Working at Amazon is Hell. So What?

The New York Times just published an expose of how difficult life is at Amazon. I suppose their goal was to make us feel bad for their poor employees. Now, to be clear, I’m happy to criticize Amazon when they deserve to be criticized–I completely disagree with their decision to not pay their employees during security checks–even though the supreme court agreed with them. I just don’t have a problem with a company that demands a lot from their employees.

Amazon corporate employees work long hours, don’t get fancy benefits and free lunches, and are expected to dedicate their souls to the company. It’s so awful that Amazon kidnaps people off the street and forces them to work for them. I mean, why haven’t police or FBI or broken down Amazon’s doors and freed these poor people?

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38 thoughts on “Working at Amazon is Hell. So What?

  1. I’m very glad to see that someone else takes issue with the employees not being paid for the security screening, regardless of what the Supreme Court decided on this one.

    I understand what you’re saying about making choices for oneself, though I think that it’s still important for people to work for change in a corporate culture where it seems that people aren’t allowed to be human, and have lives outside of work. I give my all when I’m at work and take pride in providing a good product. I also want to be able to give my all to my family and enjoy my outside interests. People don’t always have the option to just leave a job due to market conditions and personal situations. So I think working to change their job so that it’s more tenable is alright.

  2. I worked a white collar job for a soul-sucking company who I lovingly refer to as toxic job. Although by your definition I voluntarily worked there the reality is that it was in the recesssion, my prior company shut down operations and laid us all off, I had been looking for work for six-months across the globe, I had no medical insurance (yes I had COBRA which is so expensive it’s cheaper to just claim no insurance*) and I had a wife with a life threatening medical condition.

    Toxic job was H O R R I B L E and by your words I could have just walked across the street and popped into a new position. The reality was there was nowhere else to go to and the entire time I was there, 3 years, I never stopped searching for another job,

    I’m not convinced that the recession is over. Yes unemployment numbers are down, but as we all know the unemployment statistic is fatally flawed because it was develped in the 1930s and doesn’t count those people who have been out of work and can’t find a job…which is supposed to be the entire purpose of the number. Many people I know are underemployed because that’s all they can get. By your argument they should magically conjour a new job up out of thin air.

    * A family member did just that. When he went to the hospital he’d claim no insurance and destitiution and they would cut 90% off his bills…and he paid less then we did with insurance.

    1. I agree, sorry but I think Evil Hr Ladies article comes across as cold. Not everyone can just quit a job and magically find a new one straight away..

      1. I’m with you two. There are so many reasons it can be hard to switch jobs. But the bigger question is do we as a society think it’s ok to treat employees badly as a matter of course? I say no but I guess some say yes.

  3. I think HR lady missed the point of the article. It seems to be more of a PSA that Amazon can and will punish you for being human. From the original article by the NYT: “Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.”
    How are you free to just drop your job and walk out in those circumstances? While anyone is free to take a job at Amazon the NYT article goes into much more detail about what you are signing up for than the recruiter or interviewer would tell you. Not many future finance people worry about their working conditions and work/life balance because it is pretty well documented what things are going to be like. On the other hand not nearly as many people would expect this out of Amazon.

    1. Yes exactly and the ambulances waiting to take away the warehouse workers dropping from heat exhaustion? And the feedback tool where people pile on someone to get them fired and protect themselves? Sorry but NO

  4. I’m a long-term Amazon customer, but learning about their corporate culture is really causing me to re-evaluate that relationship.

  5. As I understand from the summation that Ask A Manager linked to (haven’t had time to read the full article yet, probably should)…there were some people put on PIPs “for getting sick”. That if nothing else is STUPID and should trigger investigations. (There of course may well be an excuse, with other stuff going on.)

    There are very few situations where I would file an employment claim because it is generally not worthwhile for the employee to go through the process. I view employment law as generally a deterrent. We are not long removed from the days when employers openly paid women less than men or didn’t hire them period. Whether or not those women had children or planned to, simply because they had uteruses (uteri?). At some point it is not your choice.

    1. It is openly argued that women make less than men for comparable work. It would be nice if that were not the case, but it seems to be, still.

  6. I usually like your posts, but this one seems pretty condescending. In a time when most people in the US are part of the working poor leaving your job because you dislike the working conditions is not always an option. Employers clearly realize this which is why they can get away with treating their employees to terrible. And Amazon is a good company to work for the same way Wal-Mart is.

