Retail monster Amazon announced a quarterly loss yesterday, sending the stock down and causing widespread grumbling about maniacal CEO Jeff Bezos' corporate spending habits. This seems like an opportune time to hear from some Amazon employees.
Bezos, you may know, has long operated as if he cares not a bit about making profits; he famously invests and invests all of Amazon's revenue in long-term projects, which is what makes investors believe that Amazon will come to dominate the retail market of the future—but which also leaves Amazon constantly without any profits, today. On top of that, countless Amazon employees at all levels of the company have spoken of the unhappy corporate culture inside the hard-charging company (though it does have its defenders, as well). Today, we bring you a few more thoughts from actual Amazon employees—just to keep the discussion surrounding the business side of this company in perspective.
A warehouse employee notes that the job is not always what it's cracked up to be:
Amazon pays good wages for "retail", but how many retail stores do you see having their employees carried off in ambulances on a fairly regular basis? I've personally seen as many as three in one day. It is even advertised as a "warehouse" job, but are told you get paid well for "retail" when asking for better wages/work environment.
More, from a different person who got hired as an Amazon warehouse worker last winter:
The first thing I thought was a little off was that they had people interviewing me who had only worked for the company for 5 months. I pushed it out of my thoughts and figured that person was in training. I signed up for the 6:30pm to 5am shift, when I should have run the other way. I was hired as a "picker", or a fullfillment employee.
I had training with a group of seven other people, two girls and five men. None of us lasted longer than four months. It was a nice, one day of training, the full 10 hour shift we were going to work. Within the first week I realized I wouldn't last long.
As a "picker", you are sometimes walking the entire way across all three connected warehouses, for one item. They say you should be walking this quarter-of-a-mile in three minutes or less. It would take me five. I'm not a thin person, and I'm not fit, and I have no problem saying that I am of an average weight and build. I am five feet tall. Constantly half-running to your next item (there was no "walking", I only ever saw people jogging) to make you IPH (Items-picked per hour) took it's toll. I was losing close to 7 pounds a week, while not changing my diet at all. In fact, I think I ate more while employed there. Some of the shelves are 6 or 7 feet high. Meaning you have to go off and find a step stool. Most of the time we would either jump or stand on the metal ledge of the bottom-most shelf to maintain our IPH. The "goal" items picked per hour changed depending on which area you were in, but were never less than 60 per hour-an item per minute. In the hazmat area, it was close to 200 per hour. If you had an item on a higher level in these areas, you would need to go fetch the rolling ladder, which wasted more time. The IPH goals were ridiculous, and they designed them that way for people to fail on purpose, for whatever reason. People who were afraid of heights regularly signed up to work the cherry picker (a kind of reach truck) so they could have a chance to stand during their shift and not run around.
Let me tell you, my coworkers and my "leads" were all pretty nice. The higher-ups didn't have to pick anymore, and I suppose they expected us to pick at a faster rate because they did it, somehow, or kissed a lot of ass to get a promotion. You would get weekly reviews or "coachings" to show where you were failing. Which was normally in at least one or two areas. Even the guys I trained with, who had previously worked in warehouses, were getting these.
15 minute breaks, 30 minute lunch, and you were expected not to stop picking until they called over the loudspeaker for break/lunch. So you could be on the whole other side of the warehouse, close your pick, turn your gun off, and return your cart and then walk to lunch or break. This took 5-7 minutes to do, so people would keep an eye on their time, and start walking back 3 minutes before break so they could turn their gun off and return their cart and actually have the 10 minute break after walking there. I wore really good running shoes with gel insoles and my feet felt like they were falling off at the end of my shift every morning. Everyone felt like this. The last hour or two of work was hell because you're trying to hobble as fast as you can to your next pick while wanting nothing more than to sit down and rub your feet.
I'm still in contact with three of my coworkers. No one on my hire team lasted more than four months.
Finally, a somewhat more positive review from an Amazon corporate employee:
Is Amazon a perfect company? No, not by a long shot. But just remember, Amazon hires 150+ people a week, if you see 2-3 people writing you emails bashing Amazon, they are a minority group that happened to have a bad team / manager. They do not reflect the nearly 120,000 people that still work for Amazon.
Each team and subsidiary runs very different from each other, its one of the problems of being such a massive company, but most people who work at Amazon are happy with their jobs, and most people truely live and work by the Amazon leadership principals.
Now, one point he was right about, was Amazon does not want you to sit in the same position long. However, they do not just want you making lateral moves, they want you to move up. Is there pressure to do it? Yes, 3 months after starting my first position my manager already started asking me about where I wanted to go next, so it is there, but its not like they just want people to hop to random jobs.
I started in a small networking position, moved over to a more senior networking position, and now I am in a fairly high level networking position. While the responsibilties were different for each one, it was more of a vertical move up rather than a lateral. Amazon expects you to move up the chain, they want you to advance, they don't want people who don't have the ambition to move upward. At some point you will hit a ceiling, especially seeing as Amazon is a fairly flat organization, but at that point, you are hopefully management or a "senior engineer" or something of the like.
Does Amazon do things that many don't agree with? Yes, there is no arguing that. But just because 10 people had a really bad experience, doesn't mean 110,000 did.
[If you're an Amazon employee who would like to share your experiences, contact Hamilton@Gawker.com. Photo: AP]