Critical Thinking Case Study: Is Amazon.com a Jungle?

A recent article in The New York Times exposed harsh working conditions for white-collar employees at global e-retailer Amazon.com. Current and former “Amazonians” called the company’s pace relentless and said they were encouraged to tear apart coworkers’ ideas in meetings. Likewise, they told of approved systems to sabotage colleagues and working long and late hours—all to service standards the company itself labels “unreasonably high.”

The article quoted one employee who said it was commonplace to see workers crumbled at their desks in tears. Another said the yearly purge of management “losers” kept employees in a constant state of high pressure Amazon owner Jeff Bezos expected.amazon

The article noted that those who are successful are rewarded with Amazon stock options that can make them wealthy. However, others who are unlucky enough to have a personal problem such as cancer or a miscarriage are pushed out.

Amazon’s grueling pace has been in the news before, especially about its fulfillment centers, where blue-collar workers have complained of Dickensian working conditions. It has been reported that the physical work there is compounded by the non-stop stress of being monitored for productivity.

These complaints from both white- and blue-collar workers come from a company ethos that is dedicated to the consumer; in fact, Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles lists its No. 1 goal as “customer obsession.” Leaders “work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.”

In response to The New York Times article, Jeff Bezos said he did not recognize the company the reporter described, and other employees have come forward to praise the corporate culture in which workers are “dedicated and excited to go the extra mile.” Likewise, Bezos says he doesn’t tolerate “callous management practices” and claims that he himself would not work at Amazon if the conditions were as bad as the article depicts.
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Classroom Exercise

In teams, discuss the following questions. You can read the article from The New York Times and the rebuttal written by an 18-month Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu at the links below.

New York Times Article
Rebuttal to New York Times Article

  1. What do you think about a corporate culture that encourages employees to put the customer before all else? Would you like working in such conditions?
  1. The white-collar workers hired at Amazon are aware of its work ethos. Do you think they should complain about their employer? Why or why not?
  1. How do you feel about making purchases through Amazon.com in light of the claims being made about its harsh working conditions?

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