In the past week, we've heard from a parade of Amazon insiders—both warehouse workers and white collar employees—speaking about the serious flaws in the company's intense, sometimes inhuman work environment. Today: two more employees speak about high turnover, panic attacks, and the Amazon's military lifestyle.
"The worst employer"
I worked at Amazon for almost 4 years. It was the single-worst working experience in my 20 year career.
I have worked at other big tech companies like Microsoft and thought that would prepare me for a job at Amazon corporate - but that wasn't the case.
I started out in a team that supported third party sellers on Amazon. I was supposed to work as an account manager but ended up with a completely different job on the quality team (Amazon is so big on lean management and I worked as a Kaizen specialist). As other past employees have pointed out, job description switcheroos are very common at Amazon. I worked for a manager that slept in his car on Sunday's so he could be in the office bright and early for the weekly business review with top management. This was after running data reports every Sunday beginning in the morning and not finishing until very late at night. This happened weekly. And during business planning (Operational 1 and 2) twice a year, it was common for us to sleep in the office so we could get the giant data pulls done that management asked for.
I didn't get any training other than in how to resolve customer issues. I was supposed to ask other people within Amazon how to do things. My manager even stated that it wasn't his job to help develop my career - it was mine. I was in the office 60 hours a week. I worked on Christmas almost every year I was there. I was on call for any customer issues. And during the evenings, I had conference calls with India 3-4 times a week beginning at 8 PM and lasting until 11. I missed anything my children had during the day or in the evenings because I was working. No one on my team had children except me (some managers did but their spouses stayed at home). During a snow storm when the entire city shut down I called my manager and told him that I couldn't come into work because my children were off school and my husband was out of town and he told me that he had snow tires on his car and would pick me up (as he had done with other people on the team that has called in).
I knew that I hated my job within one week of taking it. But I thought that if I moved teams it might be a different experience - but it wasn't. I ended up working even more. My new manager was a former Army Captain and West Point grad. (It was pretty common to have former military officers in management positions). He was the only person on my entire team that had children. The team was made up of recent college grads and 30 somethings. I thought it was strange that I was the only person that had a family. But it became apparent that it wasn't really looked upon as a good thing. I had to miss a conference call with India for my daughter's school play and was told that I was expected to work around their schedule because they weren't authorized for overtime.
I worked in the office just as much as my past job, but I worked at home on conference calls, training, and weekly business reporting even more as we had a huge team in India that did all of our testing. I was so exhausted and burnt out all the time. But I was told that there were always people around to replace me. I was also constantly being compared to other level 6s that worked on my team (Amazon's corporate levels go from 1-12. 1's and 2's are interns and level 12 belongs to Bezos) and told that I wasn't doing as much as some of the other level 6s. But when I asked what else I could be doing I was told to just do more.
I started having panic attacks and had to lock myself in one of the quiet rooms at work because I couldn't get myself together. Finally, when one of my stock grants had vested I told my boss that I would be leaving Amazon. I gave him two week's notice. He told me that I needed to train someone to take over my position in India and that really needed me to stay 4. I only agreed because I knew that if I left then one of my incredibly over-worked team members would have to take over for me.
I am a tough cookie - I have never cried at work, even when a friend died of cancer. I don't believe that anyone owed me anything. But working at Amazon was a soul-crushing experience.
As others have stated, Amazon is a fantastic company for the customer. The leadership principle that everyone exemplified was to start at the customer and work your way backwards. But they are the worst employer and steward for the community.
And this, from a current Amazon corporate employee in a major east coast city (bolding ours):
It's very strange to see your feelings corroborated in the words of several strangers, but what's been previously documented is exactly my experience during my years at Amazon. The average Amazon employee stays with Amazon for 14 months. 14. Months. I have been with the company for less than 5 years, and have been there longer than nearly 80% of the employees. For a company that prides itself on efficiency, a turnover rate like that seems painfully inefficient—and painful it is if you're the one left while your co-worker exits. The work will definitely fall on you, and if you manage to hold things together, even just barely, you'll see that headcount vanish, and suddenly you're doing the work of two people.
Let's talk about leave of absences and people who quit—never in my professional career have I worked somewhere were so many people either walk out or simply disappear. I've encountered more than one employee who has gone out on a mysterious leave of absence only to never return and severe all social ties with other co workers never to be heard from again. We're talking block on linkedin kind of severing.
I've read the comments some people have posted, and I'd like to set the record straight on a few things. The "pay to quit" program is nothing but a PR hoax. That option is only offered to fulltime warehouse employees, of which there are few. It's well documented that the vast majority of warehouse employees are temp workers. Of the very few people who qualify for the program—it's offered during review season, which is when raises, promotions, and stock grants are given. Anyone with a brain knows that $5,000 to quit your job is a terrible deal. It's mostly intended for the poor performers—a way for Amazon to avoid firing an employee and paying unemployment.
Also—many comments reference that if you don't like your job then just quit. You know what, you're right. You can just quit, and if you're that unhappy with your job I would argue that you should. However, I think the larger point here is that this is all a terrible way to run a successful corporation. Amazon needs its employees just as much as it needs its customers, and the fact it doesn't understand that is what hinders its overall success. Other players in the space offer lots of perks to keep employees happy—decent health insurance (Amazon's is terrible), snacks in the office, discounted gym memberships—Amazon does none of these things. Are employees entitled to it? No, we're not, but when it keeps the company from getting and retaining the best talent—the very talent that is necessary to keep the company going and innovating, then it's probably a good idea to offer a few things. I'm not an organizational psychologist, but I'm confident that there are studies out there that say that happy employees work harder, longer hours, and stick around for more than 14 months. If you're an average person reading this you probably aren't outraged, but if you're an Amazon executive or shareholder you absolutely should be.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Amazon is evil, but it is certainly a contentious work environment where people will literally step on each other to climb to the next level (Amazon's level structure has also been documented), and are even encouraged to do so. If you want a raise—you better figure out a way to eliminate the job of someone below you. It's not the most sinister and I'm definitely not being abused, but I think that the culture is such that it's very difficult to be successful, and ultimately not worth the rewards. Because of this Amazon will remain a stepping stone for most; not a place to settle into a career.
Oh, and I completely agree that the review process is absolute garbage. If you ever had a bad day and said something to someone that was even slightly snarky it will come up, completely out of context, on your review. I know several people who have had "becomes visibly frustrated at times" called out on their review. I get visibly frustrated when people try to come onto the subway car before letting me out, let alone when I'm at work and multiple people have given me conflicting deadlines on projects. The bottom line is that you should never have an emotion. Ever. Of it will be seen as a weakness. Your manager can complain and gossip to you endlessly about people on your team or on other teams, but never do the same. It will come up on your review that you're a complainer.
The PIP thing is also completely real, and I've known a few people who have gotten one completely out of nowhere. While nothing this terrible has ever happen to me I have seen it happen around me. I have known people who have been screamed at by their managers, cursed at, and even had comments made to them that were blatantly racist. While my personal experience hasn't been completely tragic, I definitely tell anyone who will listen that it's a terrible company to company to work for and they should seek employment elsewhere. Despite hefty monetary incentives for getting someone hired, I don't refer people.
[Photo: Getty. You can email the author at Hamilton@Gawker.com]