Amazon Culture – Are We Surprised?


Amazon has never tried to hide who they are!

 The New York Times published an article recently that has ignited a firestorm. In the article, former Amazon employees describe an environment where:

  • Standards were unreasonably high
  • Colleagues were pitted against each another
  • Employees suffered repercussions for dealing with personal or health issues
  • Employees are overworked and overwhelmed
  • People were pushed to their emotional limits

Read the article here.

There is no doubt that culture drives business results. An engaged, motivated, collaborative workforce will produce incredible results. The organizations committed to building engaged, high performance environments – those are companies I’m thrilled to work with!  However, as evidenced by Amazon’s recent earnings, a high pressure, competitive workplace also yields results. Companies can actually be successful and not be a great place to work (i.e., Wal-Mart).

I’m fascinated by culture, which is why I had to dig deeper. I found a great article written for Inc. magazine by Justin Bariso, entitled “ Here’s How Jeff Bezos Can Fix Amazon’s Culture”(read the article here). I took a cursory look at some recent Glass Door reviews. The Glass Door reviews held consistent themes: no direction from management; managers were inattentive to employees; no work/life balance; rapidly shifting priorities; politics and cronyism.

On the flip side is a LinkedIn post written by Nick Ciubotariu, an Engineering Manager who defends Amazon as a wonderful place to work. He basically refutes everything said in the New York Times article. Obviously the culture at Amazon works for him (read post here).

Why is everyone taking the position that Amazon needs to change?

We’ve made an assumption that Amazon needs to fix their culture. Some believe Amazon should become an engaged, employee-centric workplace. I don’t believe that’s ever been Amazon’s plan or desire. You see, Amazon tells you exactly who they are, and what you can expect. How? Let’s take a look at a few of the Leadership Principles that caught my attention. The Leadership Principles are published on their website, for all to see. The language in these principles are big clues for anyone considering employment at Amazon.


  • Insist on the Highest Standards – Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.


  • Fear of failure; Competitiveness with colleagues; Workaholism; Insecurity; Exhaustion; Overwhelm; Neglecting your health and relationships.


  • Dive Deep – Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.


  • Micromanagement; Skepticism; Focus on tasks verses outcomes; Fear (of audit); Disdain for subjective input; Lack of clear direction (leaders are too deep in the weeds).


  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit – Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.


  • Respectful challenge becomes disrespectful; Beating the problem to death; Disagreeing because it’s expected; Lack of team cohesion.

It’s not about Amazon’s horrible culture. The real question is, how do people see the warning signs, yet still accept the job offer?  It’s like bringing home a new refrigerator, then being disappointed because it doesn’t toast your bread!

I’m not in any way upholding Amazon’s practices, but they have been clear about what to expect. When you take a job with a company, you should evaluate the company through the lens of their mission, vision and values. Take time to consider if what they stand for and how they behave lines up with your values. You have to decide if the culture and values are a fit, and that is the crucial lesson here.

Don’t be so star struck that you turn a blind eye to cultural red flags. Run; don’t walk if you detect a cultural mismatch.

Have you ever ignored cultural red flags? Have you determined your cultural “deal breakers”? How have you gathered cultural intelligence on prospective employers?   Let’s talk about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Deneen Grant is a Leadership Strategist, Culture Expert, and founder of Progressive Leadership Group. Progressive Leadership Group partners with CEOs and Senior Executives to put the Right Leaders, in the Right Roles, with the Right Skills – creating thriving, high performing, and profitable organizations.

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Posted in Culture, Leadership, Leadership Development