The Problem With Amazon Is Not Amazon

I’ve been fascinated by the New York Times’ recent Amazon workplace article. Both by the article itself — it’s 5 000 words long and based on interviews from more than 100 Amazon employees — and the responses it has drawn from various people involved with the company.

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos sent a memo to his employees saying he does not recognise the company described the the New York Times article, and does not think anyone would work for a company like that. One of Amazon’s employees wrote an in-depth article on LinkedIn defending Amazon and it’s workplace environment, in which he pretty much ripped the Times’ article to pieces.

Then there’s the Quartz article from another former Amazon employee’s wife directed at Bezos claiming that her husband needed therapy after leaving the company due to the pressure from Amazon’s extreme working conditions. Rough.

This all got me thinking. Is Amazon wrong for demanding so much from its employees?

With Tech companies under so much pressure to innovate and stay ahead of the competition, is it unreasonable from companies like Amazon to expect employees to go the extra mile? One argument I’ve seen online regarding this matter is that in order to achieve great things, great sacrifices are required and unfortunately not everyone will be prepared to make those sacrifices.

I’ve faced similar work conditions as those described in the New York Times Amazon article throughout my career, and it has often resulted in me achieving goals that I initially may have thought were not possible. The problem of course is that your personal life suffers as a result. Relationships with family members and loved ones are put under strain as you try to fit in 12 hour work days.

Was sacrificing my personal life for my work life worth it for me? I would honestly have to say that yes it was. There’s no way I could have achieved the goals I have in the past two years had I not.

Ultimately I don’t think Amazon is to blame, and I do feel that the New York Times article was a bit unfair. If you spoke to enough disgruntled ex-employees from most companies, you are likely to hear similar ‘horror stories’. Amazon have set the bar extremely high, and not everyone will be able to live up to the level they demand, but the end of the day nobody is forced to work at Amazon.

If you want to reach the top, you have to make certain sacrifices. The problem with Amazon is not Amazon. The problem is a lot of people want to reach the top, but are not prepared to put in the long hours. Having to put in extra hours at the office to work on a project that’s running behind schedule. Dealing with emergency calls that come through on a Saturday evening. Not being able to take three weeks off from work after your wife gives birth. It’s all part of the package. Life is tough.

In the end, it comes down to how badly you want it. I’m sure there are lots of 9–5 jobs out there that comes with a lot less pressure than what you get from working at a company like Amazon, but chances are those jobs won’t get you to the top.

“To be very successful you must sacrifice many things, which isn’t pleasant for most.”
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