In response to your posting on Medium this morning, I want to reiterate my support for our story about Amazon’s culture. In your posting — as well as in a series of recent email exchanges with me — you contested the article’s assertion that many employees found Amazon a tough place to work.
As the story noted, our reporters spoke to more than a hundred current and former employees, at various levels and divisions, over many months. Many, including most of those you cited, talked about how they admired Amazon’s ambitions and urgency even as they described aspects of the workplace as troubling.
Patterns emerged: many people raised similar concerns.
Virtually every person quoted in the story stated a view that multiple other workers had also told us. (Some other workers were not quoted because of nondisclosure agreements, fear of retribution or because their current employers were doing business with Amazon.)
In addition, we spoke to outsiders who interact with Amazon employees — recruiters, people at tech firms, employment lawyers — and heard their accounts.
Many of those who commented on the story after publication — the story drew nearly 6,000 comments on our website — said their experiences (or that of relatives) at Amazon were similar to those cited in the story.
Comments from other former workers that appeared in other publications or in social media similarly underscored those points. There were some, of course, who disagreed; the story did not assert that every Amazon employee had a difficult time there.
The points in today’s posting challenge the credibility of four of the more than two dozen named current or former Amazon employees quoted in the story or cast doubt on their veracity. The information for the most part, though, did not contradict what the former employees said in our story; instead, you mostly asserted that there were no records of what the workers were describing. Of course, plenty of conversations and interactions occur in workplaces that are not documented in personnel files.
Here are some specific responses to the stories of workers you mention in your posting:
You complain that Brucia did well at Amazon and was promoted after receiving a “glowing written performance review” and that we left out that context. In fact, we did say that he was promoted (and hugged at the end by his boss), but that in a “punishing performance review” or “lecture” — meaning the encounter, not the written evaluation — his boss spent half an hour or so providing oral feedback that Brucia described as so harsh that he believed he was about to be fired. He barely mentioned the written document — he was promoted, so presumably it included favorable comments — because the oral litany of criticism was so striking to him and colleagues who learned of the incident.
Brucia’s point was that even some people like him who did very well struggled with the culture of criticism. “Working at Amazon can be a bit of an acquired taste, because everyone has a different need for positive reinforcement. It was hard to feel like the work we were doing was satisfactory,” he said in the story. We also noted that Brucia was at Amazon in various jobs for seven years, longer than many people, again suggesting he was a valued performer. While we didn’t refer to the written document, Amazon’s version of events didn’t account for the conversation with the manager — your email to me at one point said the boss no longer worked at Amazon — that was the key point of the anecdote.
The complaint is that when we quoted Vaccari on how hard she was working, staying up for four days straight, we made it sound like “Amazon’s culture forced her to do those things.” But we did not say that; we emphasized in the story that what was fascinating was that workers often take it upon themselves to work extraordinarily hard.
We also said in the article that Vaccari “and other workers had no shortage of career options but said they had internalized Amazon’s priorities.” We quoted Vaccari on her motivation: “I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from.”
You cited a LinkedIn post that Vaccari recently wrote, but did not quote the whole post. At the end of it, she asks if there is a way to accomplish Amazon’s results in a less painful way: “What happens when you give the tin man a heart? I truly believe a culture such as this — a culture that embraces the head and the heart, values data as much as empathy, marrying technology and humanity — is feasible.” It’s hard to argue that she is refuting our story.
Before she published that post, Vaccari called one of our reporters, Jodi Kantor, praised the story and said that her intention wasn’t to rebut or push back on what we wrote in any way. But she’s starting her own consulting firm, she’d gotten a lot of response to our article and she wanted to say more. She had mentioned that she got an M.B.A. at some point during her six years at Amazon but never said that was the reason for not sleeping — on the contrary, she emphasized Amazon’s outsized demands throughout her time there, including regular late-night conference calls with overseas associates. Still, she stressed her own motivation: “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful,” we quoted her saying. We never said Amazon was forcing Vaccari to work that hard, the key objection.
Amazon told us it has no record of the Anytime Feedback Tool being used to “strafe” her. In the posting today, you said Willet, a former Army captain, had gotten three pieces of feedback from that tool, which included positive feedback as well “as thoughts on areas of improvement.” Willet said that her boss, when communicating in a conversation that her colleagues were complaining about her hours, attributed the complaints to the feedback tool.
Olson described conflict and turmoil in his group and a revolving series of bosses, and acknowledged that he didn’t last there. He disputes Amazon’s account of his departure, though. He told us today that his division was overwhelmed and had difficulty meeting its marketing commitments to publishers; he said he and others in the division could not keep up. But he said he was never confronted with allegations of personally fraudulent conduct or falsifying records, nor did he admit to that. If there were criminal charges against him, or some formal accusation of wrongdoing, we would certainly consider that. If we had known his status was contested, we would have said so.
His one quote in the story was consistent with those of other current and former employees. Several other people in other divisions also described people crying publicly in very similar terms.
You also point to Jodi’s email as evidence that Amazon was misled.
We have reviewed notes from Ms. Kantor’s communications with your team. The topics discussed relatively early on included Amazon’s reputation as a difficult place to work, social cohesion, complaints of a culture of criticism and other worker concerns that were emerging from the reporting.
I should point out that you said to me that you always assumed this was going to be a tough story, so it is hard to accept that Amazon was expecting otherwise.
As I said in the beginning, this story was based on dozens of interviews. And any reading of the responses leaves no doubt that this was an accurate portrait.
Executive Editor, The New York Times