Author Topic: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?  (Read 14855 times)

Apocalyptica602

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Saw this article shared on my Facebook. Very interesting although quite a lengthy read due to the number of employee accounts they add.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

At first I'll admit a part of me admired some aspects, particularly around actively promoting disagreement and data driven support of ideas without the need for 'consensus'. Reason for that is because I currently work in a Megacorp where to do anything takes a meeting of 15 people all throwing out ideas and getting nowhere until everyone eventually agrees to the one that makes them feel the best.

Although my feelings quickly shift. People openly weeping at their desk, e-mails at midnight followed by text messages asking why they weren't responded to promptly, warehouse workers laboring in 100 degree heat with ambulances on standby to take them away as they drop... etc.

Very much conflicted since for the consumer, Amazon is amazing, and clearly whatever they're doing is working if they've surpassed even the mighty Walmart in valuation.

Thoughts?

Goldielocks

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2015, 09:53:40 AM »
Thought one...  Retail industry is definitely an 80 hr a week place.  Email at midnight and no vacation. Yep, I left when I could not keep up with those with no kids, and observed at least one breakdown a year.( collapse) from stress.

Thought Two... Amazon intentionally hires top MBA schools, for top dollar.  Harvard definitely teaches aggressive challenging behaviour. 

Thought three.. Most retailers are not about innovation, so that, coupled with retail's obscenely low profit margins puts extreme management into the 'required' category.   My former company chose instead to pay 10% less or more, and keep management to a bare minimum by insisting a just do what you are told, no discussion, mentality.  Employees stayed for 30 years, and tried not to stick out.   No meetings and no decisions meant no change and low management costs.



forummm

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2015, 11:41:31 AM »
Sounds like a terrible place to work. I wonder if those that do survive stay there in part because of the constant "hazing" (so to speak). It sounds like a fraternity where you treat the pledges like crap but then because of the hazing their own psychology makes them incredibly loyal to the frat if they do get in. Zappos (owned by Amazon) has something similar where they pay you to quit after the first month (I think). So once you turn down the cash to stay there you feel even more invested in staying there a long time.

imustachemystash

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2015, 12:34:14 PM »
I just read that today too.  My husband interviewed there and the interview process alone was so grueling that he took another job during the same interview period instead.  He really dodged a bullet with that one!  There are so many better companies to work for in the Seattle area, I just don't get it.

stlbrah

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2015, 12:44:50 PM »
Sounds like a terrible place to work. I wonder if those that do survive stay there in part because of the constant "hazing" (so to speak). It sounds like a fraternity where you treat the pledges like crap but then because of the hazing their own psychology makes them incredibly loyal to the frat if they do get in. Zappos (owned by Amazon) has something similar where they pay you to quit after the first month (I think). So once you turn down the cash to stay there you feel even more invested in staying there a long time.

I once worked at a web hosting company that offered the same $2k to quit policy as Zappos. Definitely should have taken that money lol.

vhalros

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2015, 09:47:12 AM »
They are loosing a lot of talented people with out even realizing it. Say I was choosing between Google and Amazon, and one of them give me free lunch and subsidized massages, and the other gives me slave-like working conditions? Am I even going to apply at Amazon in the first place? Its not like people at Google are not working extremely hard. But they also stay long enough to build up real institutional knowledge and skills.

vhalros

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2015, 10:01:56 AM »
They are loosing a lot of talented people with out even realizing it. Say I was choosing between Google and Amazon, and one of them give me free lunch and subsidized massages, and the other gives me slave-like working conditions? Am I even going to apply at Amazon in the first place? Its not like people at Google are not working extremely hard. But they also stay long enough to build up real institutional knowledge and skills.

By the looks of it, the average Google employee is staying a month longer than the average Amazon employee.

http://www.geekwire.com/2013/amazon-google-employees-ranked-least-loyal/

Huh, some what surprising;. I've been on the inside of Google. Lots of employees do leave to get into the start-up scene (some of which then get required by Google). It might also be because Google is hiring at a rapid pace.

Then again I haven't ever worked at Amazon and don't know what it is like first hand.

Frugal D

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2015, 10:03:38 AM »
Bezos is the modern day Welch.

scottish

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2015, 08:50:48 PM »
Ick.   Jack Welch can kiss my *ss.