  7. Not to mention some of those claims absolutely fly in the face of labour law. You can’t legally retalliate against someone for being on legitimate legally allowed leave for illness etc. FMLA prevents that and Amazon is definitely big enough to be covered under it. You also can’t discriminate against pregnant persons that way, as long as they took legitimate leave. Amazon’s actions were at least, if they were as described retaliatory against some of the few classes of people that are actually legally protected.

    I agree about the pay for security check thing, but they lost that one and however outrageous it is Amazon is never going to let their paws off that money if the law doesn’t say they have to.

    I wonder if there’s a class action going to show up about the retaliation for being ill.

    1. It’s doubtful that we’re getting the whole story on this. Amazon is a big company with HR departments and law departments. They, undoubtedly, make every effort to follow the law.

      As someone who has dealt with a lot of fired employees, you’d be surprised at how many people claim law violations when it’s absolutely not true.

      1. Why undoubtedly? Amazon went to the supreme court over one labor decision. I expect them to push all boundaries to see what they can do. In the absence of any oversight I would expect the health and safety of workers to be compromised.

        1. Yep and if our own government can cover sh#% up all the time imagine what big corps like this can

        2. I doubt that many companies scrupulously follow the law. They skirt the edge to make money and sometimes step over that line. As long as stock price goes up, they can afford to settle a few lawsuits.

  8. Evil one,
    Are there any statistics on the divorce rate at Amazon? I remember when Neutron Jack instituted rank and yank at GE they became the most divorce-ing company in the US (world?) because people were forced to cast their personal lives away.

  9. This one has me torn. On the one hand, we are not looking to throw off the shackles of servitude. If one does not like the conditions where one works, there may be the option of moving on; but as others have pointed out, there may not be. On the second hand, these “hard-hitting” stories that are carefully written after interviewing hundreds of employees could be exposing an ugly truth and it may not be Amazon cultural, it could be management cultural.
    There could very well be a problem that some of these employees are trying to expose to get the company to fix that management and/or leadership either chooses to ignore or doesn’t know about. In as litigious a society as ours, I imagine that Amazon fights these kinds of things daily. But, what if, they still needed to know? Still needed to understand that there could be people who are “trapped” in their circumstances that prevent them from finding employment elsewhere? Or there are people who so closely identify with their work that leaving without trying to fix what is bothering them would be unconscionable? There are always going to be managers and “leaders” who simply do not care about the problems of others and are driven by numbers.
    Articles such as these have to be read as A source not THE source. And what about the thousands of employees who love their jobs, who have no problems? This HR thing is way more complicated than many people can understand unless they do it. And one article from a source not known for its lack of bias should not be taken as scripture.
    Am I saying there is not a problem? No, there very likely is, but to say the entire company has a terrible culture is disingenuous. Perhaps the best thing to do would be for HR to start with the big problems brought up . . . there is ALWAYS more than meets the eye to these things, always.

  10. Normally I love your posts, but this one is totally wrong, wrong, wrong. I agree with the other posters that we don’t want to promote this kind of work culture and that MOST employees don’t have the luxury of walking away from a job. I lived in Seattle for years and many workers at Amazon felt trapped because if they left within a certain time frame they would have to pay back a signing bonus that was usually quite significant (10-50K, from the people I knew). So, they put up with the severe dysfunction for 2 or 3 years. Do you know what living in total misery for 80 hours a week for 2 -3 years does to a marriage, your health, your kids, your friendships, how many events you miss with your extended family, and I could go on and on. I think Amazon will have even fewer applicants as a result of this article, as they should. The reason this article was big news was because it was big news! I don’t think it was general knowledge that the corporate offices were so awful. Amazon recruits globally, and most people didn’t know about all of this craziness before TheNYTimes article. Imagine, moving your family across the world, or country, and then being treated like dirt when you have a miscarriage – perhaps even getting written up for it? Can you even imagine how trapped you would feel? Shame on you for thinking it’s no big deal for a company to act that way.

    1. I experienced this 1st hand as a single person who wanted to boost their career and find a life partner in Seattle. I worked long hours ( 10 -12 hour days plus oncall ) , and did not learn anything new, and had no time for social activities. You have to be all-in and ready to give up everything else to work at Amazon. For me, that was asking too much and I wish that they had made that clear during the interview process. Instead I have to repay them more money than I made while I was there because I decided to return home where I could have a life.

      I may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that was my experience. It went from exciting opportunity to “get me out of here” over a 6 month period.

