marketing department uses everyone’s photo but mine, I might have been demoted, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Our marketing department uses everyone’s photo but mine

I’ve been with my current employer for over 14 months. Our staff directory has photographs of every employee (about 35 in our branch) and it’s a useful tool for other branches to see who we are. We also use the photos in our marketing materials, proposals, and RFPs.

Mine is the only listing without a photograph, and it’s been that way through several updates over the past year because the marketing rep has scheduled informal photo sessions when I’ve been on vacation (twice) or in training or meetings. She has emailed me that she’d schedule time to take my picture but has never done so, despite me indicating when my schedule is open. She just released the newest version of the directory with several new employees (one of whom just started last week) and again, everyone has a photograph but me.

I’m a little unhappy about it for several reasons: I would like my customers and vendor reps to grow familiar with who I am so I’m not just a voice on the phone or a name on an email. Having my photo included would help me feel more part of our team – I currently work in the back corner of our office and I’m often overlooked when my managers walk around greeting the team.

We have a new employee who will soon need her photo taken, so I emailed the marketing rep to let her know I’d like to be included in the next photo session. She has not responded. I’d assume she’s super busy but she’s often just standing around chatting. It only takes a few seconds to take a photograph to at least have on hand the next time she edits the directory. What’s the most professional way to approach this?

Go by her office and say this: “Hi Jane. Is now a good time to take my photo?”

If she says no, say, “We’ve had so much trouble scheduling this that I want to nail down a time. Can you look at your calendar right now and we’ll schedule something for in the next week?”

If that doesn’t work, could you just provide your own photo? But it’s hard for me to think that’s she’s going to be able to continue resisting when you’re standing right there, handling it reasonably.

(The interesting question, of course, is what’s at the root of this. It could genuinely be laziness or disorganization on her part, or it could be some weird issue she has with you. In any case, unless she has some sort of demonic grudge against you, this should work. And if she does have a demonic grudge, please write back and we’ll address that.)

2. Have I been demoted?

I think I got demoted yesterday. I’m not sure exactly if that’s it, because nobody told me directly. Instead, there was a group meeting with me and the two temps I hired a few months ago. Our office manager extended their contracts in one breath and said “You all report to me; it’s a flat hierarchy from now on.” They’ve been assigned new tasks and a lot of the work that was solely on my shoulders is now parcelled out. That would be great, in theory, if the manager had asked me first. I would’ve told her that they are probably not going to be great at the tasks she’s assigned, and that delegation would’ve worked better in a different way.

Also, you know, it hurts, finding out someone has ripped the rug out from under you without so much as a by-your-leave. Am I being elbowed out gracelessly? Insultingly? Is she just incompetent? Am I part of an office war? What’s the proactive thing to do – should I suggest new projects for myself to take on, complain to my other “bosses”? (Long story, but I might have advocates, unless they’re the ones who told her to treat me like garbage.) Enjoy my new free time?

Go talk to your boss and ask. I’d say this: “Can you tell me what made you decide to switch Jane and Fergus over to reporting to you and assign them X, Y, and Z rather than have me continue to do that work?” Pause there and listen. It might be that she has an explanation that has nothing to do with you (like that she’s gearing up to have you focus on some other big project), who knows. But if you feel like you’re still left unsure, say this: “I have to admit, it makes me worry that you had concerns about how I was managing them or how well I was doing with XYZ. If that’s the case, I’d be grateful to know so that I can improve.”

3. Emailing the office about a medical issue

I’m wondering if you have input on this. I’m pregnant, about 5 months, and my belly is noticeable at this point. Coworkers will ask how things are going for me, my husband, the baby, in a friendly way.

Unfortunately, we have recently discovered the baby has a congenital heart defect that will require open heart surgery shortly after birth, followed by weeks in the NICU. She might end up being largely okay after recovery, or she might die. My small team knows because I had to keep leaving work for unexpected doctor’s appointments recently.

I’m the sort of person who likes to be open about things and prefers to answer even casual “how are you”s honestly when possible. It makes me feel bad when people are asking how things are and I basically say “fine” just to avoid getting into it.

My actual question: I’m considering sending an office-wide email explaining the situation. I don’t mind people knowing, and quite frankly it would make it easier on me for people to know the context before asking how the baby is. Does this seem reasonable? Is this really just TMI? Is there some in-person response that might work better on an individual basis? My office doesn’t use the office-wide list for very much – mostly announcements from the CEO, or about office-wide official events. I’ve never even seen a “hey, there are brownies in the kitchen” go out, much less something more personal.

Normally how people will use office-wide email depends on the culture (as well as the size of the office), but this is the kind of thing where even if it’s not normally done, no reasonable person would have an issue with this. I don’t think it’s TMI, and you could even explain that you’re saying it because people are kindly asking you how the baby is, and it’s easier to tell everyone what’s going on up-front.

Alternately, as commenters have suggested, you could ask your manager or a trusted colleague to share the news with people in face-to-face conversations on your behalf.

Good luck, and I think lots of us will be keeping you and your baby in our thoughts.