Gondolin

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2015, 11:13:28 AM »
What is being reported at Amazon is actually a fairly common phenomena at successful businesses with "Great Man" ideologies (where the single founder or visionary originally responsible for the organization's culture and success is still in control). These "Great Man" rags-to-riches billionaires (Bezos, in this case) inevitably come to believe that their personal and management philosophies must somehow be unique and responsible for the company's success.

This belief usually manifests as a manifesto of some kind which lays out how one should life and conduct business. Since these documents are usually seeking to avoid the common corporation aggravations which inhibit efficiency (harmonious groupthink, non-critical thinking, tolerance for low performance, etc.) they all tend to read the same way and espouse values of aggressive interrogation of ideas, total honesty and openness, self-awareness and high expectation.

On the surface, all these ideas are very good ones however, they work much better in a 200 person company where the founder can personally oversee their implementation than in a 50000+ person company where inevitably a large proportion of the workforce lacks the rationality, self-control and company loyalty to make it work. So you get exactly what the article describes - a bifurcation where a small portion of the workforce loves the organization and the rest hate the toxicity the comes from people abusing mechanisms intended for honesty and open dialogue (i.e. there are many ways to critically reject an idea without calling someone "stupid").

You can build a very successful company this way. The danger is that "Great Man" founders are usually terrible at grooming future leaders (since no one can adhere to their philosophy as well as they can) so as soon as they retire/leave there is a huge leadership void and the enterprise collapses.

Don't believe me? Go over to the website for Bridgewater Associates (the largest hedgefund in the world) and read Dalio's "Management Principles". You'll find that they read eerily similar to the "Amazonian principles" described in the article.

MissStache

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2015, 11:13:52 AM »
I read The Everything Store earlier this year and it was downright chilling.  That place seems like a toxic work environment from the top down.  No thank you!

MgoSam

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2015, 11:17:02 AM »
Yeah, comparing what I've heard from family members of mine that work at Google and Amazon, or have done so, in the past is that the culture is vastly different.

From Amazon, one of my relatives went there during his MBA for an internship and the mentality there was, "If it's a job that requires 10 people, we'll get it done with 5." He didn't accept their full-time offer.

At Google, the mentality there is to work to get your job done. If that means you only need to work 10 hours a week, go for it. They also want you to spend 20% of your working time working on independent projects that you enjoy. Things like Google News, sprang from this. Also, my cousin said that he felt like the mentality was, "Work from 9 to 5 for Google, then go to your garage and work from 5 until 9 on starting your own business."

forummm

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #12 on: August 17, 2015, 01:28:33 PM »
Amazon is denying the charges.

http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/17/technology/amazon-nytimes/

Quote
"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day," Bezos wrote on Sunday. "I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company."

Bezos acknowledged that the New York Times story went beyond a few "isolated anecdotes," since the story interviewed 100 former and current employees.

MgoSam

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #13 on: August 17, 2015, 01:35:28 PM »
Amazon is denying the charges.

http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/17/technology/amazon-nytimes/

Quote
"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day," Bezos wrote on Sunday. "I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company."

Bezos acknowledged that the New York Times story went beyond a few "isolated anecdotes," since the story interviewed 100 former and current employees.

Umm...I'm pretty sure that no one is going to email Bezos and then text him to ask him why he hasn't responded.

Abe

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #14 on: August 17, 2015, 01:37:19 PM »
I bet the computer the email comes from will immediately combust. Everyone whose computer catches on fire will be charged for destroying company property and fired. Way too much stress for delivering consumer junk to people.

Shor

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2015, 03:10:11 PM »
- Empowering people allows them to cut to the chase and make something happen, but it leaves the door open for abuse.
- Disempowering people adds inefficiencies, roadblocks, long meetings.... but at least no ones feelings get hurt!

Not enough people are willing to work with the former, so the latter becomes the eventual path of least resistance: the option with the most resistance, and the most "work" for everyone involved but with minimal effort all around.

vhalros

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2015, 04:25:04 PM »
I don't think the kind of environment described in the article necessarily leads to the best ideas being implemented; it can easily lead to the loudest ideas being implemented. Or the ideas coming from the most politically conniving.

