Amazon said late Sunday that it would not tolerate the "shockingly callous management practices" that were described in an article in the New York Times over the weekend. Jeff Bezos, the retail giant's founder and chief executive, said he did not recognize the workplace portrayed in the article and urged any employees who knew of "stories like those reported" to contact him directly.
"Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero," Bezos said in an email circulated to all the retailer's employees.
The article gave accounts of workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises who said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover in Amazon's intense and fast-paced workplace.
Bezos wrote that he "very much" hoped that workers did not recognize the workplace depicted in the article - "a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard."
At Amazon, the article said, the winners get the thrill of testing new projects with hundreds of millions of customers. They also become rich through a stock that has increased tenfold since 2008. But the losers are pushed out in regular cullings. One former Amazon human resources director called it "purposeful Darwinism."
Amazon declined a request to interview Bezos for the original article but made several executives available. Overall, the New York Times interviewed more than 100 current and former Amazon employees, including many who spoke on the record and some who requested anonymity because they had signed agreements saying they would not speak to the media.
Bezos urged his 180,000 employees to give the Times article "a careful read" but said it "doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day."
Amazon and Bezos have also circulated an account on LinkedIn by Nick Ciubotariu, an Amazon engineer and manager, describing his 18 months of experience at the company.
Like many of the Amazon employees quoted in the Times article, Ciubotariu describes strengths of the workplace, including focus on customers and innovation. The engineer also quotes an unnamed senior executive telling an all-hands meeting, "Amazon used to burn a lot of people into the ground."
The text of Bezos's letter:
If you haven't already, I encourage you to give this (very long) New York Times article a careful read: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html
I also encourage you to read this very different take by a current Amazonian: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazonians-response-inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-nick-ciubotariu
Here's why I'm writing you. 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. You can also email me directly at email@example.com. Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.
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. Again, I don't recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don't, either. More broadly, I don't think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today's highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
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.
But hopefully, you don't recognize the company described. Hopefully, you're having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.