Madeline StoneAugust 21, 2015
David Ryder/Getty Images
Amazon is a notoriously difficult place to work.
The article in The Times describes a “bruising workplace” where employees are asked to harshly critique their peers, and those suffering personal crises are often pushed out of their positions.
Many of these posts were written anonymously, so take them with a grain of salt, but we’ve only included sentiments that seemed to be a reoccuring theme or that we have heard from our own sources.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
Your offer comes with a lot of stock! But it won’t vest for two years.
Amazon’s stock vesting schedule incentivizes people to stick around. Employees will vest about 80% of their initial stock grant after two years of work.
“The thing is most people upon getting the offer would think they’d stay long enough to reap the rewards and end up leaving earlier than they’d planned,” Reddit user examazonsde writes.
Plus, if you leave within a year, you’ll have to pay back part of your signing bonus. If you leave within two, you’ll also owe part of your relocation fees.
You don’t get the kind of lavish perks you see at other tech companies like Google or Facebook.
Want gourmet lunches and weekly massages? Amazon isn’t the place for you.
“One aspect of Amazon culture that turns many people off is the constant emphasis on frugality,” Eric Aderhold, former software engineer, writes on Quora. “Amazon doesn’t tend to buy lunches for its employees, offer outstanding fully-paid health coverage, match charitable contributions, invest in top-of-the-line workstations for developers to use, or other expensive things that other top employers are known to do. This focus on frugality has helped keep prices low, which in turn has allowed Amazon to grow to the impressive size it is today. The downside is that it’s hard for any company to hire and retain top employees when other companies are willing to offer a bunch of attractive fringe benefits in addition to being competitive salary-wise.”
There are some perks, however, like an on-campus farmers market and a dog-friendly workplace.
The hours can be excruciating, with little work-life balance.
Lots of people work late into the night and on weekends and holidays, though of course this varies between departments.
“Personally I have not met any Amazonian with any other extra curricular activity other than work,” one anonymous former employee writes.
Amazon scored a 2.7 out of a possible 5 on Glassdoor’s work-life balance rating. In contrast to Silicon Valley’s push towards more generous family policies, Amazon does not offer paid paternity leave, while new moms get eight weeks paid leave in addition to 12 unpaid.
Though paternity leave has become much more common at tech companies, an Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire that 83% of U.S. companies do not have a policy in place for new dads.
Many Amazon engineers have to take turns with “pager duty.”
Engineering team members take turns spending a weekend on call. They can be paged to fix issues at any time of the day, with managers expecting a response within 15 minutes or so.
“Even though I was only on call one week out of five, and even though getting paged wasn’t an everyday occurrence while on call, I grew tired of needing to schedule my life in such a way that I would always be available to respond to a high-priority event if necessary,” former Amazon engineer Eric Aderhold wrote on Quora.
“Getting woken up at 2am so you can wake up someone else at 2:15am (because the problem is in one of your dependencies) just so they can reboot a server is probably not what you signed up for,” an anonymous employee wrote.
Get ready to run into “black boxes.”
“You’ll find a plethora of projects at Amazon that would be incredibly useful for your current task, if only you knew how to use them,” one frustrated employee writes. “In most cases documentation is non-existent, contact information is non-existent, and the trail of any breadcrumbs left leads to the name of someone that left Amazon years ago.”
Another employee writes that he’s seen engineers have to come up with crazy hacks to work around these problems.
“Jeff demands” can cause employees to drop everything at the drop of a hat.
Here one employee writes: “Jeff Bezos micromanages Amazon. You’ll be working toward your commitments for a sprint when all of the sudden your manager flies in and says you have to drop everything and work on something else. Why? Because Jeff just sent an email to your VP about what your priorities are, and they’re not the same as the ones that he sent in an email last week.”
It can be frustrating to watch the company get beat up in the press.
“Amazon, as a practice, does not respond to inquiries from the press,” writes one former employee. “So every piece of press we get is either a regurgitated press release or a story about how we screwed over some grandmother in Topeka followed by ‘Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.’”
The company ranks its employees and eliminates those who can’t cut it.
In a set-up that sounds like something out of “The Hunger Games,” once a year managers come together to review employees’ work and debate their standings.
Amazon employees are ranked according to their performance, and those at the bottom are eliminated each year in a grueling process called an Organization Level Review.
“You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus,” one marketing employee told the New York Times. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
Some built-in systems make coworkers competitive with each other.
The “Anytime Feedback Tool” is an internal platform that office workers can secretly use to either praise or critique their colleagues.
The peer evaluations can be submitted to members of the management team at any time, using the company’s internal directory.
According to the New York Times, “Many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly.”
And since Amazon does rank its employees, the Anytime Feedback Tool is more than just a way to gossip about your coworkers — it could have a real effect on your standing at the company, though an Amazon spokesperson told the Times that feedback generally tends to be positive.
Amazon isn’t the only tech company with this kind of system. Human resources software company Workday, for example, has a similar tool called Collaborative Anytime Feedback.
You’ll be put on probation if you can’t keep up with the work.
A “Performance Improvement Plan,” or “PIP, is a three-month track that Amazon uses for employees it thinks are underperforming. Though PIP is ostensibly an opportunity to get an employee back on track, past accounts of PIPs make it seem as if the program is essentially a way to get workers to resign.
“In Amazon, PIP is being used as a tool to fire employees. That is, once you are into a PIP you can be sure that you would be made to quit within a maximum of 3 months,” a former employee told Gawker in September 2014. “But the point to be noted here is, there will not be any coaching or training to the employee during this period. They will have to work just normally like others but each and every movement of them would be monitored.”
There’s lots of turnover.
A PayScale survey quoted by The New York Times found that Amazon’s median employee tenure is one year.
“I’ve been deeply involved in engineers recruiting for a long time and the pattern of burn and churn at Amazon, resulting in a disproportionate number of candidates from Amazon showing at our doorstep, is clear and consistent,” Nimrod Hoofien, a director of engineering at Facebook and an Amazon veteran, said in a recent Facebook post. “It can not be true that ‘Amazon doesn’t care about people’ (or engineers). That’s just not a smart thing to do and Amazon is smart.”
Amazon has said in the past that its attrition rates are in line with the rest of the tech industry.
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