  11. I don’t know folks, I don’t think Suzanne’s article is “condescending” or “cold.”

    It think it is realistic in that there are some companies that do have a high-energy, work-all-hours, do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-the-job-done culture. And as long as they make that clear BEFORE hiring, I’m okay with it.

    Personally, that is NOT a company culture that I would want to work in, nor do I think it is all that productive. I’ve seen those companies, worked at them (as a contractor) and see them as an outsider sees them. Such companies often don’t have an eye on the long term, nor do they have “loyal” staff (just brown-nosers who are willing to stab in the back if needed to get ahead), and have a higher than usual turn-over rate because of disillusionment or burnout. Now, I don’t know if that is true for Amazon or not; I’ve never worked there – nor do I desire to.

    Another thing I have noticed about such high-profile companies is that a lot of people want to work there because they think it is “cool” to work for them. Hey, you know what? When a company has a lot of potential candidates they can get employees at a lower pay. When the organization is non-glamorous, such as the local sewer company, then they have to pay higher wages and benefits to attract employees. It’s the free market – and I love it!

    I think Suzanne is simply pointing if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

    Yes, the current US job market stinks; in fact, it squid-lips stinks. But, that doesn’t mean you have to stay on at really bad job because there is no other salt mine in town to be exploited at. That is the point I got from Suzanne’s article.

    Further, I add this is an article from the New York Times whose target audience is mostly Upper-West Side liberals who believe that any successful company must be doing something unethical, if not downright greedy and illegal.

    I often view such liberally-biased articles as “hit” pieces; not real investigative journalism.

    Ask yourselves, why do we just believe whatever the disgruntled employees say about working at Amazon; without question! But, if the CEO or someone defends them then we automatically assume they are lying or hiding something?

    1. Not only is this liberally biased, the reporter on this story, David Streitfeld, has a history of biased reporting where Amazon is concerned. The NYT’s public editor (who is not part of the editorial staff) already rebuked him for it once, and did so again after this article. The Columbia Journalism Review — it monitors media outlets, and is published by the university that awards the Pulitzer — has also pointed out that this story lacks important context.

      People can hand-wring about this story if they want, but they need to know that they’re being manipulated by someone who has an agenda.

  12. It surprises me how few people know that jobs like this exist everywhere. My husband has been traveling 90 percent this summer. It sucks.

    This isn’t unique to Amazon. If a company offers you a big sign on bonus or a higher salary than you might get elsewhere, you can bet your booty that there’s going to be a price to pay.

    And some people willingly do more than is asked of them in order to chase that brass ring.

  13. Some of the stuff in the NYT article, if true, is terrible and even, in some cases, illegal (and there are tons of lawyers out there who will take up those cases without charging the plaintiffs a dime up front). Here’s an interesting Forbes article on the topic. One thing I’ve learned about the media — whether it be TMZ or the NYT — is news stories almost never tell the real, true, and complete story.

  14. I do also agree with much of the article. I thought “so what?” a couple of times – such as with the nondisclosure agreement and sign on bonus repayment. Standard stuff, and a good idea overall (tech companies do need folks to sign nondisclosure agreements). And I personally think it is a good idea to encourage folks to speak up and disagree. Again, my reaction was “and this is bad why?” Now if the company is requiring people to pay for their own travel expenses and retaliating against people taking FMLA leave, that’s a big issue (and again, there are a ton of lawyers out there chomping at the bit, not to mention state labor officials who don’t mind smacking down a large company like Amazon).

    1. Beware the employee -> employer non-disclosure agreement. These are not simply nuisance forms that you sign and forget. The title doesn’t matter on these and they really should be called employment/nondisclosure/noncompete/non-solicitation/anti-raiding/arbitration/etc. agreements because all of that is covered in these.

      There was the KBR case of Jamie Lee Jones who was raped in Iraq and who had an arbitration-only clause in her employment agreement and could not sue KBR until her rights were affirmed via the 5th circuit court of appeals.

      My employer wanted me to sign an agreement that I could not work anywhere in the industry in North America for one-year follwing either a voluntary or involuntary departure from the company. The penalty for not complying was all money I had ever earned in and would ever earn in my natural lifetime. And I wish this was abnormal.

      Employment agreements are not standard stuff.

      1. In CA noncompete agreements are not valid (but nondisclosure / trade secrete confidentiality agreements are). Of course a business doesn’t want employees learning and then disclosing confidential information such as trade secrets. I have no problem with those type of agreements.

