New York Times investigation: Amazon sounds like a horrible place to work.

Amazon is Great Place to Work (As Long as You Have No Personal Life, Never Get Sick)

Amazon is Great Place to Work (As Long as You Have No Personal Life, Never Get Sick)

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Aug. 16 2015 1:15 PM

Amazon is Great Place to Work (As Long as You Have No Personal Life, Never Get Sick)

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A view of US multinational Amazon's European headquarters, nestled in the Clausen Valley in Luxembourg, November 10, 2014.

Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

We already knew that those who work at Amazon’s warehouses had to endure punishing hours and demands. But they’re hardly alone. The New York Times published a fascinating look at how Amazon is also pushing white-collar workers to the extreme. After speaking with more than 100 current and former Amazon employees, reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld reveal how working at one of the great success stories of the digital age can be fascinating but often brutal. As several Silicon Valley companies try to woo talent with perks, Amazon “offers no pretense that catering to employees is a priority.”

Amazon does not hide the fact that its workplace culture isn’t for everybody. In fact, it says it outright in one of its recruitment videos. “You either fit here or you don’t,” says Nimisha Saboo, a senior technical program manager, in one of the videos posted on YouTube. Amazon’s top recruiter says so as much to the Times: “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”

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Some clearly thrive in the cutthroat, almost dystopian work environment that encourages workers to turn into informants on their colleagues and chastises those who fail to respond to emails after midnight. One even describes the system that involves firing a certain number of employees every year as “purposeful Darwinism.” Yet on its way to “conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable,” as the Times puts it, lots of people seem to have suffered horrific experiences. One former employee says that “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” Apparently a popular saying in the company is that it’s a place “where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”

And the company helps them. One of the most shocking aspects of the story is how employees send secret feedback to each other’s bosses in a system that operates like a brutal game of Survivor in which alliances are formed to tear down certain workers. It’s also a system that seems to treat people as robots and any life event, such as having a child, or personal tragedy, like a cancer diagnosis or a dying family member, can get you in trouble. One woman who suffered breast cancer was criticized for letting her personal issues affect her work while another women who had a stillborn child was put on a “performance improvement plan,” which is described as Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired.”  

An employee in the company is pushing back against the article. Nick Ciubotariu says the piece is misleading. Although he does acknowledge that things in the past may have been bad, the situation has improved in recent years. Ciubotariu insists he almost never works weekends and that horrific phone system is mostly used to leave positive feedback. “The Amazon described in this article may have existed, in the past,” he writes. “Certainly, I’ve heard others refer to ‘how things used to be’ but it is definitely not the Amazon of today.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.