Inside Amazon's Bizarre Corporate Culture
Yesterday, we brought you one Amazon warehouse worker's account of what it's like working for the blue collar side of the operation. Today, we bring you an account of what it's like working on the corporate side. (Hint: "weird.")
We got this email (which we've lightly copy edited for easier reading) from a person who worked in Amazon's corporate offices in Seattle from 2007-2009. It's an interesting look at a rather bizarre and driven corporate culture, with high pressure, high turnover, and a strong devotion to The Cult of Jeff Bezos. Take it for what it's worth.
Just a very weird experience as a whole. You feel like you won the lottery just getting a call back about your resume.Tthat's by design. Amazon is great at branding and they have branded themselves the place to work in high tech. Makes sense. Probably why they heavily recruit ivy league campuses now. Smart people, first job - you'd be crazy not to think that's a great opportunity. So you get an interview, what next? A six hour ordeal including panel interviews and people coming and going. You'll find out later when asked to participate in one of these that they are designed to agitate the interviewee, lets see what you got!
Then the fun starts. There is not so much as the word "train" or any training period what so ever. There's barely a job description and that will fluctuate. This also is by design. Sink or swim they say. (You do get an employee orientation and nifty Amazon backpack they charge you for when you leave the company). There was a young woman hired to be a control buyer on our team (Amazon retail is broken down by sections on the website. I worked for toys) and her and her entire family relocated from san fran, on the company's dime. Nice right? Well she started on Monday and by Friday she was pretty upset. She explained that the position was nothing like the description and she felt she was deceived a bit on the responsibilities. Needless to say when I showed up Monday her door-desk was empty. Hopefully they paid to get them back to san fran.
The first six months there is pretty exciting. You're trying to swim, meeting new people, going out to lunches with vendors (because Amazon is totally ok with receiving gifts of all types from outside interests. Money, food, sports tickets, you name it. And don't get me started on the booze. My god those people put away some booze, ON THE CLOCK, IN THE OFFICE. It's acceptable!). One might feel like a new career has just started; but that's about when the shit starts getting real. The work/life balance is crap. I once was asked why I turned my blackberry off on some random Saturday afternoon. The fact I was in a movie theater with my family was not ok. Your blackberry stays on at all times. Responsibilities grow fast. Now you're in deep. Apparently Jeff said something about 'if you aren't working at least 60 hours a week you aren't working' or something to that affect. The managers love it and say that crap all the time.
Better not complain though! This is about the time they start reminding you that there's a thousand people out there that would love your job. They will tell you this on the regular. So yeah, I'll take conference calls at 1am because our outsourced employees in India can't work overtime/take off-hour calls. They seem to care more about stressing them out. So anyways the fun is now over. You're a good year in and have noticed teams/employees coming and going like the wind. Well apparently so has everybody else because the software engineers there designed a little tool called the "old fart tool" - basically you put in your employee number and the tool tells you how much of the company was hired after you. By 18 months in 36% of the company was hired after me (with very little increase in actual numbers. I worked from 07-09. growth was slow and there was a hiring freeze during a lot of that time depending on department). The turn over was something I had never seen before. And I've worked a few collection agencies and call centers, real crap jobs with extreme turnover. Amazon's turnover was much worse.
So post one year. Most employees start looking for a new job elsewhere or new position within the company, again by design. During orientation it's encouraged that you not spend more than 2 years in the same team. seemed like an odd statement at the time but I believe its to save your ass. The company is really good about having its staff explain to management why they should still be there. You literally must re-interview for your position, while in that position, constantly. It comes up at least every three months. And you keep getting those reminders that people outside want your job! Pretty stressful work environment. Most people aren't really that happy. Employee morale is for those new employees still thrilled to death to be there. Whenever I see one (oh I work exactly next door to Amazon Web Services. We share a dog run with them. I speak to them daily) and they tell me how great Amazon is I say, tell me that again in two years ;)
So now I'm at the old 18 month mark on the toys team and thinking I should get the hell out of that team ASAP. Unfortunately there was a hiring freeze during that time and transfers were hard to come by. A few months go by and it's February 2009. New managers on the toys team. So I'm working under this new manager and he has until the end of month to get my review done. I remember like it was yesterday! 2/09, the 28th was on a Saturday. Friday at 4:45 he calls me into his office and it goes something like this (I am not kidding and have this well documented as well as witnesses to everything)
him: [name], we decided we don't want you here anymore
me: Huh? Um, ok?
him: Yeah it's just not working out (remember I've known this guy for one month)
me: Ok well I can find another team and do a lateral move
him: No that isn't going to work either.
*very long pause*
me: Ok. well my last review was great so I'm not sure why the big difference?
him: That's just the way it is, so what are you going to do?
me: What do you mean? Are you firing me?
him: Nope. But I need you to come in Monday and let me know what your plan is.
Huh? Was he asking me to quit? (yes he was actually)
So Monday. Same shit. "What are you going to do" - by then I'm getting a little pissed. I'm a grown ass man not a recently graduated college student. Spit it out.
He doesn't. He calls me into his office everyday for at least 30 minutes asking me what I'm going to do until I finally say "I'm not quitting. if that's what this is about you need to figure out what you're going to do"
Now I'm left out of team meetings. Work is being taken away from me. The vendors I've worked with almost two year are being told not to email me anymore. Ok well I guess now is the time to do what HR reps say is great, and the rest of us know is the nail in the coffin of your job: talk to HR about the situation.
So I did. She and my manger decided to put me on a "PIP"= performance improvement plan. This is amazon's ace in the hole for termination. Which, Washington is a right to work state so not sure why they have this, maybe to save face? I don't know. Anyways this thing was ridiculous (still have it) the stuff he put on there I'd never done before, was never a part of my responsibilities and would have been physically impossible to comply with. I busted my ass for the 90 days that PIP was in place, packed up all my belongings and took them home and waited. Got called into the office and HR rep and manager say: you didn't make your PIP. We are letting you go. (big shocker!) I said "I'm being fired"? He said, "no Amazon doesn't fire people they let them go." Again what the hell difference does that make? Anyways I was told they would give me stock and a small severance package if I signed an agreement not so sue them for wrongful termination...
You aren't worth anything to that company once you strap on that backpack. Every new employee is better than you and every future employee will do a better job. I blame the success of that company and how few employees they have. Jeff has a special team of manager called the S-team. Those guys are all multi-millionaires from stock alone. Every average Joe manager at Amazon would crush you like a grape to even get noticed by Jeff. They live, breathe and sleep only to get on that team. And it's only a few levels ahead of them! They can almost reach it...
[If you're an Amazon employee who'd like to share your story, email Hamilton@Gawker.com. Photo: AP]