        1. Agreed. I did plan to mention that noncompetes have various levels of enforceability in different states with CA being the best for employees because they are illegal. Even though I do not live or work in CA I’ve always tried to get my employment agreements to be under CA law so that it doesn’t matter what the Agreement says its null and void. As far as protecting confidential information I have caveats on that which is:

          This Agreement imposes no obligation upon Employee with respect to any Confidential or Proprietary Information (a) that was in Employee’s possession before receipt from Company; (b) is or becomes a matter of public knowledge through no fault of Employee; (c) is rightfully received by Employee from a third party not owing a duty of Confidentiality to the Company; (d) is disclosed without a duty of Confidentiality to a third party by, or with the authorization of, Company; or (e) is independently developed by Employee. Confidential and/or Proprietary information shall be marked as such.

  15. If that’s an accurate assessment, then was A Christmas Carol written all for naught? Scrooge didn’t do anything illegal. He just made savvy business decisions. Why didn’t Cratchit just mount a job search if he didn’t like it? (“Je-e-eff Bezos! I am the ghost of catalog stores pa-a-s-t. In life I was known as Sears Roebuck…”.)

    1. Everyone takes jobs that make them better off. We’ve forgotten that work is work and it’s hard.

      When the vast majority of people were farmers, they went to work every day because if they didn’t they and their families would die. There was no backup system. They didn’t go milk the cows because they found it fulfilling.

  16. Yeah, I gotta disagree with you here too. Work is work, none of us are idiots (and do you realize you are implying that anyone who disagrees with you is a layabout who doesn’t pull their weight at work? It’s pretty insulting.)

    I’ve worked in high stress industries, been called in at 3am to firefight mission critical issues, and willingly pull 60-80 hour weeks when called upon. I still wouldn’t work for Amazon, not based on the NYT article, but based on years of horror stories from peers who’ve worked there. Amazon transcends “work hard” or even “chase the brass ring” and goes right over into abusive, in a way that is really abnormal.

    Also recall we aren’t just talking about technology workers getting six figure salaries, who probably do have other opportunities. We’re also talking about warehouse stockers, call center workers, etc who might not have the mobility and freedom as the coders.

    1. But see, that’s the beauty of the free market. You don’t have to work there. No one does. If it makes your life better, work there. If it doesn’t, don’t.

      If no one will work under those conditions, Amazon will either have to change their policies and procedures or they’ll go out of business.

  17. One last comment on this (maybe).

    I worked, as an outside entity, with Enron for several years prior to their collapse. A lot of what I read about Amazon recently mirrors what I saw at Enron yet, like then, noboday is questioning Amazon ethics in an environment where backstabbing is commonplace.

    I predicted almost a year before Enron completely unraveled that they would and I’ll go out on a limb here and male a similar prediction for Amazon that with all this cutthroat pressure to thrive or die some people have artificially inflated their numbers and done other unethical things that will, at some time, implode.

    BTW, if you would like some great fiction to read I suggest relaxing with the Enron code of Ethics. Simply Google enron code of ethics filetype:pdf. Here’s a sampling from the foreward: Enron…enjoys a reputation for fairness and honesty and…is respected. Enron’s reputation depends on its people, on you and me. Let’s keep that reputation high. Kenneth L. Lay, Chairman and Chief Executive Crook.

  18. All I know is I’ve heard way too many horror stories, some first hand not just the article. It’s a massive company I’m sure there are certain divisions and departments not operating like that, but c’mon. Also, they relocate a lot of people so not so easy to leave when you’d have to repay your relocation fees back and after moving your whole family across the company

    1. That was my experience there. My quality for work and life dropped to the bottom of the barrel after I moved to Seattle to work with Amazon. It started off great until the 2 month mark where I started working 13 hour days and was on call for weeks at time. I got support calls at all hours of the day and night, and had to cancel every social event that I tried to go to. No movies, no dating, no nothing if you work for Amazon.

      I took the financial hit and moved back home in order to get my life back. It cost me about $20k + broken relationships and other parts of my life for my 6 month experiment.

  19. One of my questions is how hard will it be to work elsewhere? Managers who treat you like this will likely not give good references. It makes it that much harder to find a new job.

  20. This whole idea that if you don’t like your work environment you can change to another one if simply ludicrous ! Maybe this works for you one-percenters with millions in the bank for us peasants it is not that simple. I was in a job I didn’t care for and I searched and searched…a few interviews but the my ‘work environment’ conspired to keep their hooks in me and prevent me to making a move until well i was too old for most positions…far as I can tell ALL HRs are EVIL little people…

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