4. Applying at a company whose culture was just eviscerated in a high-profile article

I’ve had a phone interview and completed several writing exercises for a position in the corporate office of a very famous company in my area (I’ve tried to take out as many identifying details as possible, but I’m sure your readers won’t have any trouble guessing which one). Recently, an expose of the brutal corporate culture was published in a major newspaper, and the company’s treatment of its workers has made headlines across the country. The article highlighted the long hours, the pressure to always be reachable by phone and email, the constant competition, and more.

I have friends who work there who’ve said that the culture can be difficult at times, but they seem to enjoy their jobs. If I did get this job, even if I only stayed in it for a year, it would make me a very attractive candidate for other positions. I would also be working for a department that wasn’t specifically mentioned in the article, and it’s possible that the culture there is different. But if the article is accurate, it’s definitely not a job I would take. I have a sick relative who I might need to visit on short notice (the article profiles several employees who were written up or fired for spending too much time with their families), I have a health problem that gets worse with stress (quite a few former employees were managed out for having health problems), and I have a rewarding hobby that I’d rather not drop (and I certainly couldn’t keep it up with the 80-hour weeks described in the article).

If I move forward in the interview process, how can I bring up these concerns? The article went into some detail about this company’s problems with hiring and retaining enough employees, and I’m afraid that even if I try to talk about the corporate culture, I might not get an honest answer because the department is so desperate for more help and the company strongly encourages hiring managers to stick to the party line. How can I get a realistic sense of what working there is like? Should I bring up the article? If I don’t, it’s going to be the elephant in the room. But this article might also pressure the company into making some changes in the way it treats its employees, and I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity if the corporate culture does change.

Assuming we’re talking about Amazon, you already know what the culture is like; that article filled you in pretty well, and it sounds like your friends who worked there have confirmed it’s not terribly off-base. (Is that last part right? I wasn’t 100% sure from your letter, but I’m going to assume it is.*) I’m not really sure what you’d gain by raising it in an interview; your friends, after all, have far more incentive to be candid with you than an interviewer who doesn’t know you and is trying to fill a job.

It’s possible the article will result in some changes there, but that’s going to take a long time to know for sure (culture change is hard and takes a long time), and there’s nothing an interviewer could tell you right now that would be a certainty on that front.

Your safest bet is to assume the article is true and decide whether you’re up for what it described. (Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the article about Amazon for anyone who doesn’t want to read the whole thing.)

* If I’m wrong about what your friends who work there told you, that changes the answer. I’d put a lot of weight on what you hear from them. If you’re not certain exactly where they come down on it, go back and talk with them some more.

5. References when my past managers are no longer with the company we worked at together

The managers with the companies I was employed with have either resigned or quit. Is it okay if I put down the recruiter’s info or the current managers working at the job site I was last employed at?

Usually reference-checkers will want to talk with someone who actually managed you, so the new manager at the site won’t be useful if they didn’t work with you. You can provide the company’s contact info for general employment verification, but for actual references, you’ll want to supply people who managed you. Ideally, that means tracking down those former managers and providing their current contact info (LinkedIn can be a good source for this).

{ 344 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Holly

    1. It could also just be really, really terrible coincidence. I’m on the marketing team at my company, responsible for taking every single team member’s photo for RFPs, the directory, etc. Sometimes we just get so bogged down in stuff that when we’re asked to take someone’s photo, it’s one of those “this isn’t as high of a priority as X so I’m going to put less effort in getting it done right away.” It’s possible the new people are getting their photos because HR is forcing the issue, but as an older employee you’re just being overlooked – or there isn’t any additional pressure to force you higher up on the list.

    Reply
    1. Holly

      And re: coincidence – maybe it’s just that whenever she’s available you’re busy, and whenever she’s busy you’re available, and the idea of doing your photo on top of the new employees makes her concerned it’ll become a “everyone in the company wants their photo done” thing. That’s what’s going on in my company. There’s a lot of history of internal politics around these photos for some reason, so if we branch beyond the tiny new hire list we get from HR, someone finds out and complains about their photo, then it spirals into one giant photo shoot.

      Reply
      1. Monodon monoceros

        But I would think it is easy enough to tell employees who already have a picture that they are not re-shooting photos just because people don’t like theirs, they are just getting a picture for someone who never had one.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          I can see where it might be a problem if everyone is bugging them about pictures, but you’re right; it’s easy to send an email or something if everyone starts asking.

          Off-topic but every time I see your pic the narwhal song starts playing in my head.

          Reply
        2. mess

          As someone who has managed employee headshots for several companies, I can tell you, you would think it would be that easy but no one likes their headshot and some people are incredibly persistent and annoying about begging for retakes, sending selfies in their bathroom and asking if they can be put on the website instead, etc. Then there’s the litany of complaints when the photos come back. Headshots are so, so annoying to manage. I’m not saying the person at the OP’s company is in the right but I have let people go months with a blank head on our web site just because they are such a huge hassle to coordinate (now, we are also contracting with a photographer so there’s another layer of scheduling clustereff to deal with – oh and we have to send people in batches for cost considerations so trying to find a block of time that aligns with all parties’ schedules is a nightmare).

          Reply
      2. OP1

        I think (and hope) you’re right, conflicting schedules. I certainly hope it’s not because of some “demonic grudge” as Alison said. I will do as Alison suggests and approach the marketing rep to ask for the photo or a schedule a time. I think the fact we have another new person without a photo supports my request.

