I used to work at Amazon, too


A lot about this NYTimes article, Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace, seemed familiar to me. I worked at Amazon.com for a little while, in the late nineties when the Seattle fulfillment center was their only one.

I was temp-to-hire, which meant I was a temporary employee packing books into boxes or whatever, and if they liked my work they would offer me a permanent position. They did like my work. They did make that offer. I turned them down.

Here’s the thing: it was October, and the supervisors running our section were all gung-ho about the company. Real cheerleaders, and I just assumed it was an act. We were all standing in front of a terribly-inefficient packing machine, and they kept talking about giving our all. For a bullshit warehouse job.

Then one day in October, one of the supervisors stands on a box or something and gives us this lecture about the upcoming holidays. I guess it was supposed to be a coach’s halftime talk or something, but she was telling us that Christmas was going to be hugely busy, and it was “going to be like a war in here,” and that we should be ready to put our personal lives on hold.

My first thought was Fuck you.

My second thought was that she was joking.

When I realized my second thought was wrong, I knew I wasn’t going to stay.

At that point, I’d been with my then-girlfriend, now-wife for a few years, and one thing I’d learned was that she had no intention of being a career widow. If I was planning to ignore her over the Christmas holidays, she would never stay.

And besides, fuck that. Amazon.com wasn’t my company. I just worked there. I had people in my life, and my writing, and was I really supposed to put all that on hold so Jeff Bezos could create his dream company?

Eventually, one of the supervisors pulled me aside to offer me a job (because let’s face it, I’m a good worker) and I told him I wasn’t going to accept because I could never be part of Amazon’s culture. I could never be yay-gung-ho over a day job.

He instantly deflated, going from upbeat to morose, and we talked for a while about not really knowing where we belong and not knowing where we could make a future for ourselves.

I think about that guy sometimes. I hope he’s happy.

Anyway, Amazon is one of the reasons that Seattle has such a thriving economy, but I’d never want to work there myself. Check out this quote from the article:

A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”

A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover.

A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon.

“Put your personal life on hold.”

“Put your personal life on hold.”

My personal life IS my life, and it’s the only one I get. I’m not wasting it to make some obnoxious super-libertarian richer than he already is.