Amazon is getting a lot of flack these days. Not for putting brick and mortar establishments out of business as an online retail empire (the usual complaint) but because their work culture is crushingly demanding. Employees at their Seattle headquarters report that they’re expected to put in 80-hour work weeks and contribute nothing less than peak performance at all times. No excuse, not even serious illness, will do. Managers encourage staff to viciously badmouth each other and breakdowns are common from the unrelenting pressure.
Clearly America’s mail-order monopoly is raking in money because they prioritize their bottom line over employee needs. But so what? Do they really deserve so much criticism? I mean, it’s not like powerless victims are being forced to work there by ISIS.
I am all about companies that treat their employees well, but there are certain advantages to working at places like Amazon.
Why would anyone want to work at a company accused all over the media lately of being soulless, cruel and punishing?
Well, for starters, it’s a great way to get unparalleled practice if you aim to be great at what you do. When I was becoming a psychologist, I looked for the most difficult training conditions available – out of control patients, crazy bosses, insane hours – because I wanted to be tested on every level possible to hone my skills. Had I aspired to cushy training gigs, I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much or developed half the stamina necessary to do my current job well.
Another perfectly legitimate reason to seek out a ruthless work environment is the camaraderie and connections. There’s nothing quite like the bonding that comes from getting through a really difficult experience with like-minded people who share your passion. I established some pretty incredible friendships while pursuing my twenty-something dream of making my mark in magazines. The pay was lousy, the competition fierce and the management deplorable – but it sure was a stimulating, fun and enormously educational ride at a stage when I was more interested in my career than anything else.
Personality is another factor in the draw of tough and tricky work environments. Some people just plain like laboring amid madness. While I generally endorse secure and sane professional circumstances rounded out by a healthy personal life as the ticket to overall fulfillment, that brand of success does not appeal to everyone. I think of a coaching client who thrives on the intensity of being a TV production executive; knowing that rivals are scheming to snatch his ever-precarious job is thrilling and motivating to him, not stressful. I think too of another client, a globe-trotting, single entrepreneur who is beyond energized by his constant workload and doesn’t long for a more settled, easy-going existence.
So while I’m sure some Amazon workers are miserable with the unforgiving culture, let’s not forget about all the other people who probably consider themselves fortunate to be there: recent college graduates who are cleverly braving the trenches of ground-breaking retail as a portal to their eventual dream job, personally untethered risk-takers who are free to satisfy limitless ambitions among fellow adventurers, excitement seekers who are happier when the heat is on and the stakes are high.
Yes, those who feel that Amazon is killing them should by all means get out, because there’s never a good reason to endure optional misery. But the rest of us should consider that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, obviously the sort who excels in extreme situations that push him to the wall, isn’t entirely lying when he says he doesn’t recognize the awful Amazon depicted by far less driven employees. Bezos, regardless of his leadership philosophy, understands what the riled up press doesn’t: that workplace toxicity, just like opportunity, is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.