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2015, 06:51:06 PM »
It's a fascinating article. I have mixed feelings about Amazon's work ethos. It reminds me of a lot of high functioning military units - mission oriented to the max, brutal honesty unconcerned with PC silliness, agile, and über motivated. These are great organizations to be a part of. To paraphrase a modern Buddhist saying, they often inflict enormous pain but surprisingly little suffering to unit members. (The enemy will receive both in spades.)

The downside is the ethos' optimal function leans heavily on the leadership quality and overall intent. If the leadership slips or the intent loses focus - even a tiny bit - the whole organization can become a dark wormhole of everlasting suck. A low functioning unit sometimes spends its time on frivolous missions or stroking a General's ego but still gets most weekends off.  But spend 80-100 hours a week in a high functioning unit doing that and you'll blow a gasket. The unit will still accomplish missions for a while but unless the leadership changes or recalibrates, quality troops will bail at the first opportunity and potential disaster looms ever larger.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2015, 09:42:34 PM »
I know a lot of people who work or have worked at amazon, and various subsidiaries.

There are a few truths. Every team is different. Every boss is different. Everyone puts a different amount in and expects different things.

With that said, those who work for the amazon proper (doing stuff directly related to the core business, as opposed to building robots or devices or whatever) tend not to stay long. The pay is great, the experience useful, the resume boost very respectable, but after the signing bonus and relocation can no longer be clawed back, a hell of a lot of people leave.

It's nowhere near as bad as the NYT article, and nowhere near as good as I would require in order to work there; it's in between.

With that said, the subsidiary folks tend to be much happier.

msilenus

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #19 on: August 17, 2015, 09:52:40 PM »
Amazon's reputation is on the demanding side of normal.  (See also: Netflix and Google.)  I have friends who are very happy at all those places, and occasionally try to bring me into their respective folds.  I don't think they're breaking down and crying at their desks every day.

As I hear things, if you work in tech and really want the North Korean re-education camp work experience, then Apple is the place to send your resume if you don't want to cross any mine fields.

Apples

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2015, 09:21:27 AM »
I know someone who was a "picker" at an Amazon warehouse.  It's extremely hot, especially several stories high.  In 3 months 2 people collapsed from heat exhaustion and were taken away in ambulances.  Because they only have a certain amount of time to pick each item, if you're stuck with all items high up, there's not time for a rest break in a cool room.  It's nuts.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #21 on: August 18, 2015, 12:13:02 PM »
Amazon's reputation is on the demanding side of normal.  (See also: Netflix and Google.)  I have friends who are very happy at all those places, and occasionally try to bring me into their respective folds.  I don't think they're breaking down and crying at their desks every day.

As I hear things, if you work in tech and really want the North Korean re-education camp work experience, then Apple is the place to send your resume if you don't want to cross any mine fields.

I can not agree with that. I and my coworkers are generally happy, and not terribly stressed out. Of course, see above: it all depends on the team, boss, etc.

There's a lot of work, but the only weird part is all the secrecy.

msilenus

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #22 on: August 18, 2015, 12:27:45 PM »
Thanks for the perspective.  What do you work on, by the way?  (Sorry.  Just teasing.)

I was, of course, exaggerating.  And I would certainly agree that every company has immense variation on these things.  Would you disagree that Apple is, overall, the most demanding large employer in the Valley in terms of expected employee commitment?  If so, who would you suspect is more demanding?

[Edit] To clarify, part of why I'm asking is that you used the words 'happy' and 'stress-free' but weren't really clear on the level of commitment on your team.  Some of the places I've been happiest and least stressed have also been among the most demanding, where it was hardest (or impossible with a working spouse and two kids) to balance work and life.  So you're leaving a lot of room for us to be talking to different dimensions of the work/life experience without disagreeing on much substance.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2015, 01:24:38 PM by msilenus »


gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #24 on: August 18, 2015, 03:57:25 PM »
Oh, that is a hard question. Demanding in terms of employee commitment.

Let me say that I speak only about direct knowledge: either places / jobs I've worked, or where my friends work (or at least acquaintances with whom I am close enough to get the real story.)

The same company and a similar role (for example: hardware / software / firmware / chip design engineer, fairly junior level, ~0-5 years of experience throughout the BS-MS-PhD range) can vary drastically. Generally speaking, the more visible the job, the more commitment. With that said, more visible jobs also tend to get more funding, and therefore more people to do the work.

