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On Amazon



Above: Jeff Bezos, Sociopath

Everyone is talking about the big Amazon story in the Times today. This should be an open thread for that. I don’t have a whole lot to add, as the story speaks for itself. A couple of quick points.

1. People often praise these new tech leaders as heroes. Mostly they are sociopaths. That was the case with Steve Jobs and it is certainly the case with Jeff Bezos. These are terrible, awful human beings. It’s not necessarily so different from John D. Rockefeller and Henry Clay Frick, but we need to stop thinking of these people as heroes. Bezos has created a culture of 24-hour devotion to him and his company that kicks people with kids or who have cancer to curb for those truly committed to him. This is a sign of a tremendously evil person.

2. Internal Amazon culture, with its constant self-criticism and elimination of those above and below you reminds me of nothing so much as the Cultural Revolution. That’s not a good thing. It’s probably not sustainable in the long-run either, but so long as Bezos controls everything, it will remain. That this story comes out while other tech companies are creating more benefits for mid-level workers shows that if there are other options, workers are likely to take it.

3. That so many workers are not only willing to put up with this sort of treatment but actually revel and want it shows how far so many of us have gone in accepting the extremist corporate culture of the New Gilded Age that demands complete devotion to the employer. The entire culture around disruption and innovation is really a conversation about destroying other people’s lives for profit and that isn’t going to happen without an almost religious faith in the corporate culture of these companies.

4. Relatedly, what these people actually need is a union, or some other employee organization if they can’t unionize that would represent collective disgruntlement. But even for the most exploited of these workers, not only would I be shocked if they supported such a thing, but I think it would be anathema to them, even after experiencing the incredible exploitation of the Amazon workplace.

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  • wjts

    Bezos has created a culture of 24-hour devotion to him and his company that kicks people with kids or who have cancer to curb for those truly committed to him. This is a sign of a tremendously evil person.

    Jeff Bezos is good; Jeff Bezos is great. We surrender our will as of this date.”

  • efgoldman

    Does anybody know if Bezos is exercising any control at all over WaPo? Because it sure seems like the same old Villager rag, just worse.

    • sparks

      Considering what Erik and wjts have said before you, it might be as well to rename it the Washington Times.

      • The Moonies already have that name wrapped up.

        • Sly

          It’s too bad D.C. doesn’t have a third printed daily, so David Miscavige could buy it and the city could complete the “newspapers owned by sociopathic cult leaders” hat-trick.

      • sparks

        It was a pointed joke, not a plan of action.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Jokes, like pikes, often lose their points in these parts.

          • sparks

            So I’ve noticed.

            • weirdnoise

              Deadpanning doesn’t come across very well in blog comments, but pretending not to get the point is its own form of humor.

              • sparks

                Deadpanning, arcane jokes, and kidding on the square are what I do. Mostly I don’t expect or care if they get missed/ignored. I only reacted here since it was one of our esteemed hosts who responded.

                • Deadpanning

                  Zombie gold-bugs FTW!

  • lotsabooks

    thanks erik! muchos appreciated.

    • lotsabooks

      & to respond to myself: what can be done? it seems like there is a class-action suit in the making w/r/t the female employees. are there other legal options? (i’m a civil servant so out of my depth in the private sector.) obviously these fuckers should unionize and have JB watching his back (that’s a technical term and in NO ways encourages violence, which i’m opposed to in 97% of cases…but 3% can be a broad selection.)

      • Share the article. Close your Amazon account. Tell them WHY you’re closing your account.

        • lotsabooks

          i’m doing that now! (silly me for not doing this years ago, but prices yadda yadda).

          thanks TBA!

  • Tyro

    I am a programmer, and a few things about jobs at Amazon have never made sense to me:

    First, their problems are inherently uninteresting: unless you work in the AWS group, Amazon is all about building systems to sell low-margin commodity consumer goods faster and cheaper. It’s not really especially sexy.

    Which is ok if the rewards are substantial, but they aren’t: salaries at Amazon are not particularly better than Google’s or Microsoft’s, or any number of other tech companies that treat their employees better. Or there are banks and finance companies whose tech people get very good salaries. Moreover, Amazon, being almost 20 years old, isn’t going to dump a lot of stock on the employees, either.

    So what’s the point? I think that the bad work environment appeals to people in the way that some people see the opportunity to be abused in the workplace as a challenge. When you’re very hard working, something that is difficult and unpleasant seems like it must be “worth it.”

    • Brett

      I think it’s self-selection for “Amholes”. There are some people who are going to love that kind of cut-throat business environment, especially if it comes with opportunities for further personal enrichment and advancement (and since Amazon is still an expanding company, competing for promotions isn’t zero sum yet).

