Bezos says he won’t tolerate a ‘callous’ Amazon workplace

In this June 16, 2014, file photo, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walks onstage for the launch of the new Amazon Fire Phone, in Seattle.
In this June 16, 2014, file photo, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walks onstage for the launch of the new Amazon Fire Phone, in Seattle. AP

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos rebutted a New York Times depiction of his company’s workplace as overly harsh and demanding, writing in a memo Sunday: “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.”

The story, published Friday, described incidents of employees crying at their desks and being dismissed after having children. It painted a picture of a workaholic culture where bosses forced workers into conference calls on Thanksgiving and expected emails to be returned after midnight.

More than 100 current and former employees in positions that included engineering and leadership were interviewed for the story, according to the newspaper.

“The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last,” Jason Merkoski, a former employee, told The New York Times.

But some people also said they were eager to meet the demands of a fast-paced environment in the name of innovation. “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging,” said a top Amazon recruiter, Susan Harker.

In an email to his 18,000 employees, Bezos said he would never tolerate the “shockingly callous management practices” described in The New York Times and called on workers to report such incidents to human resources staff or email him directly.

“Our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero,” Bezos said in the email, reprinted by The New York Times. “[The article] 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.”

Bezos had declined to be interviewed for the article.

Jay Carney, who became an Amazon senior executive several months ago after resigning as White House press secretary, said in a CBS interview Monday that Amazon would not be able to retain employees if it allowed a “Dickensian” atmosphere.

“People could walk away any time they want,” he said. “These are folks who are in as much demand when it comes to jobs in a well-paying industry as anybody in the world.”

The New York Times also reported that Amazon annually purges employees in an aim to recruit top talent, a practice involving data analysis that one former human resources executive called “purposeful Darwinism.”

Even without cutting employees, Amazon may soon make vast amounts of new hires. The Seattle-based company is building several office towers that would make space for about 50,000 people, The New York Times reported.