Insiders share the best and worst things about working at Amazon

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Insiders share the best and worst things about working at Amazon
Credit: © Reuters.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN ), one of the world's largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies, is renowned for its efficiency and innovation.

However, former employees have shared mixed experiences about what it's like to work for this technology giant, highlighting both the benefits and challenges.

A common positive aspect noted by ex-employees is Amazon's competitive compensation package. The company offers attractive salaries, comprehensive health benefits, and stock options.

John Rossman, a former Amazon executive, discusses in his book "The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World's Most Disruptive Company," how the company's performance-based bonuses and stock awards can significantly boost overall compensation.

The company's focus on innovation and customer obsession is another appealing factor. Many employees find the fast-paced, dynamic work environment intellectually stimulating, fostering rapid skill development and career growth.

However, the intense work culture at Amazon has its drawbacks. High levels of stress and burnout are common complaints. In a detailed New York Times article from 2015, several former employees described the relentless pace and long hours, with some mentioning a lack of work-life balance.

One notable account is from Susan Harker, a former top recruiter at Amazon, who detailed the company's rigorous performance review system and the pressure it puts on employees to constantly deliver results.

Physical and mental strain is particularly evident in Amazon's fulfillment centers. James Bloodworth, an undercover journalist who worked at an Amazon warehouse, documented his experiences in his book "Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain."

He described the grueling conditions, including long shifts and strict productivity targets, which left many workers exhausted.

Needham analysts weigh in on what it's like to work for Amazon

During the 19th Annual Needham Technology and Media Conference held earlier this week, ex-employees of Amazon shared their insights on the company’s work culture across AWS, video games, and last-mile logistics with analysts.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from their discussions, as outlined by Needham in its Wednesday note:

1) Debate and Commit Culture: One of the best aspects of working at Amazon is its "debate and commit" culture, Needham said in its note, citing discussions with the company’s former staff. Employees are encouraged to express their views during meetings, with robust debate being valued. However, once a decision is made, everyone is expected to commit fully to it.

2) Documentation and Burnout: The requirement for written documents for every initiative is often cited as the worst aspect of working at Amazon, noted Needham.

“The second worst thing is burn-out because the culture is hardworking,” they added.

3) Data-Driven Decisions: Amazon's 16 leadership principles influence every decision made within the company. All arguments, whether written or oral, must be supported by data, emphasizing the importance of data-driven decision-making.

4) Hands-Off Management: As long as the data shows that a business head is achieving its goals, Amazon tends to be relatively hands-off, though weekly meetings are typically held to ensure alignment.

5) Day 1 Mentality: Amazon promotes a "Day 1" mentality, focusing on innovation and risk-taking. The company hires versatile "athletes" rather than specialists and rotates them across different roles every two years or so.

“This keeps ideas fresh and innovative,” Needham highlighted.

6) Performance Improvement Plans: It was noted that HR appears to have a soft quota, with 3%-5% of employees placed on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) at any given time.

7) Compensation Structure: Amazon's compensation structure has evolved. Previously capped at $165,000, about 50% of total compensation now comes from salary, with the other half in restricted stock units (RSUs) that vest over four years.

“This creates golden handcuffs for FTEs after 4 years of working at AMZN, making it hard to leave AMZN,” the firm’s analysts said.

8) Risk-On Strategy: Reflecting Jeff Bezos' strategy, Amazon prefers having two different divisions build the same new product rather than not pursuing the product at all, promoting a high-risk, high-reward business development approach.

9) High-Caliber Workforce: There was a consensus that Amazon employees are generally smarter, more energetic, and more competitive compared to those at other companies, Needham’s team pointed out.

10) Customer Experience and Business Focus: Despite their emphasis on customer experience, Amazon employees are very much business-oriented, focusing heavily on the economic aspects of their products.

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