Amazon and Workplace Harassment and Bullying

Amazon is in the news for their controversial employment practices. Basically, NYT’s ranan article about how abusive the workplace culture is.paperwork

I have read:

I have no doubt that everyone’s perspective is correct. For Bezos the people he knows are treated well. And for the people who love it, they love it for good reason. And for the people who don’t, they don’t for good reason. With a company as big as Amazon, with as many employees as Amazon has – they are bound to have a wide variety of experiences.

I do think they over-rely on metrics to improve human performance and that does cause abuse. Humans aren’t robots and can’t be programmed better and that some of their expectations are likely abusive. For instance monitoring how long shipping facility employees take in the bathroom is definitely excessive monitoring.

This article, however, focused primarily on the highly paid tech workers though and I think for the majority of people who are hired, probably experience it as abusive despite Bezos’ best intentions.

When you read the list of leadership principles ( they are all things I agree with. I think what gets missed is the human element. One gets the impression that these values are considered dogma within the organization. That sets employees up for a very stern in group vs. out group dynamic. Bullying is all about social inclusion and exclusion so of course this system, despite it’s noble intentions, causes bullying. And of course people who are “in” feel good about being “in.” That’s how abusive social inclusion and exclusion dynamics work.

The over-reliance on metrics also causes problems. Focusing on delivering whatever is being demanded to the exclusion of everything else also provides cover for abusive personalities to flourish because what is being measured isn’t human relations, but whether a product or roll out of technology was delivered on time and whether it works. It is very easy for people to be steamrolled in that sort of situation. I have no doubt there are departments with wonderful managers within Amazon. I also don’t doubt that some of them are abusive and that management is unable to see that because the turn-over is so high and they have rationalized the turn over to the point that if someone does complain about an abusive manager they are easily ignored: either through gas-lighting, mobbing or some other in group vs. out group tactic.

Finally, let’s discuss the meeting and decision making dynamic. Lordy where to start. In principle, the conflict and airing of disagreements is a good thing. Group think can lead to very bad decision making. You want people who disagree to be able to air their thoughts. But … decision making by the most aggressive and most articulate and the most vocal – in other words, the bullies, can also lead to incredibly bad decision making. The best decisions are made when there is a respectful discussion, which is what the ideal is that they are striving for. To have that, you have to allow even the quietest members speak and for that to happen, you have to have a good moderator. You have to actively solicit contrary input. It is extremely easy for introverts to get lost in the sort of meeting dynamics described by the article AND by Mr. Ciubotariu, who clearly has the sort of combative personality that would thrive and who would not understand how others would feel steamrolled by this process.

Based on both articles, I’m guessing that Amazon doesn’t have a lot of neural-diversity in terms of personality. One type of person does well there. Everyone else is eaten up and thrown away – and the attitude is – that’s ok. They were weak and not able to keep up – we are awesome and we made the cut and we are “in” and proud to be because that makes us better than everyone else. The people who didn’t make it are weak and don’t deserve to be here. To be perfectly honest – that sounds just like how abusive people rationalize their abusive behavior and social exclusion to me.

And again, this attitude serves as a defense against complaints. We aren’t bad, they just couldn’t handle it. With this sort of attitude, how would they even know if they have a bullying problem or not in the organization? Their feedback system is very easily manipulated by in groups to trash and destroy anyone considered “out.” Again, the motivation behind it is good, how it’s actually used – can easily be abused. It’s easy to see why some people who are “in” might be given grace if they have a medical problem and others end up being booted out and discriminated against because of medical problems. This is ALL about social inclusion and exclusion and whenever that’s what we are talking about – we are talking about bullying, discrimination and harassment.

I think Bezos means well, but I think he doesn’t realize that not everyone is like him and that sycophants, psychopaths and sociopaths can very easily do well in the employment system he created and he would have no way of knowing. And again, that doesn’t mean the place is filled with bullies. I have no doubt some departments are wonderful to work at. It just means that upper management probably has no idea how bad things are in certain departments because – that’s not something they are interested in measuring. Yet.

To learn more about a how to take a behavioral approach to the problem of harassment in the workplace go to: