6 reasons Amazon employees burn out so fast

A new profile of CEO Jeff Bezos sheds some light on the tense work environment at the online retail giant.

By Minyanville.com Oct 10, 2013 5:52PM
Several hundred protesters rally outside the Amazon.com shareholders meeting © MARCUS DONNER/Newscom/RGood CEOs are not always good people. The ones we really admire can often be frightening and threatening figures in the office.

Anyone who has read the Walter Isaacson biography of Apple (AAPL) founder Steve Jobs knows that as inspiring as he was to millions, even to those outside of the business community (do people leave candles and flowers in front of any other store when the boss dies?), he was certainly not always fun to work for.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com (AMZN), is no different. Businessweek ran a long profile of Bezos that explores how the culture at Amazon reflects the founder's notoriously frugal and austere character. Yet for such an admired (if sometimes controversial) company, people don't seem to want to stick around at Amazon.

According to the article, which is excerpted from Brad Stone's new book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon," the company has very poor employee retention for a huge tech company. Its median employee tenure is just one year. Even Wal-Mart (WMT), which is a notoriously bad place to work, has a median 3.3-year tenure. IBM (IBM), which Amazon now competes with in enterprise cloud computing, has a 6.4-year tenure.

Based on interviews with friends and associates, Stone paints a picture of a confrontational boss who instills fear in his employees and has little enthusiasm for making anyone besides customers happy, but who gets things done.

Here are a few tidbits that point to why so many people burn out at Amazon.

Cryptic, panic-attack-inducing, one-character emails
Got a complaint for Amazon? Email the CEO. It's jeff@amazon.com. Bezos will forward it to the right person, adding just a question mark. The recipient has to drop everything and explain him or herself, and that response must percolate up through management right back to the CEO.

No perks
If you get a job with Amazon, don't expect the sorts of freebies that Google (GOOG) doles out, like a phone and a free cafeteria.

The magazine article says that in the '90s, Amazon didn't even offer bus passes because Bezos feared that employees would have an excuse to rush to get the last bus every day. Parking near the office costs $220 per month. Amazon picks up the tab, minus $40. Even the vending machines at the office cost money.

Middling pay
New hires get an industry-average base pay, and a signing bonus spread out over two years. They also receive restricted shares of a sky-high stock that vests over four years, with a bigger payout toward the end of the period.

A huge chunk of the company's staff works in the warehouses, where they make an average total annual compensation of $23,852.

Team Darwinism
Managers at Amazon are often required to fire the worst performers in any department of 50 or more employees. Many workers "live in perpetual fear" as a result, Stone says, knowing that they have to compete with their colleagues just to keep their jobs.

Searing insults
How would you like your boss to ask, "Why are you wasting my life?" at the end of your presentation? Apparently Bezos is capable of some mortifying insults when he is disappointed. The employees Stone interviewed believe that Bezos lacks empathy, which allows him to ignore the human element of management and make the most rational decisions possible for the company. 

Bezos's frightening laugh
One former associate of Amazon says that Bezos's laugh sometimes instills fear. He laughs when nothing is funny. He laughs to "punish" people for falling short of his high standards.

This is how the 20-year-old company generates $75 billion in revenue every year, sells us everything that can be put in a box, creates its own e-readers and tablets, streams video, provides support and hosting for a huge chunk of the web, and even serves the CIA with cloud data storage. But it sure sounds like a stressful place to work.

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Oct 10, 2013 10:18PM
well.  Just logged into my amazon account for the last time and cleared my cart.   I had no idea that they treated their people that way.   I can pay a couple extra bucks and wait a few extra days to get my stuff.
Oct 10, 2013 9:49PM

Can't comment on the higher ups at Amazon but I reluctantly took a temp job at their warehouse over the holidays last year. 11 hour shifts with only one day off a week. Many people take the bus and it can be a two hour ride (one way) so we literally would work, sleep, then wake up to go straight back to work. Like most temp jobs they call it "temp to hire" and dangle the carrot of a permanent job in front of these poor people who are desperate for steady work. But in order to get that "permanent" job you have to make no mistakes and have good quotas. Sad that this is an industry standard to make the temp workers live in fear of being fired every day.


Amazon seemed a bit worse because in addition to people who watch you and ding you for not working safely enough (i.e. standing on tiptoe is not allowed nor is putting a heavy item on the lowest shelf), they have people who go around every day monitoring your speed and accuracy. They play the mind game saying you're going too slow one day then the next day when you're moving faster they decide to judge you by neatness. So then you slow down to make your shelves neater and you're dinged for going too slow again. Vicious circle and it is stated quite clearly that if you don't improve you will be let go. Every day someone you know doesn't come back. Those of us who did not want to make it our career and were just doing this for extra money were actually happy to get laid off and not offered that "permanent" job. But I feel so bad for my coworkers who worked so hard hoping to get hired on full time. Of all the people I started with who made it all the way thru without being let go, I only knew ONE person who was not laid off the first week of January. Cruel to string people along that way.