        Reply
    2. themmases

      This is 100% projecting my own experience being the designated photo taker for a while, but my reaction to #1 is that this is probably a low priority thing that Jane doesn’t enjoy doing.

      I’m willing to be wrong about specific industries or roles, and I can certainly see why someone in marketing should care about getting this done more than I did as a research assistant/newest person in the office who inherited all the crap jobs. But it’s hard for me to imagine a non-security situation where a photo is anything more than nice to have.

      Whatever is going on, this is important to OP1 and not to Jane. So it’s on OP1 to push for it by, as Alison suggested, just showing up. Taking what apparently amounts to an ID photo is not hard once the person is standing right there.

      Reply
      1. OP1

        I agree that it is probably a low priority and she has a lot on her plate. She just uses a company digital camera and I’d think an intern could take the photos. There is a more work involved – downloading the image, making it black and white like the others, re-sizing and adding it to the directory layout.

        Initially it didn’t bother me much when she missed taking my picture when I was on vacation last year, but as each revised directory was released, the blank space by my name started nagging at me. And then this week I returned from vacation to see she’d photographed more new employees, including someone who’d been with us less than a week – well, I was dismayed.

        As a side note, when I first started, I found the photo directory helped me quickly learn the names of everyone I worked with, including people in other departments. It would have taken a great deal longer for me to learn who they are. So part of me wonders if the new people are wondering who the heck I am.

        Reply
        1. Failed ENTJ

          It seems, though, that the schedule constraints are on your side as much as hers. You mentioned that the general photo sessions were during your vacations, meetings, or other obligations. I’m thinking that this isn’t intentional, and solving it might be as simple as scheduling time with her yourself (rather than asking her to schedule it).

          Reply
    3. Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system

      I’m guessing, but taking a photo may take longer than just a few minutes. Does management insist that all photos have consistent “look” to them, ie, dressed a certain way, with a certain background?

      On the other hand, the simplest fix might be to take your own photo and send it to her.

      One last thing: if she takes your picture, see if you can have her take several pictures of you, so you can pick the best of them.

      Reply
    4. Lindrine

      Take your own photo (have a coworker help if needed). Make sure your hair is very neat, and you dress similar to the other photos. Send that over and copy the person’s manager and let them know you know you both have had scheduling conflicts getting a photo done, so here is one you have and if that one won’t work, let’s schedule a time. I’m open on dates x and y in two weeks.

      At this point, the person is ignoring you for some weird reason. I have had similar tasks to do and I think it is very rare that after several times they are not deliberately avoiding you. No apologies, no attempts to reschedule. It is time for either you or your manager to talk to their manager If you can’t get an actual response from them this time. This is not how I would treat you and they are acting unprofessionally.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yes, regarding your last paragraph. The first sense I got when reading the letter was that this marketing person has become annoyed with her due to the twice on vacation etc. and now is being like “oh well too bad I’m tired of rescheduling with her” even though that’s kind of passive aggressive on her par. I mean how hard is it just to shoot hers while doing the two new people.

        Reply
        1. Failed ENTJ

          But it looked like the OP was on vacation during the general photo sessions – it wasn’t that the photo taker didn’t want to include her in the shoot. This leads me to think it’s less intentional, and more a case of missed schedules with a touch of differing priorities. If it’s important for OP to have a photo, I think she should schedule the session herself.

          Reply
    5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      This happens with us, too. Nothing meant by it but for our people who do the photos it’s A Thing and if somebody misses a time scheduled to do photos it can easily slip through.

      I can say with confidence, that there is no task more hated than taking employee’s photos. While the OP could be just amazing about it, most people are high maintenance and the people who are in charge of it hate doing it, like “Please, please, please don’t make me do this job of taking employees pictures. Please. I am begging you.”

      Reply
      1. Sammie

        We are the same. I’ve also heard–frankly—diva-like demands for photoshopping.

        Not saying this is you OP!

        Reply
        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          Ha we photoshop the hell out of them. A promise of that is the only way a photographer can get the subject to calm down.

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          1. Kyrielle

            …I no longer feel so bad about my photo experience. All I did was ask if we could retake it so I didn’t have my eyes closed in my photo. Seriously, if I’m looking for a Perfect Shot then I would schedule with a portrait studio….

            Reply
            1. Kyrielle

              (And that was a digital camera, I saw the photo right away, and we just reshot on the spot. I think it added maybe 1 minute.)

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            1. Lindrine

              It is when you have photos of 70 odd people and they all want to know why their photos are not ready yet. #truestory

              Reply
          2. Sammie

            Oh geez–us too! Our guy took about 10 years off of my face.

            PS It’s because I am a frequent contributor to industry publications and speaker at events—NOT because I asked him to….

            PPS I am not complaining about the dip in the Fountain of Youth.

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            1. Dynamic Beige

              When I have to clean up employee photos (which is a fair bit, thank you awards shows) I try to be nice to the people wherever possible — time allowing. I have run photos through Beauty Box (yes, that is what it is called) or whitened teeth up a bit (seriously, it was gross) or clone stamped out some bad acne/a huge zit. Because I get it, I hate having my photo taken and these people are often photographed either by an employee who just wants to get it over with or a professional who is not being paid to do clean up afterwards. I’m not going to spend an hour on it, but if it’s just reapplying a filter, that doesn’t take very long and makes people happy.

