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Jeff Bezos Implementing "Purposeful Darwinism" at Amazon?


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"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." These are the words written by Amazon's ( AMZN )  CEO Jeff Bezos in a memo to employees, obtained by Geekwire , responding to a damning New York Times Feature , written by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, reporting on the company's workplace environment.

The feature quotes a former Amazon human resources director describing the work environment as "purposeful Darwinism."

After reading the quotes and claims by former and current employees, both named and anonymous, "purposeful Darwinism" doesn't quite capture what is being described, rather English philosopher Thomas Hobbes' abbreviated view of the state of nature  is more fitting: "And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

"Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk" said Bo Olson, a former books marketing employee. "Raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required," is what Michelle Williamson explained regarding what her boss, Shahrul Ladue, told her regarding motherhood (Ladue did confirm this claim). " A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a 'performance improvement plan'" write Kantor and Streitfeld, " Amazon code for 'you're in danger of being fired' - because 'difficulties' in her "personal life" had interfered with fulfilling her work goals."

The article has sparked a polarizing commentary, an "unauthorized" response from Amazon's Head of Infrastructure Development Nick Ciubotariu claiming the article is extremely misleading , and over 4,000 comments on the article's page. In the NYT comment section for the feature, user SeattleGuy writes, "Work is not daycare for adults. This country was not built on 40 hour work weeks and treating the office like a social club … Readers need to understand that for a company to offer six months of paternity leave, Christmas parties, and free snacks, it must have someone in the office actually doing the work."

NYT user El Guapo has no desire to work at Amazon. He writes, "The confrontation/feedback that's part of the Amazonian culture reminds me of the Maoist doctrine of criticism/self-criticism… It has been adapted/copied by Amazon from the Marxist-Leninist and Mao Tse-Tung thought." NYT user AngelaE8654 writes, "See I don't understand the idea of forcing people to work long, long hours. Instead of doing that, why not DOUBLE your team and then everybody can work decent hours but you'd still have the same 'coverage.'"

When there are hot takes like "work is not daycare for adults" and tie-ins to Communist China under Mao's leadership, you know the article's topic struck the outrage chord.

These reports regarding Amazon's workplace, or any other large corporation, will not drastically affect the company's stock and has not since the release of the NYT article. Amazon is still has a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and is currently trading up on the day. The article also cannot negate Amazon beating its earnings estimates for the most recent quarter by 226.67%.

A story like this forces the individual to have a discussion about personal and collective responsibility. Some people believe human beings have achieved a level of consciousness that allows them to have free will. Free will allows a person to make choices for his or herself to improve one's faculties without coercion from others.

If someone does not want to work at Amazon due to the hyper-competitive environment, then he or she does not have to; no one is forcing that person to work there.  If the job calls for working over 85 hours a week, including weekend and nights, the individual must adhere since said individual knew what the job entailed.

No one can reject all concepts of self-responsibly. At some point, the individual is responsible for his or her actions and choices. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with Amazon preferring its employees to follow its 14 leadership principles . Why wouldn't a company want its employees to "deliver results," "have a backbone/disagree and commit," "earn trust," and, most importantly, have a "customer obsession"?

The problem is not that Amazon wants to maximize the work output of its employees or promotes employees being critical of one another. The problem is the Amazon workplace is reportedly taking Darwinian Theory to the max, along with treating individuals as replaceable cogs in a machine and mere data points in a cost-benefit analysis.

Even if one is under the assumption, similar to Ciubotariu, in that these stories are highly exaggerating and spun to make Amazon look bad, it is difficult to ignore the fact these current and former employees are making such unsettling and disparaging claims about how the company treats its employees. Where there's smoke, there's fire, and something happened to these employees that spurred them to speak out against Amazon.

"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day" writes Bezos. Let's hope that Mr. Bezos' perception is the reality, since this report is a stain on the company's reputation; one that cannot be removed or forgotten quickly and easily. If the stories are accurate, Bezos' status as a management innovator would certainly be tarnished as well.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.





This article appears in: Investing , Stocks
Referenced Symbols: AMZN



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