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Aug 17, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

“Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” said former Amazon employee Bo Olson, who worked in book marketing. Or, they very wisely chose to leave Amazon.”

Explanations like “we’re not totally sure” or “I’ll get back to you” are not acceptable, many employees said. Some managers sometimes dismissed such responses as “stupid” or told workers to “just stop it.”

Ideas are critiqued so harshly in meetings at times that some workers fear speaking up.

“You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus,” said a marketer who spent six years in Amazon’s retail division. “It’s a horrible feeling.”

“You either fit here, or you don’t”

A former HR executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon.

“What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses. “The joke in the office was that when it came to work-life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.”

Many tech companies are racing to top one another’s family leave policies — Netflix just began offering up to a year of paid parental leave. Amazon, though, offers no paid paternity leave.

In a recent recruiting video, one young woman warns:

You either fit here or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.”

The comments are eye-opening

Sitting down the other morning to have a cup of coffee I did a quick glance of my Google alerts and came across a New York Times article titled Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. Twenty minutes later, I sat back and gazed out the window in astonishment. These quotes above were just a few of the statements from employees both past and present.

As a proponent of engagement and creating a great work culture, I was beyond shocked. This article is a MUST read if you want to think about organizations that are heading into uncharted territories. If Amazon was a company that was founded around the Industrial Revolution, I would not have batted an eye.

But, this is one of our newer companies that has been created around the Technology Revolution. While we hear of the exploits of their brethren in the Silicon Valley, this company, based on this New York Times article, is charting new ground.

In other words, it’s just about the work and that is all that matters.

One thing that jumped out from this article was how some employees really thrive under this type of high-pressure environment. To me, however, it was just sickening to see how a company could stand behind these type of policies.

Regardless how successful you are, you do not have the right create this type of workplace environment.

Customer service vs. employee focus

What really intrigued me is the fact that Amazon is so customer focused. Their customer service is renowned for its customer first attitude. This is so very different from companies that worry about getting the employee focus first, figuring that they are the most important part of the equation.

I couldn’t believe when I read the statement about the fulfillment center with no air conditioning  — but they had an ambulance parked outside in case anyone had heat related issues. Eventually, they were forced to put in air conditioning.

While some of these policies have shown success, my concern is about all the employee ambassadors who are leaving with turnover being extremely high. Each person has a voice, and that gives everyone a bullhorn to amplify their thoughts. Just reading some of the comments by former employees is just astonishing.

To each his own

As an HR executive, I knew from reading this story that there is not enough money available to get me to work at a company that exhibits these type of people policies. Not only that, but Amazon’s constant playing one employee against another is just sickening.

But on the other hand, you can’t deny that they have been remarkably successful and have reached heights unheard of in their quest to push their workforce to the limit. While this environment would not be right for me, there are people that will use the brand to build a career. They’ll get in, do a few years work [if they are lucky], and then get out. The advantage of working with a strong brand is that it gives you an added advantage in your job search.

My first job out of college was with IBM, which was the Google of its day. Working for IBM made my job search after that somewhat easier. So, my thought is that for the ones that are there at Amazon and will be leaving soon, remember that you have done your “time” and you will be rewarded at your next job.

At a minimum, you will know what work environment you do not want to toil in. You have been to the mountaintop and you have seen what it is like.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.