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Singaporeans, is your office culture as bad as Amazon's?

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Over the weekend, major online retailer Amazon came under major scrutiny for its excessively tough work culture that was exposed in a New York Times article.

Some have even described the environment as "abusive".

In fact, a former Amazon employee Bo Olson said: "You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

But CEO Jeff Bezos has since come out to defend the company in an internal memo sent out to all of Amazon's employees, who are also referred to as "Amazonians".

He said that the "article doesn't describe the Amazon I know".

Bezos also added: "It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don't recognise this Amazon, and I very much hope you don't either."

So what are these allegations that Amazon is facing? And is your company's culture similar to Amazon's?

1) Receiving e-mails past midnight and being expected to reply them immediately.

The article stated that if e-mails were not replied immediately, text messages would be sent asking why that was the case.

2) Secretly sending feedback to your colleague's bosses

There is a widget in the system that allows employees to privately send feedback, both good and bad, to their colleagues' managers. 

One of the template texts offered is: "I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks."

And NYT reported that this tool was frequently used to sabotage others, according to employees. This feedback is then taken into account during the performance reviews.

This helps to propagate the "purposeful Darwinism" theory that apparently runs throughout the company. One former Amazon human resources director said that there are annual sessions, where underperforming employees are fired. 

It was reported that a group of colleagues would band together to make another colleague look bad - or praise one another.

3) Workers encouraged to tear apart colleagues' ideas in meetings

One of Amazon's mission statements is to "disagree and commit", where employees are encouraged to be very blunt when it comes to critiquing colleagues' ideas at meetings.

NYT reported that Mr Bezos believed that "harmony is often overvalued in the workplace" and that it can stifle honest conversation. He thought that it would be a matter of concern for the need to lavish false, polite praise - especially for flawed ideas.

The company's vice president for human resources, said in an e-mail statement: "It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision."

4) No work-life balance

According to the article, employees are expected to be involved in conference callers - even on major holidays.

And if you're on vacation at a spot with a bad Internet connection, tough luck because your bosses would criticise you for that.

While vacationing in Florida, a former employee spent every day at Starbucks for the wifi - so that work could get done.

Even on weeknights, employees would be working from home after they leave the office.

5) Pop quizzes

Like many tech companies, Amazon is reliant on data to make important decisions.

As such, employees receive printouts, which can be up to 60 pages long, of data metrics that will be discussed at meetings.

Days before the meetings, employees will receive calls and be quizzed on any one of those numbers. And it is not acceptable to get it wrong, according to the report.

6) Personal issues cannot get in the way of your work 

NYT spoke to a former employee who had given birth during her time at Amazon.

Soon after she had her child, Ms Noelle Barnes arranged with her boss to be in the office from 7am to 4.30pm so that she could pick up her baby. Even then, she would be back at work on her laptop later.

Her colleagues, who did not realise how early she came to work, sent Ms Barnes' boss negative feedback and accused her of leaving too soon.

Her boss then said: "I can't stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you're not doing your work."

A woman who just had a stillborn child was told, soon after the tragedy, that her performance would be monitored "to make sure my focus stayed on my job".

She has since left the company.

Source: The New York Times, NBC News





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