Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has rejected a New York Times story that portrays his company as competitive to the point of treating its workers with brutality.
On Saturday, the Times published a story based on interviews with more than 100 current and former Amazon workers. The story describes a company where workers are encouraged to rip apart one another's ideas in meetings, send secret feedback to one another's bosses, work late into the night and meet standards described as "unreasonably high."
The Amazon seen in the Times piece is a place where people who suffer cancer or a miscarriage are not evaluated fairly and not given enough time to recover. It's a place where employees are seen weeping at their desks. In short, the Amazon portrayed in the Times story is a company few would want to work for.
But that's not the Amazon that Bezos recognizes as he said in an employee memo sent in response to the Times piece, as obtained by CNET.
Many corporations, including those in tech, are often portrayed as tough, fiercely competitive and even back-stabbing places to work. Apple, Microsoft, Google and others have, at times, been depicted as difficult and demanding environments for their workers, sometimes in stories like the Amazon piece and other times by disgruntled employees leaving the company. How close these allegations are to the truth is hard to say. There's no question the corporate world can be rough and highly competitive. But the Apples, Microsofts and Googles continue to be among the most attractive employers in the world, luring stacks of resumes each day.
In his memo, Bezos encouraged Amazon employees to give the Times story a careful read. He also pointed them to a LinkedIn post from an Amazon worker, who called the Times story inaccurate.
"The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems," Bezos said in his memo. "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day."
Bezos said the Times story accused Amazon of trying to "create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard." But Bezos said he doesn't "recognize this Amazon" and hopes the company's employees don't either. Further, Bezos said he didn't believe any company as portrayed in the Times article could survive in today's competitive tech market.
"The people we hire here are the best of the best," Bezos said. "You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want."
And who would want to work in such a harsh atmosphere? Not even Bezos.
"I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay," Bezos added. "I know I would leave such a company. But hopefully, you don't recognize the company described."
And what of the stories of people with personal and medical tragedies being treated so poorly? Bezos told employees who hear of any such stores to report them to HR or email him directly.
"Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero," Bezos said.
The Times' portrayal of Amazon isn't all bad. Some employees interviewed for the story said they thrived at the company because it pushed them past their limits. Others said they were motivated by the desire of "thinking big and knowing that we haven't scratched the surface on what's out there to invent," Elisabeth Rommel, an Amazon retail executive, told the Times.
"A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It's the greatest place I hate to work," John Rossman, a former Amazon executive who wrote a book called "The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World's Most Disruptive Company," told the Times.
Below is a copy of the full memo from Bezos:
If you haven't already, I encourage you to give this (very long) New York Times article a careful read:
I also encourage you to read this very different take by a current Amazonian:
Here's why I'm writing you. The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.
The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don't recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don't, either. More broadly, I don't think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today's highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.
But hopefully, you don't recognize the company described. Hopefully, you're having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.
Update, 9:35 a.m. PT: The full text of the memo -- released to CNET by Amazon -- has been added.