              Reply
        2. the gold digger

          Or there are people like me who get really cranky at being forced to have a photo taken and are not nice to the poor person assigned to do it and then have to seek out the photographer to apologize to her later because our behavior was unacceptable and then get her a really nice present for her baby shower because we feel so guilty about what a b*tch we were.

          I would not want to photograph anyone and I for sure would not want to photograph someone like me.

          Reply
          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            And I get pissy at the photographers when we are missing photos. So you are running from them because you don’t want the picture taken and I’m bitching at them as to why they haven’t trapped you in a cage and taken your picture.

            Dream job!

            Reply
          2. JB (not in Houston)

            Once I had to have my picture taken for work while I was in the middle of eating my lunch at my desk. The person taking the picture wouldn’t let me finish my lunch or even pause to put on lipstick or make sure there wasn’t anything in my teeth. She’s not my favorite person now.

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        3. Cautionary tail

          Photoshopping here too. The most common requests are to remove wrinkles and to take 5 (or more) pounds off.

          Reply
      2. Allison

        At my first job they had someone take black and white cell phone pictures of everyone in the department, not to display but for our LinkedIn profile pictures, since most of us were inexperienced and the company wanted our profiles to look more professional. I hated it! I look like ass in pictures, and I tried not to be a prima donna but I also wanted the picture to look as decent as possible. no such luck, I hated that picture and stopped using it as soon as I could.

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        1. Elizabeth West

          We had picture day at Exjob and I forgot about it and wore the most horrible shirt ever. It was this khaki thing with puckered seams. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought it. Plus, they just had to take it in the big office by the window, so every single mark on my face of any kind, the puckers in the shirt, and my stupid horse grin showed up in bright HD-level detail. >_<

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    6. Bekx

      Honestly this post could have easily been written about me, except it’s not customer facing. But yeah, it basically just slips through the cracks if someone wants me to take their photo. I don’t mind doing it, but I have a few repeat offenders who constantly want their photo re-taken and between that and people who want heavy photoshop on it…it’s not a task I view as high priority (and more importantly, my boss and her boss don’t want it high priority).

      I’d like to say that it’s probably not intentional, as it sounds like OP has a lot of upset feelings about this. Hopefully it’s just a matter of scheduling!

      Reply
        1. Bekx

          The woman who has had me do it 4 times this year….she’s very pretty but she just doesn’t like any photo I’ve taken of her. I’m not a photographer, but my dad is. Finally after the 4th try I showed him the photos to ask him what I was doing wrong (maybe I needed to pose her differently? Have her tilt her head?) and HE even said “Uh…I have no idea why she doesn’t like that. She looks slim, her eyes look good, and her hair isn’t messy.”

          I’ve just given up.

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    7. KT

      This–I have to take the photos at my company, and it’s my least favorite thing. Scheduling is a nightmare. People want to wear a certain outfit/certain hairstyle, so it can’t be done spontaneously. I have to set up the background and lighting. I have to hear the same jokes “Can you make me look 10 lbs thinner? Can you photoshop out my wrinkles”. They inevitably hate the first 20 photos I take. They like ONE photo, but ask if I can photoshop their arms into a different -position (really?).

      It’s a nightmare. What should take 5 minutes ends up into an hour plus, and that’s if I can get away without retouching the photo.

      When a new employee came on, she handed me a flash drive with professional headshots she had done on her own time. I could have kissed her.

      Is getting your own headshots a possibility? A professional who does JUST corporate headshots can get a much better photo then a person like me! They usually cost about $100 and have proper backgrounds, lighting, etc. I firmly believe most professionals should have a professional headshot for conferences,s peaking engagements, LinkedIn, etc.

      Reply
      1. Bekx

        UGH. YES. The jokes though.

        “Can you take out my grays? Can you make me tanner? Ugh, my face looks so fat….can you just thin that out?”

        I mean, I do it…because I love photoshop, but come on, it puts me in an awkward position on trying not to be rude.
        “Can you make me look thinner?”
        “Yup! I’ll remove all your fat AND your double chin! Oh, what about that zit that you have on your nose, God, you just look terrible!”

        Reply
        1. Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system

          Yeah, one needs to be careful. It doesn’t help that it’s so easy to compare the before Photoshop and and after Photoshop shots, which makes it easier to see where you smooth out the wrinkles here and there. There was that old television commercial with a tag line “only her hairdresser knows for sure” which was something most people could apparently live with, since they didn’t see their hairdresser every day at work.

          I’ve learned to be very careful about modding portrait photos unless the mod has been explicitly asked for. Not long ago someone asked me to remove the background from a headshot photo, no problem, but I consciously avoided making any “improvements”, because it’s pretty easy for someone to go from “oh, so you removed my wrinkles” to “oh, so you think I’m old and wrinkled?!” Some people might have loved it, but – not this person. It’s just not something I wanted to deal with. I know how to do all of those fashion magazine tricks – but I rarely use them on anyone I know personally.

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      2. OP1

        I’m definitely not picky – as long as I’m not cross-eyed in the photo or don’t have something on my teeth, I’ll accept whatever photo she takes.

        Reply
      3. Kelly L.

        Ugh, I always look like my grandma in work pictures. I guess my hair/fashion choices for work age me. I never thought photoshopping them was an option, though! :D I’ve just accepted it as an annoying fact of the universe.

        Reply
    8. MissDisplaced

      I do this at my work too. Here’s the thing, you missed a few of the thorough shoots. Either go when you know there are other new hires going OR submit your own photo for her to use.

      Reply
  2. CMT

    I disagree and think that office-wide email would be TMI. It would be really, really weird to get an email like that from a coworker I didn’t know or ever talk to. I hope this doesn’t sound callous; I really feel for you and hope everything will be okay. I just don’t think an office-wide email in an office where they’re ever used is a good medium for this.

    Reply
    1. KarenT

      Another option in a case like this is to have a trusted co-worker tell everyone. A lady I’m my group had a stillborn baby and she phoned and asked one of her co-workers to tell everyone. She literally went around door to door saying “Sally lost the baby and is returning next week. She’d like to request that you not ask her about it.” It was still a bit awkward but it made her coming back much easier and helped her avoid questions and awful conversations.

      I will also be keeping you and your baby in my thoughts. I hope everything goes as smoothly as possible.

      Reply
      1. well . . . hmm

        I did something like that when I had a tragic thing happen. I called my boss to ask her to tell everyone and had her tell people that I would not be discussing what had happened. One person had the balls to come up to me days later and grill me for details. I still hold that against that person. It showed me that I work with mostly kind and compassionate people. I don’t think I would have been able to type an email because I was literally shaking for days.

        Reply
        1. AnonAnalyst

          This was how my last office handled these events, which I think was kind of a relief to the employees affected. Usually the person’s manager or team lead would let everyone else know what’s going on, as well as any additional requests for action (such as not discussing it directly, etc.)

          I agree with CMT that in this situation, given what the OP has described about the use of office-wide emails, I would probably find that a little awkward. I wouldn’t think badly of the OP for sending it, but I think it would just strike me as awkward since it’s so rarely used.

          Reply
          1. Chalupa Batman

            Agree. I am very private in general, but if I’ve specifically asked that something not be brought up, I would consider it outright hostile and cruel for someone to “grill me for details.” A quick “I’m sorry for your loss” on the way out the door from talking about something else? Kind and appreciated. A bunch of questions and/or commentary on my situation? Intentional cruelty. I would take it very personally.

            Reply
      2. jamlady

        I like this. We take it a little further in that the message will be received by the admin. assistant who then tells each lead in the office. Each lead then tells their team privately and everyone automatically understands the sensitivity of the information. I love my boss and I know that when I’m getting a piece of info like that from her that it’s sensitive and an off-limits topic because the individual made sure it was passed through the office through the hierarchy.

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      3. Name

        they did this is my office too. it gives the receiver a chance to say ‘oh no how awful’ out loud with a human being who isn’t the main person it affected. best for both, tough for the messenger though.

        Reply
      4. Elizabeth the Ginger

        At my workplace, we’ve had a few similar emails come from the boss about people having medical issues. I don’t think it would be out of place for it to come from the OP, though.

        One thing that might help, OP, is if you include a sentence about how you’d like people to react. If you wish no one would come ask you about it, say so. Otherwise you might get well-meaning but intrusive coworkers now asking more detailed questions.

        I’m thinking of you and really hope things go well for you.

        Reply
        1. Not me

          This. People who mean well might start asking more questions out of concern or trying to discuss it with you to be (they think) supportive. I’ve been there with emergencies in my family.

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        2. hildi

          “One thing that might help, OP, is if you include a sentence about how you’d like people to react”

          Totally agree with this. We had a man in our staff several years ago that had a swift and aggressive cancer. He sent an email to everyone telling us the big details, and also letting us know that he isn’t interested in a pity party and just wanted to keep on business as usual with everyone. I thought it was brilliant how he handled it because his needs were getting met, as well as everyone else not having to guess what he wanted.

          It seems like people fall so hard on either side of the fence on this topic that I think it saves everyone a lot of angst by just being upfront with how you wish to handle it: please feel comfortable talking with me about it or I don’t want to talk about it and prefer to keep focused on work.

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      5. Marzipan

        I was going to suggest the same thing. Appoint a volunteer to go around for you and tell people whatever you’d like them told, and what you do and don’t want from them.

        A colleague of mine in another department had some time off sick due to depression/anxiety and we were specifically asked by her manager not to greet her with the phrase ‘how are you?’ upon seeing her when she returned, because for her at that time it wouldn’t be a reflex small-talk phrase but a very loaded and potentially upsetting question. I’ll admit I found it reaaaaallllyyy hard – I was convinced I’d blurt it out by accident! – but I thought it was a good way to disseminate the message and I appreciated being given the information so I could help her by respecting her needs at that time.

        Reply
      6. BritCred

        My Boss did this when I lost my stepfather to cancer. Before that it was between me and him as to why I called out when I needed to due to his condition. But at least when I got back the people who dealt with me on a regular basis knew and I didn’t have to tell them the whole story if I did reference it which kept the emotional side at bay.

        Reply
      7. OP3

        I could do this… I’d normally have chosen my boss, but we have an interim boss who has been traveling/on vacation a lot. He should be returning soon, though, so it might be good timing if he takes it on.

        Reply
      8. Stranger than fiction

        I had a similar thought in that she could send the email to her team and/or select trusted coworkers and have them disseminate it to the rest ofnthe company so the burden so to speak doesn’t fall on just one person.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      It would be really, really weird to get an email like that from a coworker I didn’t know or ever talk to.

      I think that’s the right distinction (and that’s why office size matters). If the office is so big that there are lots of people you don’t know, then it’s probably not the way to go. I got the sense the OP’s office wasn’t that large, but looking back at the letter, I could be reading that wrong.

      Reply
      1. OP3

        Maybe 50 people. Big enough that the occasional new face pops up without intro, but small enough that after a bit pretty much everyone knows everyone at least by sight and will chit-chat a bit in the kitchen.

        Reply
    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      We had a terrible event a few months ago. A 7th month pregnant woman lost her baby (which, I don’t think is the right term when the baby is viable but you understand what I’m saying). She left work end of day but stopped at her gyn because she was concerned the baby hadn’t moved all day.

      :( Awful! :(

      We so didn’t know what to do. This dovetailed with scheduled vacation time so it was about 2 weeks until she was in the office again. It was vitally important that when she returned nobody ask her “So, when is the baby due again?” but it felt wrong to email her personal information to our about 100 people who work together.

      After an At Length conversation about what to do, we went with the grapevine, but organized grapevine. Friends of hers took responsibility for whole groups of people to make sure every individual was told in person.

      I think the OP should do whatever on earth she wants to do. Her being correct or concerned about how the email makes other people feel doesn’t make the priority list. The only thing we were concerned about was thinking how our coworker would want this handled and trying to guess without having to trouble her by asking.

      Reply
      1. ComingFromGeorgia

        We had something very similar in our office happen (although she wasn’t yet to 7 months) – we made sure while she was out recovering, we asked her how she wanted it dealt with. She ultimately decided she wanted an email sent to just our team and she would handle any other folks one-off. I think it was an awkward conversation to have with her, but saved her some awkwardness when she returned (although we still had incidents of others not being aware and seeming to lack the wherewithall to piece it together when there was some obvious signs…).

        Reply
    4. Mosquitos everywhere!

      I completely agree with you especially given the context (their distribution list is used infrequently and only for official office events). If I were in OPs shoes,I would only send an email to the people I work closely with.

      Reply
    5. Ad Astra

      It does sound like an office-wide email would be out of sync with the culture at this company. I doubt anyone would be offended or hold it against her, but it might make people feel weird.

      When I worked in a fairly small office, I had a supervisor who sent an office-wide email explaining that her father-in-law had died suddenly, she would be missing X days to handle the funeral and things like that, and she mentioned she’d rather not talk about it person because she might cry. That worked for us, but might not work in OP’s office.

      I agree that it might be better to tell one or two trusted coworkers and ask them to discreetly spread the news.

      Reply
    6. BeeBee

      #3 – This is a sad coincidence. My manager emailed me this morning to let us know that a coworker’s mum had passed away in her sleep. She only messaged a few of us that work directly or know him.

      As said before, if I received an email like that and even though I might know the name to the person I still wouldn’t feel comfortable. It can also become a gossip piece in the office.

      My prayers are with you and hope everything goes well.

      Reply
    1. Amazon Wife

      My husband works there, that NYTimes article was a hit piece. You can bring your dog, free coffee, lots of free lunches and happy hours, they pay for your college, pickleball tournaments, and they hired Mackelmore to play for all employees and family recently. Plus for us they pay well, great benefits, and big relocation package.
      It’s a company with tens of thousands of employees and they found 100 disgruntled ones. Don’t believe the hype.

      Reply
      1. Nani

        Free coffee is rather normal. Education reimbursement is normal for many companies. And you can have happy hours and Macklemore and still have the conditions discussed in the article. (I have no dog in this fight though.)

        Reply
        1. what the what

          Yeah, for my money that whole Macklemore thing should have been covered in the expose`. I’d NEVER work at a place that would allow that!!!

          Reply
        2. Felicia

          I don’t know anything personal about Amazon, but in my experience, a lot of companies with those exact perks described have the worst cultures in terms of ridiculously overworking people and management treating people poorly . Those are the kind of surface perks that make me suspicious because often (though certainly not always) an emphasis on bringing free food or your dog will mean that they are companies that do worse on things like vacation or reasonable expectations of work.

          Reply
          1. AnonAnalyst

            Yup, this. I’m always suspicious, at least initially, when I start hearing about all the perks they offer so that you never have to leave work to take care of anything…because in my experience, they usually want (and sometimes expect) you to never leave work. This isn’t always true, of course, but my experience has been that it’s been the case more often than not.

            Reply
            1. Kate

              Yeah, it’s like ‘You don’t need time to feed your dog or cook food or have a life – we have it all right here!’

              Reply
          2. Ad Astra

            I have the same suspicions. I have zero first-hand knowledge of Amazon’s culture specifically, but “fun” benefits like pickleball tournaments and bringing your dog to work make me think the company is trying to keep me in the office all the time.

