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The New York Times Thinks You Don't Want to Work at Amazon

Unless you enjoy a "bruising workplace."

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Amazon is one of the great success stories of the digital age. Customers love it. So do investors.

Amazon’s employees, though, have a more complicated take on the company. Lots of them love it, too. But we’ve already heard that conditions can be very rough for the warehouse workers who help Amazon and its robots deliver packages. Now the New York Times takes a long look at life for Amazon’s white collar workers and says things are rough for them, too.

The Times’ piece contains the requisite to-be-sure modifiers (“some said they thrived …”), but it’s quite clear that reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld think Amazon is a bruising workplace. First tip-off: The headline, which says Amazon is a “Bruising Workplace.”

The story itself is filled with cringe-worthy anecdotes of workers who said they were essentially punished for getting cancer or suffering a miscarriage. Just as unsettling are the descriptions of a workplace culture of extreme competition, encouraged by mechanisms like the “Anytime Feedback Tool,” which allows employees to snitch on each other anonymously.

“Many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming,” the reporters wrote. “They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly. Many others … described feeling sabotaged by negative comments from unidentified colleagues with whom they could not argue.”

I’ve asked Amazon, which allowed some of its employees to be interviewed for the piece, if it has an additional comment. (Update: An Amazon rep responded via email: “While we generally do not comment on individual news stories, we quickly saw current Amazon employees react. Here’s an example.” The link sends readers to a lengthy LinkedIn rebuttal post by Nick Ciubotariu, an Amazon engineering manager who says the Times story is a “horribly misinformed piece of ‘journalism.'” And now Bezos has responded, via a companywide memo: “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”)

You’ll want to read the whole thing for yourself. You may also find yourself wondering how exceptional Amazon really is. The urge to push workers to get more done, while working longer hours, is a long-running theme in the history of American labor, and technology hasn’t alleviated that.

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