
Amazon declined a request to interview Bezos for the original article, but made several executives available.
Amazon spokesmen declined to comment further.
Jay Carney, Amazon’s chief spokesman, appeared on CBS This Morning to defend the company, which is based in Seattle.
“This is an incredibly compelling place to work,” Carney said.
Bezos urged his 180,000 employees to give the Times article “a careful read,” but said it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”
Until the publication of the Times article, Amazon’s management practices had been mostly a quiet debate in Seattle. However, after the article was published and the release of Bezos’ letter, current and former Amazonians wrote on social media, technology Web sites and the Times Web site to compare experiences and debate the strengths and weaknesses of the culture.
Some defended the culture as highly demanding but humane.
“I didn’t see a whole lot of crying at desks, but I did see a lot of crying in bathrooms,” wrote Lisa Moffeit, who now works for Rhapsody, a music service.
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