      • NewishLawyer

        Yeah. Amazon is trying to get a certain kind of employee and is willing to do anything to find those that fit a very exacting profile. It is telling that they sometimes have difficulty finding employment elsewhere because of a reputation for abrasiveness.

      • Mike G

        Some people are going to love a cut-throat business environment because they have free reign to be assholes to the people below them.

        Some people are assholes when they feel it’s a necessary evil to get ‘important’ things done. Some people are assholes regardless of whether it’s necessary or productive, because they feel empowered when they are acting like an asshole.

    • weirdnoise

      There is a lot of interesting stuff going on there aside from AWS, in machine learning, next-generation distributed algorithms, the world’s largest real-time logistics optimization and lots of other stuff — at such large scale even relatively simple stuff is a major challenge.

      You couldn’t pay me enough to work there, though. At least in Silicon Valley there are a lot of companies with equally interesting problems that don’t have such a toxic environment. I’ve known several engineers who went to work at Amazon, but not one of them has stayed there.

      • Tyro

        See, the thing is that I would be willing to work there if they paid me enough money, but they don’t pay salaries that would tempt me to leave my current job or choose them over the other available options. They must have a very large college recruiting and H1-B recruitment system to keep the pipeline full.

        • Barry_D

          Which says something, that an allegedly elite company can’t keep people once they’ve had any experience.

        • Philip

          And contra the “best and brightest” crap, at least for grads from “elite” programs Amazon offers aren’t that competitive. I didn’t apply there myself, but some friends did, and compared to what, say, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Dropbox, etc offer, a new grad at Amazon will get an offer somewhere between 5-20k lower.

          • But the lower salary is made up for by the great working conditions.

            Oh wait…

    • brjun

      Programmer here too.

      I have several friends who are engineers at Amazon — maybe 10 that have worked there at some point. Overwhelmingly they were out-of-college hires. I don’t think that they knew what they were getting into. They are not bad people.

      Eventually, it became ‘my group is awesome because we only sleep in the office twice a month’ and ‘but it is such a challenge’ (and, also: ‘but the stock is growing’)! It can be pretty hard to explain that somewhere else can be interesting too, and doesn’t treat you badly. Plus, interviewing takes time. Without a good reference point, it isn’t clear that it is worth it.

      They are not assholes though. Just found themselves in a strange situation.

      • Yeah, to me the people who work there aren’t bad people. But their willingness to be exploited says a lot about work culture and expectations coming out of college these days. It’s necessary for success and we all know how awesome our tech companies CEOs are.

        • MAJeff

          It’s necessary for success and we all know how awesome our tech companies CEOs are.

          Tying this in to the threads from the Chicago asshole wishing for death and destruction, you know those are exactly the type of people she adores. They’ve got an entire press industry, from columnists like her to things like FastBusiness and CNBC, that serve only to fluff the sociopaths.

          • Kathleen

            Interesting how people/organizations define “success”. The Amazon model, the Tribune columnist, the media in general – all have a very narrow definition that includes self abasement and destruction of others in service to an entity, group or person who considers you disposable.

            • guthrie

              I thought that was how late model capitalism/ 19th century robber barons worked?

              • Kathleen

                Yes, it was.

      • Hob

        Programmer here who interviewed at Amazon 5 years ago, got an offer, and am now so glad I decided not to take it.

        All the people I met seemed really smart and I actually liked their interview process, which is rare, but just from looking around for 30 seconds at all the haggard people running around, it was really obvious that it was a badly managed pressure cooker— and they didn’t really bother to avoid giving me that impression, in fact it seemed like they just couldn’t imagine that anyone would think that was a bad thing. They had got the interviews started late and they explained it more or less like this, with a nervous laugh: “Oh, everyone’s just a little tired and distracted right now because we had another one of those all-nighters for fixing bugs after the last big release! It happens, but it doesn’t happen too often so we don’t mind!”

        And then later when I told them I had taken a job elsewhere, they seemed genuinely confused and asked if I could tell them why (I couldn’t think what to say). And I knew other engineers on the outside who also thought my decision was weird, because there was this image of Amazon being on the leading edge of etc. etc., so I can certainly see how your friends would have gone that way.

        • Hob

          I have to admit, it’s not as if I didn’t already have other reasons to think Amazon is a creepy company that maybe one shouldn’t work for; I wasn’t aware at the time of their treatment of warehouse workers, but I knew their predatory business practices had squeezed the publishing and book trades, among others, in a way that’s not sustainable. But if their office environment hadn’t been so clearly unpleasant, and if I hadn’t already had enough other bad work experience to know that I didn’t want any more of that, I might have rationalized it by saying “AWS and their streaming audio services and so on aren’t really the same thing as their bookselling business.”

    • DAS

      First, their problems are inherently uninteresting

      That was my first thought too.