People work between 30 and 60 hours in these roles. Older folk tend much more towards 30, because in their 30 hours they can do more than newbies can do in 60. They also tend to work schedules that are much more kid- and family-oriented (lots of working from home when a kid is sick, lots of leaving very early but then popping back online for a few more hours, that sort of thing.) Very few people work more than ~50 hours, though some who haven't yet figured it out are _at work_ for more than 50 hours.

I would say that the absolute worst conditions, as far as demanding commitment, in the valley are for the following two groups:

- Software developers at startups
- Game developers, especially code monkeys

I would choose to be a startup guy over a game guy any day of the week, even if the startup paid half the salary. Seriously: game developers have it really, really bad, with very few exceptions.

AAA titles generally require 60+ hours a week, non-stop, until the game ships, at which point a large portion of the team (or the entire team) gets axed, and need to find new work. They pay salary, so no overtime benefits. They might feed you, but it's usually going to be pizza, so you're going to gain a lot of weight and lose a lot of hair. Pay's shit per hour. No chance of being adequately rewarded for a fantastic product.

On the other side, mobile games generally also require a lot of hours, but mobile gaming is really, truly terrible, with very few exceptions; so the work is going to be even worse, the product not something you're proud of, and there's a good chance the company will go bankrupt.

Mobile app startups are generally very poorly funded, and require a huge amount of hours; so your pay is shit. Usually the apps are very basic, so there's little barrier to entry into the market. On the plus side, there is a huge potential upside, either from funding, or from being acquired.

"Real" startups that aim to sell a real product require a huge time commitment, but apart from having low hourly pay and high chance of needing to find another job due to the company folding, it's actually a good gig if you're young and spry. Your potential upside is very large, and not tech-bubble large; if you end up selling a million (or ten million) widgets, that's real money in the bank; or if your software starts being used by a thousand companies who all pay, that's real money in the bank; you're not just building a large user base in the hopes of being acquired / funded. Even if you end up with nothing, you've still got the experience of wearing every hat, being a developer/engineer with broad knowledge of hardware and software, and seeing how companies run (and how they fail.)

In comparison to that, established companies like apple, intel, microsoft, amazon, amd, nvidia, samsung, qualcomm, etc etc etc etc, are all relatively low-stress and allow you to choose a time commitment that works for you.

tldr established companies are all decent, some are worse and some are better, but it largely depends on team, visibility, and how well funded your particular organization is. Startups are hard, but have great upsides and even greater potential upsides. Game development is the real area that you never, ever want to work in, unless you're a complete masochist with no family and nobody to care if you kill yourself.

msilenus

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #25 on: August 18, 2015, 04:42:30 PM »
Fair enough.  Would certainly agree that startups and game companies can be ridiculous.  I did specify 'large' companies with the intent of excluding startups, but the games industry has some big and notorious players, and would readily accept that they're more demanding than the rest.  Back in college I was talked out of that career path by a friend of the family who's been in it since self-publishing titles in Ziploc bags was the way things were done.  (He wasn't trying to talk me out of it, it was just straight talk.  He loves it -but was very clear that the pay and hours would be worse than I could get almost anywhere else.)

I don't agree that all other large companies are equal, but would posit that there exist regions of overlap between most major companies.  I worked in a group at Microsoft years ago that suffered through a brutal year-long crunch that would give anything at EA a run for its money.  ("This Sunday is Easter, and I don't want to see anyone in the office!" a benevolent manager once felt the need to write to his team.)  Later I joined a group where there was an informal rule that business would end whenever the surf was excellent.  However, there is definitely a prevailing cultural norm somewhere in between that most teams don't stray too far from for long.

A friend of mine recently interviewed at Apple and she did ask about the work/life balance thing.  The interviewer said that he wouldn't be able to do his job if his wife weren't stay-at-home.  I had gathered that that sort of thing was close to the norm over there.  Maybe that's wrong.  If in general the skilled folks are getting away with 30-hour weeks, then it clearly is.

Oh right: Facebook is supposed to be pretty tough.  Not sure how I forgot to mention them earlier.  They burnt out a guy I know.  Of course, he's rich now, so maybe that's fair.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #26 on: August 18, 2015, 05:59:46 PM »
I would not say that the companies are equal, I would say that each company has different teams that are mostly equal, though the function of the teams may differ.