Oct 10, 2013 6:38PM
Just another example of a Bad CEO trying to bring Slave styled Wages and Labor to America. When will We the People wake the Heck up. You didn't have to read any book to know about Steve, that was the worst kept secret in History concerning his bad behavior. The Rich get Richer while the Working Poor and Fading Middle-Class don't have the stones to do anything about it. Too many are worried about protecting the Already Wealthy. They don't need our Help.
Oct 10, 2013 10:08PM
I came to the conclusion years ago that there are two types of bosses, There are bosses you work for and there are bosses that you work with. Usually the bosses that you work for are AS#*^$@HOLES!!!!!!  Maybe some day these bosses will wake up and figure out that if you are nice to your employees and work with them that they would get a lot more respect and a lot more work done.
Oct 11, 2013 12:10AM

"Even the vending machines cost money"?????   Well, yes, they are "vending" machines.  And Amazon picks up all but $40 of the $220 per month parking tab?  Evil, I tell you, evil!!!

I don't see anything on this list that isn't happening at other companies. I have never seen a company with free food.
Oct 10, 2013 8:30PM
It's too bad that someone that obviously started out life as a geeky kid and then hit it rich has some real issues from his childhood.  I know that looks aren't everything, but that face, I guess I'd be a creep too.  Money could help that though.  any boss that treats his employees that awful will pay for it sometime, somewhere.  You don't go through life that nasty and get away with it.  I guess people with money have never heard of or believe in "what goes around, come around".  It's called KARMA Mr. Jeff Bezos.  Good luck, I wouldn't want to be you when that does happen.
Oct 10, 2013 10:27PM
It's all about profits; everything else is of no importance. Typical corporate behavior; nothing new here.
Oct 11, 2013 2:16AM
This article is true. My husband has worked there for 6 years. It's a sweatshop. Very little to no perks, very stressful and terrible management. Bezos must be one of those psychopathic success stories we've been hearing about more and more. The kind of person who doesn't give a damn about the people who do all the work and who has absolutely no remorse for it - as long as business is doing well that's all that matters. You've got to wonder what kind of husband / father this type of person makes.
Oct 11, 2013 2:13AM
Cripes!  This is what America has become for so many people.  It's really sad when you have to put up with this kind of slave labour just to survive.  I wouldn't work for an outfit like that.  I  graduated with a degree in computer science from an engineering college.  I immediately found employement but walked away from my employer after 21 years of work because they wanted ever more work for less and less pay.  The car I bought new in 1978 cost 1/3rd of my gross income before I went to college but when I quit work in 2010, that same model car cost over 2/3rd my gross income.  All I did was back pedal for 21 years thinking that it would get better but instead, it just gets worse.  I always remember my dad complaining about how the country was going to hell in a hand basket.  Forty years later, I now have to agree with him!

Oct 10, 2013 11:54PM
Oct 10, 2013 10:05PM
lmao if you want low pay long hours work for amazon they use you up then fire you....been there worked there. would not put that job on my worst enemy. The repetitive work wears out your knees and joints. After you screw your body up you cant make there quota your fired no question ask..
Oct 10, 2013 11:04PM
The guy sounds like a real "dick".. Typical corporate @ss hole. Let me wipe yo @ss for you m@ssa Slave owners.. That's what they are.. Greedy, rich, holier than thou f*cks that think they're better than everyone else.. Got news for them.. Their sh*t doesn't smell any better than mine! Don't think I'll be using Amazon.com for anything anymore. Take my business elsewhere...
Oct 11, 2013 1:07AM
Sounds like Bezos learned his people skills from Scientology...
Oct 10, 2013 8:27PM
All the wealthy and those who have money are just like this guy. They really do think that someone who actually has running water and electricity (the slaves) is cutting a fat hog.
They are all scum.
Oct 10, 2013 9:45PM
Bezos is just a douche bag .  And treats his customers BADLY to boot!
Oct 10, 2013 9:10PM
Wow, sounds like a law firm I used to work at in Florida.  They fired the best people!!!  God only knows why.
Oct 10, 2013 11:20PM
Guess I should be ecstatic I wasn't hired by Amazon. Had enough Burnout in my work life 
Oct 10, 2013 9:47PM
Oct 11, 2013 2:59AM
Amazon IS a terrible place to work and this is very well-known around Seattle. According to many close friends who have been execs and managers there it is a nightmare. It is so bad that Seattle placement people have a hard time filling positions for Amazon--even temps. And local career couselors and coaches tell people to stay away. But this atmosphere is not unusual in corporate America today. Workers are seen as commodities and not people. And anyone who thinks the government is not in collusion with these corporations is naive or ignorant at best. I have two words for you--Citizens United.
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