      How much of the corporate culture described in the article about making people be as excited about working on an uninteresting job as they would be working on the Manhattan project or cracking the enigma code or something? Is this not just Bezos* being a sociopath and Maoism as corporate culture but reality TV as corporate culture?

      *FWIW auto correct changed “Bezos” to “Be zoster”

      • DAS

        I should add that this is the flip side of the worship of private enterprise: if a corporation us to justify its worship, it can’t just be good at (for example) delivering products ordered online quickly and cheaply, it needs to Solve Important Problems and come up with Big Ideas.

        • Tyro

          I have no problem with being drawn to companies that are trying to solve Big Problems. But what happens is that even the most mediocre of companies has to start selling themselves as Changing The World. I worked for a company like this. Basically they were writing back end web code that spoke to databases to implement e commerce systems. Some of the least interesting software development you could think of. To hear the founders talk about it, they were “changing the way the world works.”

          • lotsabooks

            haha! where’s the quote about we can’t all be “programmers and social media ‘experts'”?

            i’m f*cking moving to thailand or mexico (partner’s home) next year and opening a bodega, gallery, or whatever-the-fuck. i’ll leave capitalism and the rat race to this years graduates–hope it works out well for them.

      • guthrie

        The mentally disturbing thing about working there as a temp packer over Christmas was how they spent time trying to get people to BE EXCITED about making people’s day by shipping stuff to them and you should be having a good time doing so, etc etc.
        COmbined wiht an old fashioned exploitative working practise with targets and suchlike, this really made my head hurt.

  • Becker

    If your employer says, “We don’t need a union,” that’s a huge piece of evidence that you need a union.

    • Brett

      It’s kind of ironic that it’s coming from a Huffington Post article. If what I’ve read is true about working conditions there, they probably need a union most of all.

    • evodevo

      A lot of people don’t realize, but us postal worker peons have been dragged into the hell that is Amazon in the last couple of years. As a sub mail carrier (RCA), you are now REQUIRED to work Sundays to deliver Amazon packages. They don’t pay us double-time, premium pay or any other perk. If you don’t show up, you may be fired for insubordination. If you don’t get your quota of packages out, the goons at Amazon bitch to your supervisor. None of us like it, but we have no choice, same as the warehouse mooks. We, however, get paid $15-20/hr, unlike them.

  • Is Amazon a tech company? It seems to me like a less-honest Walmart.

    • Brett

      I think they are. Retail is still their bread and butter, but they also have a massive stake in web hosting (including web hosting for their biggest rival in online video on demand, Netflix) and they’ve been trying to get into the whole “phone/tablet with ecosystem” business with limited success.

      • I guess. I’d like to know where the profits are.

        For me, and to some extent or the IRS, the line between a hobby and a one-person business is whether or not you turn a profit. If, as I’ve seen suggested, the Amazon Fire line is a money-sink, I’m not sure it counts toward techiness.

        • Brett

          Amazon Web Services are where their tech profits are. At least as of earlier this year, they were making some good margins on it.

          • weirdnoise

            Both Google and Microsoft are trying to edge in on the cloud services market, though. AWS has the technology and the scale (and tremendous ease-of-use for rolling out many types of cloud infrastructure), but it wouldn’t surprise me if they came under increasing competition.

          • Mike G

            Not from what I’ve heard in the industry. Their margin on AWS is estimated at minus 3%.

  • Brett

    2. While I greatly dislike the “give your life for the company!” attitude (and think it’s actually counterproductive given what we know about work hours and productivity), there’s something to be said for a company with internal promotion and internal self-criticism on that level. Better that than some stultifying internal bureaucratic rot that eventually kills the company.

    It’s unsustainable, of course. What people often forget about Amazon is that once you get outside of the “books” and “e-books” sectors of its business, it’s a “mile wide, inch deep” type of company with minority shares in a whole ton of markets but drawing huge profitability from none of them (although it almost certainly is profitable to some degree in those markets). If Bezos ever burns out or retires, it’s going to be like with Steve Jobs’ death – the successor will be much more vulnerable to investors who want him or her to scale back investment and expansion in favor of more immediate profitability and dividends.

    4. It’s like with the Financial Sector workers. The combination of hard-driving work, high rewards/promotion, and ruthless internal culture filters out anyone who doesn’t thrive in that environment over time, on an individualized basis. There’s no ground for solidarity there, no collective resistance against “speed-up” without any extra rewards.

    Of course, that’s just for Amazon’s white collar staff. It’s more blue-collar workers are another story, and in fact there have been unionization attempts at Amazon warehouses.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think the issue is that the internal promotion and criticism stuff was set up in a way that the backfiring seems obvious. Shouldn’t it seem obvious that people might lie about rivals to get ahead with an anonymous complain board?