I can't estimate what percentage of engineers are in each category, however broadly defined.

All I know is that I know plenty who work few hours, and plenty who work many, and most who work roughly normal amounts.

Someone who sits next to me is in the office as often as not, and someone else feels so overworked he's maxed out his vacation hours accrued (despite me telling him to fuck off and take a few days off.) Ostensibly the same team, same boss.



To put some numbers on it, I've only had about two weeks of crunch time in the year+ I've worked here. They were not consecutive; usually just a day or three of crunch.



One of the benefits of the relatively tight-knit community of engineers in the valley is that, well, things equalize. People tend towards 1) higher pay and 2) more relaxed work experience, and are not scared of switching jobs, so companies tend to compete on those points. I mean, we have beer bashes multiple times a year (free beer + food), we have outings, we are free to drink (but not be inebriated) at work. It's not startup-style everybody drinks at 3pm, but it's also not stodgy all-business all the time no smiling allowed.



I think that over time, new engineers are learning much quicker a few very important facts. 1) Don't work for free, no matter how much you love the work; 2) don't let people take advantage of you, no matter how much you love the work; 3) you can demand both money and good working conditions; 4) considering how much it costs to hire someone, the balance of power is on the side of the engineer, not the boss, even if you don't feel that way. When new hires are refusing to work shitty conditions (like being on-call with a pager and having to respond within 15 minutes 24/7), the shitty jobs either have to pay much more or stop being shitty. Crunch time is no longer a badge of honor; it's something to be avoided.



Also, I would not want to be a software guy at vmware right now. Boy have I heard some shit.

Abe

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #27 on: August 18, 2015, 06:33:52 PM »
It seems that software development is extremely labor intensive and painful! As a surgical resident I work 80 hours a week, but when I'm at home there's someone covering for me at night so don't get calls or pages past 6-7pm (except emergencies - as in someone is dying). We have what's considered by most as a very grueling job, but maybe not as much as software developers!

nobodyspecial

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #28 on: August 18, 2015, 10:19:31 PM »
The other big difference in software compared to other professions is that if you haven't made your millions by 35 you are probably screwed.
Unless you have very specialized in demand skills you are going to have more difficulty getting hired in your forties. Just the time every other type of engineer is being promoted, you are seen as too expensive and might be less inclined to work 80hours for a free pizza.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #29 on: August 19, 2015, 12:49:13 PM »
SW dev is only painful if you let it. Going overboard is actually pretty fun when you're young; when you get older, you figure out the balance.

I would not take a job that required me to carry a cell phone and be on call, unless they were paying for my on-call hours.

The 35 thing is not 100% wrong but also not 100% true. Generally, bigger established companies will be glad to get someone with experience and a few less hours. Startups won't, they'll be much more interested in managers that age.

Residents have a much, much, much harder job than softies, that's for sure.

CheapskateWife

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #30 on: August 19, 2015, 12:59:13 PM »
Substitute Amazon with Apple, and Bezos with Jobs.  Or Walmart and Walton.  Similar story, no? 

I work at a military installation, and we have long shifts, demanding commanders, uncompensated overtime, heat injuries, etc.  You won't see an NYT piece on how we are "mistreated" because we serve the good of the country. 

In the end, we all have choices...what products we buy, where we work, and whether or not we will continue to give our time to an organization that makes alot of $ and asks a great deal of me as the employee.  From an investor's standpoint, all three companies make killer money for me and my FIRE plans.  It would be disengenuous for me to chide Amazon, Walmart, or Apple for their practices, as they serve the good of our US economy. 

Amazon, Apple, and Walmart employees, I thank YOU for your service.





MgoSam

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #31 on: August 19, 2015, 01:53:58 PM »
Also one thing that I think about (unsure how common this is) is that it is perfectly reasonable to lash out at a company that makes a giant profit that doesn't take care of its employees. It is quite another to expect the same care given to a company that doesn't make a profit. Amazon currently isn't profitable, which is due to many different causes. I don't know if anyone else will agree.