            The perks I really want are generous PTO and company-paid health insurance. Free food and employee discounts on cool stuff would also be good. And that’s about it. Please, no XBox lounge or napping room or whatever. I want to go home.

            Reply
            1. themmases

              Exactly. At the most basic level, I care about bring treated decently at work. After that, in no particular order, it’s about competitive pay, decent benefits, professional development, meaningful/interesting work. I wouldn’t say no to free coffee– something that’s never been provided at places I’ve worked, but I lived.

              I feel like this is a pretty normal list. When I hear that someone thinks a company is great because of a ping pong table or office food or events, I think they are really missing the point.

              Reply
          3. Anna

            Alison has warned against that exact thing and it has definitely made me take a more jaundiced look at those “perks” when I hear about them.

            Reply
      2. Oryx

        …Are there places that charge employees for coffee?

        (Maybe there are, I’ve always worked where it was free.)

        The issue is that often those perks are offered as a way to distract the employees from the real issues underneath the surface.

        Reply
        1. Lia

          oh yes there are. I worked for a hospital that only provided coffee to doctors and volunteers (nurses and staff were only allowed to drink coffee that was purchased –at full price– in the cafeteria). a director I reported to at one job wanted to eliminate the $30 monthly coffee service, which was for an entire office. he got shot down and instead eliminated cream and sugar, which saved $6 a month.

          Reply
          1. Charlotte Collins

            Not only do we have to pay for coffee, but it’s terrible (the cafeteria is run by an outside company) and overpriced. Luckily, I’m a tea drinker and my hot water is free. (We pretty much get free ice and free hot and cold water. It would be luxurious if this were 1915 instead of 2015.)

            Reply
          1. Elizabeth West

            I’ve always worked in offices where it was, usually by a coffee service. Here, we get coffee, tea, and cocoa packets. I bring my own tea (Twinings or loose-leaf Earl Grey) usually, and we have one person who is VERY serious about his coffee and brings his own grinder and brews it by the cup!

            Reply
        2. OfficePrincess

          We don’t even have coffee and the closest place is about a 5 minute drive each way, unless you count the strange brown liquid in the vending machine.

          Reply
        3. Ad Astra

          There are lots of offices where coffee isn’t free, but I don’t consider free coffee to be an unusual or impressive perk. Then again, I don’t drink coffee.

          Reply
        4. Jennifer M.

          Federal government offices cannot provide free coffee as that would be misuse of the taxpayer dollar. If there is a potability issue they can provide water. My sister worked for a defense contractor for a while. Her part of the building (working on a particular contrct) did not get free coffee because they didn’t have a nonbillable code to pay for it. The other part of the building had a nonbillable code so they could provide coffee.

          Reply
        5. Kelly L.

          It’s not so much charging people for coffee–it’s either providing it or not. I’ve seen either:

          (a) there’s generic blah coffee there, you can drink that if you want, or bring your own if you want better, or
          (b) everybody brings their own.

          And sometimes I’ve worked places where there was a Starbucks or something on the premises, though nobody really went there every day.

          (Side note: In my fast food days, the soda and coffee were always free–they had varying policies on food, though, from free up to a certain dollar amount to discounted to “tough cookies, no cheap food for you.” I think discounted was the most common.)

          Reply
          1. Judy

            I’ve certainly worked at places where the cafeteria is the only place that has coffee, and you have to pay for it. These places were also places with rock solid catering contracts, such that if you bring in pizza for a team meeting, you have to pay a fee to the cafeteria.

            Reply
          2. super anon

            “I’ve worked places where there was a Starbucks or something on the premises, though nobody really went there every day.”

            Oh god, I’m that person who goes to Starbucks every day, sometimes twice a day. There’s 5 within a 5 minute walk from my office… it’s so hard to avoid their Mermaid cup’s siren call.

            Reply
        6. Mallory Janis Ian

          I moved from one university department to another, and my current department is the first place I’ve ever worked where coffee wasn’t free. They cite that it is against state rules, but so many other departments provide free coffee (that makes it through purchasing review by upper procurement and through review by state auditors every so often), so I know that they are just being stingy sticklers.

          Reply
          1. Lia

            Do you work at my university? Same deal here. We have coffee in our department, but numerous others across campus don’t. It comes down to budget and, in my opinion, leadership who don’t drink coffee think there’s no need to provide it.

            Some offices here provide soda for their staff, but ours does not.

            Reply
        7. OP #4

          I bring my own coffee and make it in a French press!

          I have only ever worked for small companies or universities, except for one very short stint in a call center. I’ve never had perks like free food or coffee. To be honest, I don’t have much of an idea of what’s normal for a big corporation.

          Reply
          1. Anonymous Ninja

            If you’re experience is small companies and universities, than you may find Amazon to be a bit of a culture shock. I’ve worked in both types of places and the work pace is much, much different.

            Reply
          2. catsAreCool

            In your current circumstances, taking the job sounds like a big risk to me. If you were in a position where you could deal with the worst case possibilities for a year or 2, that would be one thing, but this doesn’t sound like a job I’d encourage anyone to take except maybe a workaholic.

            Reply
        8. afiendishthingy

          We bring in our own coffee. Which, yeah, they’re cheap, but on the other hand the free coffee I’ve had at other jobs was always pretty terrible. And I have a good boss who believes in work/life balance.