    • Ahuitzotl

      It’s like with the Financial Sector workers. The combination of hard-driving work, high rewards/promotion, and ruthless internal culture filters out anyone who doesn’t thrive in that environment over time, on an individualized basis.

      yeah, without the high rewards bit

  • DocAmazing

    So can we finally have an end to people saying that the tech boom is a great problem to have?

    • Brett

      Well, Seattle does have a 3% unemployment rate, so . . . no?

      • DocAmazing

        How many former Seattlites were displaced to bring about that situation? How many went from stable jobs with decent pay to Uberesque “contractor” status?

        “Creative destruction” and “disruption” are to prosperity what crystal meth is to artistic creativity. The illusion of productivity and the temporary flow of VC dollars is not the same thing as stable economic growth.

        • Brett

          I don’t know, how many of them had decent jobs before the tech boom? It seems like the economic damage from changing industry happened before the tech sector ever showed up – and before tech, it was far more dependent on the fortunes and ills of Boeing.

          As for “stable”, well, there’s been a strong tech presence in the economy around Seattle for nearly 30 years. At what point does that switch from “illusion of productivity” to “actual productivity”? We’re talking about a period of time almost as long as the Postwar Period Boom.

          • DocAmazing

            “Tech presence” does not equate to the current tech boom, which got off the ground about five years ago and followed the dot-com boom of 1995-2001, both chronologically and in its economic outlines. The existence of semiconductor companies and Microsoft is not quite the same thing as the current bubble.

            • CD

              That made no sense at all.

              • Hob

                Made sense to me. I believe Doc is saying that the statement “there’s been a strong tech presence in the economy around Seattle for nearly 30 years” is somewhat misleading because tech manufacturing is what’s had a long-term presence in Seattle, and that’s a completely different business than online merchants, so those previous decades do not constitute evidence that companies like Amazon produce stable economic growth.

                • Tyro

                  Microsoft was never about manufacturing, and the technology startup ecosystem in Seattle long predated the 90s bubble. I guess the difference is that Microsoft was based in Redmond and Silicon Valley was in Silicon Valley. Now those tech ecosystems have migrated to Seattle and San Francisco.

          • NewishLawyer

            I think the big issue with tech is that it does well but other sectors of the local economy suffer. I don’t have Doc Amazing’s level of hatred but I do worry that we are heading to a world with dual tract economies.

            • CD

              Some sectors will always be in decline, no? Is there a particular cause and effect you have in mind here?

              • William Berry

                I think you meant “there will always be some sectors in decline”.

                If some sectors were always in decline, they would have vanished by now.

                ETA: :)

          • Origami Isopod

            I don’t know, how many of them had decent jobs before the tech boom?

            I don’t know, how many of them would have had decent jobs before the tech boom had St. Ronnie the Raygun not begun the process of destroying organized labor in the US?

      • Bruce B.

        Seattle’s having elevated rates of gay bashing and other tensions in and around areas where Amazon employees tend to live – there’s a strong white geek bro presence now that’s got no time for tolerance or respect for diversity. There’s also more hard liquor drinking, a change in bar cultures, and more drunk-and-disorderly problems. I saw the change myself the last time I was over at Capitol Hill.

      • Bill Murray

        Seattle does have a 3% unemployment rate, so . . . no?

        Which is about the same as North Dakota, so fracking must not be a problem either

    • About the first Internet bubble, at least, this book is really interesting.

      • DocAmazing

        Mildly ironic that the link is to a set of reviews on…Amazon.

        • yeah, well, I couldn’t easily find another link to the book. I don’t know if it’s still in print or not.

          ETA: I looked for a link at my local library, and they apparently don’t have the book any more.

        • I did manage to find a library link to the book, if you don’t want to click on an Amazon link.

        • weirdnoise

          It’s not unusual for me to read reviews on Amazon before buying elsewhere. Yes, there is bias, like any source of semi-anonymous online interviews, but they are still quite useful in suggesting whether a product will fulfill my needs.

      • Philip

        +1, and as someone in tech it’s depressing how little the people in this industry seem to have learned.

  • dp

    This all seems like great news for Jeff Bezos. Everybody else, not so much.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how Amazon has grown so much in respect and value without ever making any profit to speak of.

    • Brett

      They only show little or no profit because of massive capital expenditures in new lines of business. I’d wager that (like their Web Services division) they’re making a profit on most of their established lines of business*.

      * The new stuff, not so much – I suspect they’re losing money on the Amazon Fire line of products.

      • Malaclypse

        Capital expenditures and acquisitions don’t show up on an income statement.

    • asifis

      That’s exactly why. It’s easier to provide a good service if you make no profit.

  • Judas Peckerwood

    People often praise these new tech leaders as heroes. Mostly they are sociopaths… These are terrible, awful human beings.

    That’s no way to talk about your betters, mister!

  • Waiting for this guy to drop by & mount a vigourous defense.

