Amazon's Jeff Bezos Fires Back at New York Times Expose of Extreme Office Culture
The newspaper's Sunday story described a company that regularly pushes its employees beyond their limits, suggesting that this aggressive approach comes from the top down.
"I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay," he writes in the memo. "I know I would leave such a company."
The Times' story took readers inside the secretive company, claiming that it encourages workers to work late hours and on weekends and vacation time and otherwise push themselves to meet "unreasonably high" standards. This aggressive environment, The Times claimed, led colleagues to criticize each other's work ethic and performance in order to survive. The lengthy piece, which was posted online on Saturday night and by Monday morning had more than 3,600 comments, also featured anecdotes from former employees describing how they were "edged out" or had their dedication to the company questioned after having children or dealing with family or personal medical issues.
The story suggests that the company's approach comes from Bezos, its CEO and founder. "The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos’ ever-expanding ambitions," the Times article, by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, states.
The story claims that this line from his 1997 shareholder letter continues to serve as a manifesto: "You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three." And The Times notes that Bezos warned potential hires, "It's not easy to work here."
The article states: "At its best, some employees said, Amazon can feel like the Bezos vision come to life, a place willing to embrace risk and strengthen ideas by stress test."
In his staff memo, Bezos particularly takes issue with the article's "anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems," saying this approach was uncharacteristic of his company and the "caring Amazonians I work with every day." He also urged employees to report such incidents to human resources or even to him directly.
"Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero," he writes.
The Times' story does include a response from an HR spokesman to tales of employees being criticized for dealing with health crises, saying those responses were "not our policy or practice."
"If we were to become aware of anything like that, we would take swift action to correct it," the spokesman said.
Bezos also objects to the article's contention that "our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard." He argues that he doesn't think a company adopting this approach could thrive or survive.
Read Bezos' full memo below.
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.