From my perspective in the UK, American capitalist, corporate culture is a strange thing that seems to worship working longer and harder hours for the sake of appearances and not actual results. I know from some personal experience that working in the US, you have little to no rights if you get sick, want to take holidays or just to enforce work practices that would be automatic in the UK.

There are a few exceptions springing up, such as Netflix recently offering an ‘unlimited’ time off after the birth of a child, which turns out to be unlimited as long as that is less than a year, but some places seem to be getting worse.

What brought on my thinking on this question? This article in the New York Times goes behind the scenes at Amazon and talks to over 300 ex and current employees. The article paints a picture of a work and results focused culture driven to the extreme. Jeff Bezos sets the tone with 14 rules which are designed to get the most out of their staff with no concern about the people involved’s life, health or well being. To pick a single quote out of the article:

“The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. ‘I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,’ the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored ‘to make sure my focus stayed on my job.”

There have been stories and persistent leaks about bad conditions in Amazon warehouses and distribution centres, but the article is the first I have seen where Amazon seems to be applying the same logic to its administration and management.

Have Amazon gone to far? The company has exploded from its 1997 bookselling origins to be the largest retailer in the US and one of the largest in the world. They have done that by pushing hard at all steps of their corporate ladder. Jeff Bezos has done something remarkable in the way he’s built Amazon and we’ve all gone along with it. I would not want to work there, but I am an Amazon user and order multiple things every week because of the fast delivery and usually good prices.

Corporate culture can go too far and in Amazon’s case it might have done so, but I don’t expect that to change. Is disagreeing with a company’s corporate culture incentive enough to change consumer behaviour? I’ll keep using them and I imagine most people will. Until a competitor comes along who can match what they offer without pushing their employees to the limit.


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