  • Happy Jack

    What kind of sad existence do you have when you get giddy with excitement at delivering a fucking doll in less than thirty minutes?

    You’re not changing the world, you’re selling stuff. More efficiently perhaps, but it’s still a fucking doll.

    • efgoldman

      More efficiently perhaps, but it’s still a fucking doll.

      I didn’t know they sold that kind of doll. But hey, why not, they sell everything else…

      • Manju

        What if the doll fucks you? Are you changing the world then?

        • weirdnoise

          In Soviet Russia…

      • Dennis Orphen

        An Amazon Fucking Doll? Sold.

    • Sly

      You’re not changing the world

      Of course they aren’t, because everyone knows that the best way to change the world is through minimal message-oriented transport layers.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Amazon sells fucking dolls? I had no idea.

    • JL

      This was part of my reaction to the article, as well.

      There are places I could work where I’d be vulnerable to getting sucked into the myth, because my perception of the importance of what I was doing might override other concerns about my life. I know that. Amazon is not one, and probably few are tech companies. What, I’m supposed to get giddy and be delighted to work 80-hour weeks so that someone might get their books a few hours earlier? So that Jeff Bezos can have slightly more money?

      • Kathleen

        You have the extra kick of knowing that a fellow employee who has cancer was “managed out” because they couldn’t do “The Work”. Sounds like a perk of working at Amazon.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Sounds like a perk of working at Amazon.

          Or being a White Russian in Gurdjieff’s entourage.

    • Marek

      Yeah, that was my reaction. Good for you, you sold a unit fast. The world’s not better.

  • I fondly remember interviewing at Amazon. The first interview I ever stopped in the middle and told them that I’m not the droid they’re looking for. If the IT people who tried to interview me are typical of the company it’s not going to be a surprise to any of their new hires that the company will deliberately try to drive them into a nervous breakdown.

    • duck-billed placelot

      Please, please elaborate.

      • The interview was a coding test, except it was done over a poor telephone connection and the interviewers kept changing the requirements while I was writing. At the third change I’d had enough and stopped the interview. I don’t need that sort of nonsense in my life, and I’d learned long ago that the annoying little quirks that come out in interviews are the disfunction of the company writ small. The 80 hour week and backstabbing things, well, yeah, I’m sure they would have been a bonus, but this was enough.

        • weirdnoise

          That’s not far from how I do coding tests, but I warn the interviewee in advance: you’re going to have to adapt this so avoid premature optimizations. It’s just reality in this industry, especially as it has gone toward “agile” practices.

  • swordfish

    Sounds a lot like Intel to me. I worked there for 5 years. I was slightly amazed at the stuff they had me doing: managing million-dollar projects that involved hundreds of people. Turned out I was good at it. It was a tremendous education, and very rewarding financially, but I got tired of working 60 hours a week. Intel does that ranking thing with employees too, openly stating they want to “manage out” the bottom 5% of the workforce every year.

    I wouldn’t call Intel a nice place to work, but they are extremely successful, and they do share that success with employees. There was a feeling that we’d all get rich together, at least the white collar employees that managed to stay out of the bottom 5%.

    I have no doubt Jeff Bezos is a sociopath, and I wouldn’t care to work at Amazon myself. But his company is very successful. That matters to a lot of employees.

    • Ronan

      Yeah, I dont find it unusual that people would choose to work at Amazon, even under those conditions, and even if they could plausibly get paid a similar wage somewhere else. (1) the status that comes with working at an organisation as big as Amazon must be a draw, but (2) it seems like you can genuinely get a lot of diverse experience, and are given a good bit of responsibility.
      It wouldnt be my thing particularly, but it seems to share similarites with a lot of jobs (banking, aid, even academia* etc) that appeal to a certain section of the well educated and/or relatively highly skilled with a ‘passion’ for their interests (usually for a short enough period of time)

      * academia to the outsider looks equally odd and even exploitative(spend your 20s working for next to nothing to enter a job market where the odds are you wont find a job. Spend your 30s pulling in 60 hour days trying to meet idiotic expectations on publishing articles, for a hugely uncompetitive pay as to what your skills could demand. Mid 40s, job for life.)

      As to whether or not they need a union ? Im mostly indifferent on that, I have to say. I mean I think pretty much every workplace needs a union, but I dont have any sympathy (nor are they asking for it, id assume) for people who choose** this lifestyle. Thats their business, and more power to them.

      **this is at the programmer etc level, rather than in the warehouses, where it is a choice.

      (this is written when Im only 1/2 way through the article, so open to revision)

      • Ronan

        The ‘culture of self criticism’ is also very similar (it seems to me) to academia.

      • Ronan

        I have a question as well for any programmer out there. Why are Amazon’s predicitve algorithims (or whatever theyre called) so bad ?They always suggest either (1) books Ive already bought or (2) books I have on my wishlist. Isnt the point to suggest products that they think will appeal to you, but that you dont know about?

        • LosGatosCA

          Isnt the point to suggest products that they think will appeal to you, but that you dont know about?

          No – the point is to close the sale on merchandise you have already indicated you want.

          But suggesting things you already bought is pretty stupid.

          • Richard Gadsden

            Their systems do a terrible job of linking together multiple editions of a book as the same book. So if person A bought book Z and edition M of book Y while you bought book Z and edition N of book Y it will recommend edition M of book Y.

            Sure, if the book was published recently, the editions should be reasonably well-linked, but if it was published 30 years ago and there are 15-20 hardcover and softback editions from five different publishers, plus an e-book, an old audio edition on CD and a recent one on Audible… then there will be at least four separate unlinked database entries.

            Also, they don’t trust you when you say you bought something outside of Amazon. Which includes buying things on another Amazon site, because they don’t link your accounts.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Their systems do a terrible job of linking together multiple editions of a book as the same book.

              Since that’s an IT job, and they are ostensibly so very good at that, perhaps it’s not “terrible” by their metrics. It may be that for every Wrathful Ronan who gets annoyed, there are four Forgetful Franks who end up with copies of all the editions and never even notice!

              • Linnaeus

                In the response article that I linked downthread, the author says, more or less, just that: telling you what you’ve already bought is intended to prevent you from buying it again by mistake.

                • Ronan


              • Ronan

                I would say radicivorous Ronan, rather than wrathful.

                • Ronan

                  ragmatical, rabash. so many options

    • Murc

      Intel does that ranking thing with employees too, openly stating they want to “manage out” the bottom 5% of the workforce every year.

      I fucking hate the terms “manage out” as well as “no longer with the company.” You fired someone, okay? Say you fired someone. And oddly, I get someone angrier when the actual rank and file as opposed to management look at you with polite horror when you say “fired”, because I expect Orwellian shit from managers but workers should at least be vaguely against the idea that you if you get shitcanned you’ll be verbally erased from peoples personal history. That guy you worked with for five years didn’t “leave the company” to “pursue other opportunities,” pal. He didn’t go to a nice farm upstate somewhere. He got fired. Maybe for cause, maybe not, but either way accept that you work somewhere that happens.

      • Joe Bob the III

        Here is something I will never forget.

        I have an aunt and uncle who long ago worked for Southern Bell / Bell South, i.e.: one of the regional phone companies before the AT&T breakup. Bell South’s euphemism for fired/laid off was surplused. As in: Uncle Bill was surplused. . Ergo, not unlike requisitioning too many sets of fatigues, canteens or field jackets, extraneous people were surplus that had to be jettisoned.

        My aunt and uncle were middle management so they themselves had surplused their share of people. What left an indelible impression on me was to hear them use this word with no hint of irony or awareness at all. They had completely internalized it and had no consciousness of the fact they were describing people with a term we usually use to describe old junk we don’t want anymore.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Statutory redunancy laws are awesome.

        Here in the UK, if they want to get rid of you, they have to either comply with the statutory redundancy law – which includes paying a substantial compensation package (up to 30 weeks’ pay) and giving you significant notice (up 12 weeks for long-standing employees). Many employers just write a cheque for 42 weeks’ pay and tell you to go away (and fund your benefits for the next 12 weeks). If they re-employ someone in your place within six months, it’s a dismissal, not a redunancy, ie they have to prove cause.

        Or they can fire you for cause, with no compensation or notice – but that can be contested, and if the employee wins in the Industrial Tribunal (three person panel, one appointed by unions; one by employers and one is a judge) then the employer gets hit with a very substantial compensation for unfair dismissal. Unfair dismissal cases generally require the employer to demonstrate that it was fair, so employees have a very good track record in getting some compensation. The minimum award is the same as statutory redundancy, the maximum is statutory redundancy plus one year’s pay (before tax) or £78,335 if you earn more than that.

        Most employers get hit with lots of unfair dismissal lawsuits, and settle a lot of them out-of-court with compensation and an NDA. They will contest the odd one, win it, and make a big deal out of it to stop people trying it on, but most HR and legal departments know that most managers are terrible at sacking people fairly and just write cheques.

        They also often will offer you a “settlement agreement” – money to go away, while signing an agreement not to go to court. Three to six months’ pay is typical.

        • Richard Gadsden

          Norm-referenced performance (ie sack the bottom 5% rules) is illegal in the UK; you’d always win an unlawful dismissal suit.

          The High Court will get really annoyed with an employer that has a corporate policy that defies the law – they’ll start by writing a court order requiring them to change the policy and then apply a contempt of court suit if they still won’t comply with the law. That gets expensive and embarassing in a hurry.