I don't know if Amazon is breaking any labor laws, but I know that my brother knew what the hours would be like and what the culture was like when he accepted an internship for them when he was getting his MBA. Such an atmosphere might be beneficial for some people, and so long as employees understand what the culture is like, I don't have a ton of sympathy for them. Now if they were hired for 40 hours a week, and are expected to work 100 without any additional compensation, that is a different story.

nobodyspecial

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #32 on: August 19, 2015, 01:59:58 PM »
It doesn't matter if they are making a profit, it doesn't if they are breaking any laws - the point of the NYT article is to inform people, especially potential future employees of what awaits them.

If I wanted to serve in the Marine corp I have a fair idea what life would be like (apparently somewhere between USN and USAF life?)

If I, as a programmer,  join a giant blue chip tech company like IBM or Intel I know things are different to joining a silicon valley startup. What this article tells me is that Amazon, like the infamous EA, is not necessarily a happy fun park of in -chair massages and yoga at your desk.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #33 on: August 20, 2015, 01:49:40 PM »
Amazon is only approximately-zero-profit because they reinvest all the profit back into the company, as opposed to building up a large cash pile or returning value to shareholders. This is why their stock P/E ratio is so high: their earnings are artificially incredibly low.

I think, honestly, the hardest part about software engineering is finding work that is both interesting, and doesn't sap your life.

You can work for a perfectly respectable company doing normal hours, writing all sorts of bullshit that really matters and is really not interesting. Whoop de doo, you can save the company $100k/year in labor costs with thirty minutes if you correctly identify a problem. You won't see much (or any) of that savings, the work is usually just business logic and shitty UI layers on top and shitty database backend work behind it. It's really important, and really boring. (To me.)

You can work for a tech company doing awesome tech things, but you might find yourself doing boring shit again, or you might find yourself doing really cool stuff (high visibility, new stuff that's not been done)... with a lot of pressure.

And the same for startups, with more new stuff, and more pressure.

You want to find a job that lets you learn a lot, do cool things, but isn't make-or-break-everyone if you're not at your desk infinity hours a week.

God help you if you get the opposite: boring as shit business logic, and a slavedriver boss.

Meh.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of reasons we'll never unionize. We get paid a shitload. We generally like the work, otherwise we wouldn't do it. We have very good job mobility, and geographic mobility. We hate red tape. And yeah, lots of us probably don't like the idea of unions, either. Now, I bring that up not to start a fight about unions, but because you're reading an article about ostensibly poor working conditions and an educated workforce, who know how to navigate the legal and professional minefield that is organization; immediately you wonder why no organization is happening? Because, frankly, there's no need for it. Life is generally too good, or if it sucks, people are only there until they find something better after their year is up. (If you work a year, you can leave without having to return your signing bonus / relocation, at amazon. Those are not small sums.)

nobodyspecial

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #34 on: August 20, 2015, 02:05:04 PM »
people are only there until they find something better after their year is up. (If you work a year, you can leave without having to return your signing bonus / relocation, at amazon. Those are not small sums.)
According to the stats their median employee retention period is 1.0 years

I can see that companies don't bother with long term staff training if the technology changes every 3 years, and it is apparently cost effective to have people working 2x as many hours as paying 2x as many workers.

But when your recruitment and trainign costs are 50% of first year salary it must get expensive to replace your entire workforce every year.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #35 on: August 20, 2015, 08:46:01 PM »
Yeah, that's what surprises me most.

In Seattle, I think that attracting new talent would cost an average of $50k per hire.

In SV, I think the number is closer to double that.

Either they don't do the math properly (numbers can be fudged to say whatever you, or your boss, wants them to say) or, much more worryingly, they did do the math and still do it this way.

Suncoast

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #36 on: August 21, 2015, 06:48:05 AM »
Amazon is only approximately-zero-profit because they reinvest all the profit back into the company, as opposed to building up a large cash pile or returning value to shareholders. This is why their stock P/E ratio is so high: their earnings are artificially incredibly low.

Not to go all accountant on you, but the profit level is a completely separate topic from their capital investments back into the company (in lieu of building cash or paying out dividends).  A company can make a very healthy profit on their income statement and choose whether to invest those profits into capital projects to fuel growth or pay out dividends to shareholders (which would reflect on their cash flow statement). 

