Amazon’s Workplace Culture Takes a Hit

Amazon’s culture has made the rounds of the press and blogosphere, based on a recent NY Times article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.” Sadly, I’m not surprised as I live near the Amazon warehouse in PA where employees suffered during a heat wave due to insufficient air conditioning. There were also complaints during the winter when employees, who were evacuated for a fire alarm, had to wait outside the warehouse in freezing temperatures. These workers were not allowed to retrieve their coats or warm up in their cars, possibly for reasons of theft prevention.

There are pro’s and con’s to every workplace; it’s all relative based on the industry and the culture set by senior executives. These quotes [cited in the NYT article] from former Amazon white-collar employees reinforce an ambitious, yet callous culture:

“Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”

“A lot of people there feel this tension: It’s the greatest place I hate to work.”

There are also Amazon employees who disagree with the article, including CEO Jeff Bezos who defends its culture.

As an advocate of an engaged workplace, I’m wary of organizations that still use forced ranking for employee performance. What I find most discomfiting is the fact that Amazon owns Zappos, well-known for its uniquely positive culture. Realistically, no workplace is perfect – not even Zappos.

My takeaway from all this? We now have a scale of workplace engagement from A to Z: with Amazon at the lower end and Zappos at the upper end. Where on this scale would you want to work?





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