    • Bill Murray

      Caterpillar is like that too. I had a friend that skipped his best friend from college’s wedding (about 5 years after graduation) because he felt he had to go to an outside of work event that weekend or he would get a bad reputation in the company and miss out on promotion.

      Bleeding yellow is the standard notation for this.

    • The Temporary Name

      Intel does that ranking thing with employees too, openly stating they want to “manage out” the bottom 5% of the workforce every year.

      I was under the impression that stacking was gone. Maybe they still “manage out” employees in a less ridiculous way: stacking seemed to result in the shitpile that was Windows (describing how you did a good thing might give someone else enough edge to put you in the wrong pile).

  • Scotius

    Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.

    Rank and yank. The reason why, if there is a Hell, Jack Welch is going there when the time comes.

    • Mike G

      Now that he’s very lucratively retired, Welch has denounced many of his most awful management methods including rank and yank.
      Hey Neutron Jack, nice of you to discover this after you’ve made your massive pile inflicting misery on thousands of lives, you cowardly sociopathic asshole.

    • Bill Murray

      I think he should go to heaven, then get ranked in the bottom 5% of angels and get yanked to Hell

      • matt w


      • Back when Jack Welch had a column in some business magazine he received a letter that read:

        “Jack, when you get to Hell, we have you scheduled to run sewing machine #13 for all eternity. Oh by the way, it’s a non-union shop.”

        • jim, some guy in iowa


  • Sebastian_h

    I’m really concerned about the cancer terminations and family care terminations. How are they avoiding FMLA interference and retaliation claims?

  • duck-billed placelot

    Buried in the middle was this delightful throwaway regarding that anonymous peer review:

    Soon the tool, or something close, may be found in many more offices. Workday, a human resources software company, makes a similar product called Collaborative Anytime Feedback that promises to turn the annual performance review into a daily event. One of the early backers of Workday was Jeff Bezos, in one of his many investments.

    I hope some labor writers (Erik) pick up on this and start preemptively trashing it.

    • MAJeff

      That’s the other thing. This article renewed my contempt for the field of human resources.

      I always ask my students, “what’s the noun in that term?” Often, they get it wrong. But I always remind them, you’re an object to be used and exploited, one that just happens to be a human.

      • Philip

        “Human capital” is even worse

      • Was the change from “Personnel” to “Human Resources” a deliberate downgrade of the people being discussed by the office in question, or is it obfuscation on the order of corporations that used to be named for what they made* changing to generic Bond-villain-type names?

        *I worked as an intern right after college at Westvaco. Pre-obfuscation, it had been called West Virginia Pulp and Paper.

  • cpinva

    as far as I know, unless there’s been a radical departure from the basic Amazon business model (sell lots of stuff online, make a lot of money for Jeff Bezoz), it is not, and has never been, a “tech” company. it is a company that sells products from a website on the internet. the computer applications it uses in all phases of its operations are either acquired from unrelated tech companies, or written in – house, by their staff of IT people.

    yes, mr. Bezos is a sociopath, which is also probably true of every other CEO of every other Fortune 500 company.

    • Tyro

      it is not, and has never been, a “tech” company

      This is a pretty good insight. Amazon has scaled up the business of retail. And they have kept the retail ethos along the way, particularly their attitude about employees being nothing more than a necessary evil that are ultimately a drag on the company, which is reflected in their treatment.

      • Ruviana

        I pretty much think of Amazon as the Wal-Mart of the internet, in every possible way that you can take that.

        • advocatethis

          That’s the exact analogy I use for them. The only surprise is that one of the bloodsuckers in the Walton family didn’t think up the Amazon model before Bezos (or whoever he may have stolen it from) did.

    • Amazon has plenty of internally developed tech products: AWS (which makes billions in revenue), Kindle, Fire Phone, Fire Stick, Echo. It is certainly a tech company, as well as a retail company.

  • MAJeff

    People often praise these new tech leaders as heroes. Mostly they are sociopaths.

    Yup, especially those who fetishize “disruption.”

  • We lost a bunch of our box-tossers at the Indianapolis hub when Amazon opened a warehouse there.

    I guess the pay was slightly higher and it’s indoor work. I’d be curious to see if any of them try to come back.

    • guthrie

      The Amazon warehouse, sorry, fulfillment centre at Dunfermline has had real trouble recruting the last few years because people have found out how bad it is and the pay wasn’t any better, sometimes worse, than other places.

