Amazon defends itself in the wake of a harsh New York Times article

August 17, 2015 03:09 PM Inc. is defending itself in the wake of a New York Times article that paints a picture of unsavory and overbearing work conditions.

In a report this weekend headlined “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,” which the Times said was based on interviews with more than 100 former and current Amazon employees, the story depicted a work environment that is seemingly equal parts hostile, paranoid, and punishing. It’s “where overachievers go to fail,” the story quoted former marketing manager Noelle Barnes as saying.

CEO Jeff Bezos responded Sunday in a memo to employees. The memo, obtained by Geekwire, reads in part: “The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR.”

The Bezos request to notify Amazon’s human resources department also said, “The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” Bezos wrote. “Again, I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.” 

Seattle-based Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, is the world’s largest online retailer. The retailer reported in its Q2 2015 earnings report that it has more than 183,000 employees on its payroll.

Among the allegations in the Times piece: employees routinely being required to be available at all hours, with emails sent by managers after midnight accompanied by follow up text messages if the employee didn’t respond quickly enough; employees suffering from such major personal crises as miscarriages or cancer being forced out; and an Anytime Feedback Tool that allows employees to evaluate each other’s job performance.

One former employee told the Times that her boss told her having a family would hurt her career prospects with the company. Another worker said her colleagues sent her boss negative feedback about her job performance through the Anytime Feedback Tool because they felt she wasn’t working enough after having a child, according to the Times.

The article, published online Saturday and in Sunday’s print edition of the Times, had received nearly 4,000 comments as of midday Monday. The piece also created a firestorm on social media, with some consumers calling for a boycott of Amazon. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. e-commerce project manager Anika Balkan tweeted a link to the story saying it made her happy to be working for Wal-Mart instead of Amazon. is No. 3 in the Top 500.

Bezos wasn’t the only Amazon executive to respond to the article. Nick Ciubotariu, Amazon’s head of infrastructure development, published a blog post on LinkedIn defending of the company where he has worked for nearly a year and a half. Ciubotariu expresses disgust with the article, describing the Times feature as a “hatchet piece” and offers a point-by-point dissection of the article.

“During my 18 months at Amazon, I’ve never worked a single weekend when I didn’t want to,” he writes, refuting the idea that Amazon employees are required to be available all day, every day. “No one tells me to work nights. No one makes me answer emails at night. No one texts me to ask me why emails aren’t answered. I don’t have these expectations of the managers that work for me, and if they were to do this to their Engineers, I would rectify that myself, immediately. And if these expectations were in place, and enforced upon me, I would leave.”

At least one former employee has taken to social media to show his support for his former employer.

Doug Goldstein, who according to his LinkedIn profile spent more than three years as the global head of mobile web products at Amazon and is currently director of corporate strategy for automotive dealer software provider Dealertrack Technologies, tweeted “I love Jeff's response! As a former employee, I was appalled by the article.” Goldstein could not be reached for further comment.




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