More than a week after the New York Times published its behind-the-scenes look at Amazon’s “bruising” workplace, the debate continues over the story and the company’s corporate culture. Although it’s clear that the most extreme anecdotes of employee mistreatment aren’t universal to the Amazon experience, GeekWire has received several messages from current and former employees detailing incidents similar to those documented by the newspaper.
Over the weekend, an anonymous employee published “The Amazonian Manifesto,” expressing concern over the company’s management practices and making three recommendations to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: 1) abolish the Feedback Tool that enables criticism of colleagues behind their backs; 2) abolish the Levels system that classifies employees by letter and number; and 3) abolish the “Rank and Yank” forced curve employee ranking system.
“Imagine an Amazon with a healthy and happy workforce — one that delivers the amazing results that today’s Amazon delivers, but does so in a sustainable way,” the manifesto says. “Imagine an Amazon that takes care of its people, nurtures them, and patiently invests in their health and happiness. Imagine an Amazon known as “the greatest place to work.”
“That, Jeff, should be your TOP project and the legacy you should be aiming to leave behind,” the post concludes. “For drones and rockets and electronic gizmos will become common commodities soon, but Amazon the company is something very special, and worth your formidable attention and will.”
In fact, one key question is whether Amazon can continue to sustain and scale its hard-charging culture. I asked New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor about this during our conversation on this weekend’s GeekWire radio show. Here’s the exchange (which wasn’t included in the show that aired, because of time).
Q: Amazon has grown so quickly here in Seattle, and it’s having an outsized impact on our city. Housing prices, traffic, big new skyscrapers near downtown Seattle. One of the concerns bubbling up underneath this is that Amazon could be setting up our region for a bust, if the company collapses. Given all of your reporting on Amazon’s corporate culture, do you think that this is a company that’s sustainable over the long term, if they continue these kinds of practices that you’ve reported on?
Jodi Kantor: Well, that’s always been the question about Amazon, right? Is it going to take over the world, or is it going to collapse under the weight of its own ambitions, and I don’t think I’m, to be honest, any more equipped to predict that future than any of the thousands of business prognosticators who have tried to answer that question.
I can speak, however, a little bit more about the tension around that question, when it comes to the culture, and these employee practices, which is the thing that I’ve investigated most deeply. I would put the question like this: On the one hand, this is the fire that fuels Amazon. They have figured out how to get the maximum amount out of this really talented workforce, and that’s a big part of why the company is so successful. And if they moderated their culture, or sanded their edges, the fear would be that they would not continue to grow and thrive in the way they have.
On the other hand, however, can they really grow with that stringent a culture? There’s a certain number of people willing to work 85 hours a week, under an incredibly demanding system, but is there a 200,000 person company, or a 300,000 person company that you can make out of people willing to work like that?
We do see some signs of strain. A lot of people at Amazon say that they have to go to these mandatory LinkedIn parties. People joke that it’s the only time you get free food at Amazon, and as an Amazon employee, you’re under a lot of pressure to hand in all of your LinkedIn contacts to recruiters at the company. That’s a sign that the pressure on hiring is very great.
Hear and read the full interview with Jodi Kantor here.
(Note: Reference to Feedback Tool corrected since original post.)