  • Kathleen

    Just got this from Quotable Notes and it seems apropos to the discussion about the viability of Amazon’s corporate culture:

    ” Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread. ”

    Richard Wright

  • LeeEsq

    I think that the new crop of CEOs like Bezos and Jobs are viewed more as heroes than past CEOs like Rockefeller and Frick is because of the growth of the consumer economy. Most people weren’t going to have that much need for oil, steel, or high finance, so it was easier to see the business people of the First Gilded Age as the a-holes that they were. This was especially true if you were getting screwed by them directly as a worker or indirectly through their various schemes like the farmers and the railroads. Once business people switched over to consumer goods and services that people used everyday and like, it becomes psychologically harder to hate them because you are perceiving them from the viewpoint of the consumer rather than as screwed employee or indirectly screwed person. Most people are going to be inclined to like the person that gave them the I-phone.

    Another thing is that a lot of the employees getting pressed to the limit by Amazon do not perceive themselves as workers in the way people did during the First Gilded Age. They, theoretically have good prospects for advancement, and are college educated. They are also doing better economically than old time industrial workers even if they are under a lot of pressure to work to the point of exhaustion.

  • Thom

    Dave Eggers claims that he did no research for The Circle (not a great novel, but captures this kind of work atmosphere well), but you have to wonder.

  • NBarnes

    To echo others; Amazon mostly survives on eating freshly-graduated programmers and spitting out the bones. Their turnover rate on tech people is crazy-high. It’s actually well-understood that they are leaving spectacular amounts of money on the table by putting such a low value on investing in their workforce and retaining experienced talent, but it appears that they’re willing to pay that kind of money in exchange for indulging the attitudes and prejudices of their higher-ups.

    Which tells you a lot about the attitudes and prejudices of our New Gilded Age overlords. Money’s only good if you spend on something, and what they want to spend it on is fucking with their serfs.

    • Philip

      Say what you want about “screw your employees for fun-but-not-profit,” at least it’s an ethos.

  • JR in WV

    After working for 25 years in software both as a contractor and an employee, I can say without fear of being contradicted that contractors in the IT world are being exploited. I worked as a contractor happily in order to increase my income, which went up both from an hourly pay raise AND because I could work lots of overtime.

    I made the most money of my career to that time, which was good as Mrs J was taking an unpaid leave at the time, so doubling my take-home helped a whole lot.

    Later on, working in state government, I got merit raises (rarer than snowballs in the Senate chambers) and promotions, into management for the last 12 or 15 years, which led to more money without the need for mush overtime, just more responsibility.

    I wouldn’t touch a sordid environment like Amazon’s described stab-in-the-back world for 4 times, no not for any amount of money. Unless I was who picked who was staying and who was going. And I would use the reporting tool to identify the people who were back stabbers to weed out people who can’t join a team successfully.

    Anyone who thinks Amazon built an anonymous “reporting” tool for workers to report the lazy slobs going home before midnight, I’ve got news for you. No IT company would make that tool anonymous. All DB updates include the userid of the person who entered that data, in order to know who to ask about illegal content.

    Which lying about people’s work habits would be – lies, illegal lies. Entered by bigots and back-stabbers who don’t want YOU to do as well as they do, and are willing to use illegal tools and methods to prosper, while the nice guys who won’t lie about their co-workers get “managed out” – oh, yeah, that’s really fired!!

    I have never bought anything from Amazon … oh, wait. I once bought a charging cable for my Android tablet from them, no one else had one for sale at the time. I don’t think they made much of a profit on that sale, as the cable was really inexpensive and unique. Won’t ever EVER buy a book from them. There are too many ethical book sellers in the world.

    • As long as I’m the DBA……

      UPDATE AttendanceLog SET TimeDeparted = “1:00 AM” WHERE LastName = “Kong”

      • Ahuitzotl

        hehhehhehheh now you know our secret

  • Linnaeus

    Here’s a response by a current Amazon employee, disputing much of the article’s content.

    • Nigel Tufnel

      I was just about to post that link.

      My favorite part of the long version (and it is long):

      I won’t discuss Organizational Level Ranking, or OLR. Some companies, such as Microsoft and Accenture, no longer use it. Others, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and others still use it. Yahoo instituted it two years ago. I will dispute – vehemently so – the assertion that “You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus”. To assert otherwise without a single shred of data is irresponsible and just plain wrong. We don’t have time to do that here, or to teach people that. Also, it’s bad. Also, HR participates in OLR, and makes sure that we don’t do that, because it’s bad.

      Shorter: “I won’t discuss OLR, except I will, and it’s totally okay because some other big companies use it and my anecdotes are better than your anecdotes INFINITY.”

      The comments on the LinkedIn piece are brilliant, too: the commenters are largely not buying the BS.

      • Linnaeus

        That particular passage caught my eye, too. He doesn’t want to discuss OLR, except to rebut a particular characterization of it and he doesn’t want to go any further as to why it’s good for Amazon’s employees. Hm.

      • Origami Isopod

        IDK, I’m seeing an awful lot of fluffing of the OP by the usual MBA types.

    • And a response by Bezos saying “We’re wonderful!”.

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