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OM in the News: Want an 80-Hour Workweek? Try Amazon!

August 18, 2015
A company picnic. Some fathers said they considered quitting because of pressure from bosses to spend less time with their families. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” states a former marketing exec.

A company picnic. Some fathers said they considered quitting because of pressure from bosses to spend less time with their families. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” states a former marketing exec.

On Monday mornings in Seattle, recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working. They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall.” To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on laminated cards. At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late, and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses.

Most of the newcomers filing in on Mondays will not be there in a few years.  Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” says former HR director. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly rather than given time to recover. “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,” stated one former employee. “Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving,” writes The New York Times (Aug. 16, 2015).

 “You can work long, hard or smart, but at you can’t choose two out of three,” says Jeff Bezos. If Amazon becomes the country club like Microsoft, “We would die,” he adds. The firm retains new HQ workers in part by requiring them to repay a part of their signing bonus if they leave within a year, and a portion of their hefty relocation fees if they leave within 2 years. The median employee tenure is 1 year, among the briefest in the Fortune 500. Only 15% of employees have been at the company more than 5 years.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Would the Amazon model work in the typical firm?
  2. Why do employees seek out Amazon jobs?
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr. Mark Jacobs permalink
    August 18, 2015 12:14 am

    Maybe a little quick on the send button. Maybe you should read the rebuttal by Bezos in the WSJ.

    *Mark A. Jacobs, Ph.D.* Associate Professor, Operations & Supply Management University of Dayton College of Business 101 Anderson Center 300 College Park Dayton, OH 45469 937 229 2204 ofc

  2. Terry Boardman permalink
    August 18, 2015 12:35 am

    There is a bunch of hyperbole in this report. I would caution my students in coming to any conclusions without substantive proof. That is why when a new Wal Mart in my area was being built, I took the summer and worked for them for $8.90 an hour. I can now talk from experience and it ain’t all bad- some of my students should do the same. I use that experience throughout my class, the good, the bad and the ugly. They believe it because I was there for 90 days.Wal mart or amazon.

  3. August 18, 2015 12:36 am

    Thanks, Mark. I had read Bezos’ rebuttal prior to loading the article from yesterday’s Times. I have some mixed feelings. The Times piece was quite thorough, with over 100 interviews. Bezos’ reply that anyone seeing any such abuse should immediately report it to the HR director did not fully satisfy. The HR director is the enforcer who fires the “weak” employees and surely knows what is happening on a daily basis. But, of course, its a tough world in big corporations and not everyone survives or thrives at a place like Amazon–and other high pressure companies. I like the idea of sharing this with classes and letting students add their opinions. Certainly a hot topic.

  4. August 18, 2015 1:32 am

    Terry, thank you for the comment as well. What you did at Wal-Mart was brilliant. I agree about the benefit of the experience, and still recommend that young people spend some time working at McDonalds. I do not think I would survive in the Amazon warehouse, however. It is a tough job with very demanding metrics.

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