How Not To Create A Toxic Culture, By Ex-Amazon Employees

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Yikes. That’s really all there is to say, at first, about the FACE, or Former and Current Employees, of Amazon.

The site appears to have popped up in the aftermath of the expose of Amazon’s live-fast-die-hard culture run last August by the New York Times. On it, hundreds of “former and current” employees of the ecommerce giant tell their own stories abouttoxic workplaces, management abuse, discrimination, and a whole litany of other cultural ills.

A caveat: there is a possibility that these are all fake, cooked up by a bored teenager or even a competing company (The site’s hosted on Google Sites! Gasp!). It’s very unusual, however, for an entire site to be created solely to document the abuses present among management at one company. We’re going to proceed as though these are legitimate stories about Amazon past present.

Since there are a ton of these stories, I went through and picked out the ten big lessons that you should take away from what the FACE of Amazon are saying. Make sure you’re not doing these things, or it could be your FACE on the internet next.

1. Don’t Just Claim Equal Opportunity–Offer It

It’s been proven that teams with more women are smarter. Amazon, which in many stories appears to be a place where amazing things are accomplished when those with high IQs yell at each other, would do well to take note of that fact.

“As a woman and as a new mother,” one user wrote, “I can say [Amazon] was the worst place I’ve ever worked. I missed vacations, weddings, and any quality time with my new son just so that my boss wouldn’t rate me badly on my performance.”

Other users recount stories of being fired on the spot for reporting sexual harassment or pregnancy.

“In summary, Amazon is a wonderful place to work if you are apathetic, white, male and have no ethics or morals,” one user wrote, “For the rest of us with proper career growth aspirations, it is a very sexist and racist environment and they do not respect their employees.”

2. Hire And Train Your Managers For Consistency

At the root of many FACE complaints is a phenomenon that won’t be unfamiliar for anyone with experience at a big company: different teams with different managers can be very different experiences.

“Some [teams] are run with compassion,” one user wrote, “Others with fear.”

“I think the problem with the bad ones is that it is assumed that if you think [a team] is terrible then you must be the problem,” they added.

If an employee comes to you with a complaint about their manager, take it seriously. If you assume that the employee is lying and punish them further, you’re only saving yourself time and face. If you take the time to check out the complaint and it turns out to have merit, then you’re not just saving that one employee’s future. You’re saving a whole team from being ravaged and burned out by a terrible manager.

3. Be Very Careful With Anonymous Feedback

Another common object of derision on the FACE group is the way that Amazonians were encouraged to give feedback. Under a program called Anytime Feedback, anyone at Amazon was allowed to give anonymous feedback on any other employee, at any time, on any topic.

“Do you want to anonymously get your coworkers in trouble? Amazon’s behind you,” one user wrote, “Just remember, others will be doing the same to you, especially blowing up any small missteps you make.”

Even if you decided that the most vicious 10% of the stories on FACE were exaggerated, there’s plenty “in between the lines” that is stunning to read from an outsider’s perspective, like this piece of advice for prospective employees:

“[Y]ou have to be careful about screwing over your teammates,” one manager wrote, “You are going to need allies to do well in the performance management process. You need to at least look like a team player, but maximize to your own advantage.”

Except in cases where there’s something seriously illegal going on and there are fears of retaliation, anonymous feedback isn’t helpful. You can’t help someone who gives you anonymous feedback. You can’t know that it’s serious, because there’s no accountability. So be very careful if you decide to go down this route.

4. Don’t Take Broomball Too Seriously

Entrepreneurs are a competitive bunch, and so games often make up the entertainment on breaks and at team events. It’s super satisfying to get on the field with your team and playing a game of friendly soccer or pick-up basketball to unwind after a long day.

There’s a story on the FACE group about a game called Broomball that shows the lengths to which games can go wrong, however.

“[Jeff] would keep people at Amazon who weren’t good at their jobs if they would be able to help him win the broomball tournament,” one user wrote, “Similarly, he would give the members of any team that beat him a hard time about it and sometimes that would hurt their careers if their managers took those comments too seriously, since they came from Jeff.”

Keep it loose, and leave your ego at the office. Seriously. You have team events not to fulfill your own ambition and drive to win, but to promote friendship and build up your team’s culture.

Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic

As usual, Brittany Spears said it best: “Oh, / The taste of your lips / I’m on a ride / You’re toxic, I’m slipping under.”

When you allow toxicity to seep into your culture and combine it with organized autonomous teams like the ones Jeff Bezos is famous for pioneering, it’s very easy to end up with a cultural death spiral. A good company culture starts with good fundamentals. Treat people well. Have an inherent aversion to politics. Practice equality.

Then don’t hire people who don’t meet those standards, and definitely don’t go around throwing promotions at them.