If however, by "invest", you mean creating more ongoing overhead expenses (i.e. hiring more R&D personnel and/or spending more on marketing)...then, yes that would reduce the profit on the income statement.  However, I wouldn't necessarily characterize that as an investment.

gimp

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #37 on: August 21, 2015, 12:03:24 PM »
We have two different ideas of what investing back into the company means. I am sure yours is correct from an accountant's point of view. No problem.

elysianfields

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #38 on: August 25, 2015, 04:25:35 AM »
Yeah, but despite their crappy work culture, they still don't provide same-day shipping on all their products.  WTF?

Where credit is due: http://www.theonion.com/article/americans-outraged-amazons-punishing-work-culture--51125

Apocalyptica602

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #39 on: August 25, 2015, 08:55:23 AM »
It seems that software development is extremely labor intensive and painful! As a surgical resident I work 80 hours a week, but when I'm at home there's someone covering for me at night so don't get calls or pages past 6-7pm (except emergencies - as in someone is dying). We have what's considered by most as a very grueling job, but maybe not as much as software developers!

Sorry to hear Software Developers - even the Surgical Resident feels bad for you! Hah.

I have as many complaints about my job as the next guy. But thankfully in my Fortune 500 Megacorp Mechanical Engineering gig, I can work ~40-45 hours a week on average, the workload is managable, crunch time happens a few times a year for a week or so at a time but nothing too bad.

As with any Fortune 500, especially manufacturing, company - there is ever-increasing pressure to do more with less, people leave and aren't getting replaced, annual cullings of the herd etc. But NOTHING like in the OP article.

Not to jinx myself but I feel pretty robust against layoffs, as I've only been here 4 years and make $80k as a low level engineer, they'll probably axe the senior guys first at $120+. And if they stop replacing the senior guys and expect me to do more senior work and work longer hours I can negotiate for a much higher salary. If they lay me off or fire me I can just go find another job because I have a significant cash cushion.

MMM really does help take the stress off, I'd feel so much more trapped if I was living paycheck to paycheck.

nobodyspecial

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #40 on: August 25, 2015, 09:24:07 AM »
Not to jinx myself but I feel pretty robust against layoffs, as I've only been here 4 years and make $80k as a low level engineer, they'll probably axe the senior guys first at $120+.
A bigger risk at Megacorp is they ax the entire department, either because they bought a competitor in the same area, or they decide to outsource, or some random VP wanted to be seen to be doing something.

I always thought this was more stressful than startups. In a 6 person company you can generally see if/when you are going to fail, you expect >50% of the startup jobs you take to fail and a job hop generally results in a raise. But with a multinational you are totally powerless, whether you are fired doesn't depend on your work - but on some global currency fluctuation or boardroom powerplay.

MgoSam

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #41 on: August 25, 2015, 01:18:57 PM »

MMM really does help take the stress off, I'd feel so much more trapped if I was living paycheck to paycheck.

And that's how most employers like it. They would prefer more of their employees to go buy a car on credit, and rack up debt, cause it means that you are going to work ever the harder at your job.

realityinabox

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #42 on: August 25, 2015, 01:34:04 PM »
The thing about the NYT article is that it takes a bunch of (likely) corner cases and tries to pass them off as the norm for the entire company.  I'm not saying Amazon is amazing and should not be scrutinized, but when you employ X-thousand people, even if 99% of their experiences are amazing, there will still be hundreds of horror stories; that's just the law of large numbers. 

I read this the day after reading the NYT article.  Granted, the writer is a higher-level manager, so he has a vested interest in keeping up Amazon's appearance...

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazonians-response-inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-nick-ciubotariu

Telecaster

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #43 on: August 25, 2015, 02:13:49 PM »
If I may, I might be able to add some perspective.  My wife is a program manager at Amazon.   She's been there just over two years and describes it as her dream job that she's been waiting her whole life for.  She has great bosses and she absolutely gushes about how smart and productive her team is.  She has a great project, she feels appreciated and quite frankly the compensation is pretty good too.  For her, it has all come together to be great, great, experience.   It sounds like I am kind of going over the top, but that really is how she talks about her job at home.  She loves working at Amazon.    And she uses those words. 

Here's the reality:  If you don't like your boss/team/project/don't feel appreciated, etc. (pick any of those), your job is going to suck.  My wife's experience won't be everyone's experience, no question there.   There are something like 180,000 Amazon employees and no doubt a lot of them don't like their jobs.   The culture does demand a high level of output.  I imagine that if you don't, for example,  like your boss, and you are getting ground down by the system, it might be unpleasant.    On the flip side, if you feel challenged to do your best work and meet that challenge, it could be very uplifting.   

One final word about the warehouse workers:  Working in a warehouse, any warehouse, is pretty much going to suck by definition.  However, the Amazon warehouse workers have some very substantial benefits that are unmatched for that type of job.   The pay of course is not great (it is a warehouse job), but if your skill set/education is such that you wind up working in a warehouse, Amazon is probably the best place you can wind up.  Personal opinion, that.   








dragoncar

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #44 on: August 25, 2015, 02:46:25 PM »
They are loosing a lot of talented people with out even realizing it. Say I was choosing between Google and Amazon, and one of them give me free lunch and subsidized massages, and the other gives me slave-like working conditions? Am I even going to apply at Amazon in the first place? Its not like people at Google are not working extremely hard. But they also stay long enough to build up real institutional knowledge and skills.

By the looks of it, the average Google employee is staying a month longer than the average Amazon employee.

http://www.geekwire.com/2013/amazon-google-employees-ranked-least-loyal/

Huh, some what surprising;. I've been on the inside of Google. Lots of employees do leave to get into the start-up scene (some of which then get required by Google). It might also be because Google is hiring at a rapid pace.

Then again I haven't ever worked at Amazon and don't know what it is like first hand.

The Google numbers are probably legit, but I wonder if the Amazon numbers include all the distribution employees, many of whom are seasonal to begin with.  Likewise, Apple has a bunch of retail employees.  It would be more interesting to see the engineering loyalty.

nobodyspecial

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #45 on: August 25, 2015, 03:07:11 PM »
Given how similar the Amazon and Google numbers are I'm guessing they excluded Amazon warehouse workers.
Either they only included salaried/exempt roles or all the Amazon warehouse staff actually work for sub-contractors. That's the case in the UK and I'm guessing that to avoid sales taxes Amazon are careful not to have any actual workers in some states.

Telecaster

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #46 on: August 25, 2015, 03:29:25 PM »
I'd be a little careful when interpreting those numbers.   Amazon hired something like 40,000 people last year (numbers not exact but close,  I'm going from memory), going from circa 110,000 to 160,000.   So if a third of the workforce has been there less than a year, then mathematically the median tenure of course will be a small number of years.  But largely because those jobs didn't even exist a year ago, not because of high turnover.   Amazon does have high turnover, but using the median tenure as a proxy for median time an employee remains at the company is a little misleading in this case. 

Same situation for Google too.   

BlueMR2

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #47 on: August 27, 2015, 07:24:17 AM »
Not to jinx myself but I feel pretty robust against layoffs, as I've only been here 4 years and make $80k as a low level engineer, they'll probably axe the senior guys first at $120+.
A bigger risk at Megacorp is they ax the entire department, either because they bought a competitor in the same area, or they decide to outsource, or some random VP wanted to be seen to be doing something.

I always thought this was more stressful than startups. In a 6 person company you can generally see if/when you are going to fail, you expect >50% of the startup jobs you take to fail and a job hop generally results in a raise. But with a multinational you are totally powerless, whether you are fired doesn't depend on your work - but on some global currency fluctuation or boardroom powerplay.

VERY true.  Despite the risk of a startup, you've always got a good feel for what's going on.  You may not have control, but you can still feel comfortable.  At a bigger company, there's no comfort at all because there's no information and things seeming happen randomly.  I've found that it's much more stressful working at the bigger companies than when I did my startup time.

golden1

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #48 on: August 27, 2015, 09:22:11 AM »
The top industries tend to attract type A people.  These people thrive on stress and pressure and don't really have much patience for those who live a different way. 

lhamo

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Re: Amazon - Bigger than Walmart, even more toxic work environment?
« Reply #49 on: August 27, 2015, 10:12:39 AM »
A high school friend of mine was fired from Amazon when he was on his honeymoon.  He's a bit of a slacker, but still that seems pretty brutal to me.

And then there's this:

https://medium.com/@jcheiffetz/i-had-a-baby-and-cancer-when-i-worked-at-amazon-this-is-my-story-9eba5eef2976