          Reply
        9. MegEB

          I work in a hospital, and we don’t get free coffee. There are multiple cafes both within and without the hospital that I go to get my fix.

          Reply
        10. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          We have machines provided but have to bring our own coffee.

          I worked at place that had machines and coffee, but you had to pay to be part of the “Coffee Club.”

          Reply
        1. AVP

          Same. Former friend in an East Coast office said the piece was dead on, in her experience.

          Mileage may vary by offices and managers, of course.

          Reply
        2. Lucky

          Same. I’ve been in Seattle since the 90s and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a couple of former Amazonians. My Facebook feed lit up when the NYT article was posted, all with some variation of “yep, sounds like when I was there.”

          Most of my ex-Amazon friends have moved on to other tech or retail companies, and while those companies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, none gets all of the complaints outlined in that article.

          For the Amazon spouse above, save your husband’s bonus plus more in your emergency fund. If he quits early, he’ll have to pay part of it back, plus his relo costs – the sort of golden handcuffs that keep Amazonians there.

          Reply
          1. FJ

            Paying back relo costs is the standard in my big company. If you quit within 18 months or two years, you have to pay back pro-rated relo costs. It doesn’t affect bonuses though.

            Reply
        3. Formica Dinette

          Same here. Some people thrive in that environment, but most do not. If OP already knows they aren’t up to long work weeks and stressful environments, they’re going to be miserable.

          Reply
        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I have friends who work for a website hosting company whose advertising tends to feature busty women and they constantly pay for big name acts to play the company holiday party.

          My friend who works there raised the issue that most employees would rather have a bigger bonus than see the performer…

          Reply
          1. Stephanie

            If it’s the same company I’m thinking of, they’re a big supporter of our SWE section. It’s like “Ok, you’re all for supporting technical women in the workplace, but then your ads are gross are sexist? Confused.”

            Reply
      3. Spooky

        *snort* Yeah, when companies actually list “free coffee” as a perk, that’s a really bad sign. You don’t get a pat on the back for providing the bare minimum.

        Reply
        1. Mreasy

          I bet AMZ’s free coffee is similar to Google’s, though – full coffee stations, some staffed by baristas, with espresso, pourover, cold brew, etc. – the kind of thing you’d otherwise go offsite and pay $4 or $5 for. Not like the terrifying goo in my office’s coffee pot!

          Reply
      4. Anonicorn

        I’m glad your husband isn’t part of the abuse, but sadly a friend of mine who used to work there said the article is a perfect description of his brief time at Amazon.

        Reply
      5. Log Lady

        Mackelmore? I knew there was a benefit I wasn’t getting at my current job, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

        Reply
      6. Lily in NYC

        Sorry, I believe the hype. I’m sure there are content employees but that doesn’t excuse the horrible treatment of certain departments and the warehouse workers. OP#4, I suggest going over to Gawker and searching for their Amazon posts. They have a few with lots and lots of input from current and former employees.

        Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          Forgot to add: there is no way in hell I’d ever work at a place with the type of internal feedback system they have in place. It sounds like Lord of the Flies.

          Reply
          1. Stranger than fiction

            Omg yeah that part made my mouth drop open in disbelief and utter shock. It’s like sanctioned retaliation.

            Reply
      7. BananaPants

        I’m just as suspicious of people who claim all is sparkles and unicorns at Amazon. No employer is perfect and many of the tech industry perks and amenities that are trumpeted by these firms are actually intended to keep employees at their desks and working long hours rather than having reasonable work-life balance. My employer has a far better employee education benefit than Amazon does (as do many companies). I don’t care about work-sponsored happy hours, just let me get home to my family at a reasonable hour. And is hiring Macklemore for an employee party supposed to be some earth-shatteringly awesome thing?

        An Amazon engineering leader (read: manager) with a tenure of less than 18 months with the company rushed to defend his employer on LinkedIn. The flowery language used to try to rebut the claims made in the NYT piece was so over-the-top as to make me believe the NYT article even more. Seriously, a guy in a white collar/management position with the company for a relatively short period of time claimed that all is wonderful at Amazon and everyone is happy – because he’s never seen anyone be upset at work. He mansplained away the purported gender gap and was dismissive of the experiences of women who worked at his company for a lot longer than he has (because he’s an apparently-white male who has never had to be subjected to subtle and not-s0-subtle discrimination in a male dominated field). Because HE has had a good experience there, he completely dismisses those whose experience differed as being part of a media hatchet job on The Best Employer EVER!!! But I digress…

        The NYT isn’t some cheap tabloid rag; it’s one of the most widely-read and well-respected dailies in the world and interviewing 100+ people for an article like this is time consuming and expensive. I know people who live and work in the Seattle/Redmond area (not for Amazon, Microsoft, etc. but with friends and neighbors who do) and have heard that this is what the “tech” culture can be like, especially where Amazon is concerned. Even if it’s only in certain segments or groups within the company, it’s just not right.

        Regardless of your husband’s positive experience working there, if even one employee was forced to go on a business trip the day after a miscarriage, or was managed out because they were caring for a spouse with cancer, or was discriminated against or excluded for being female, I think it’s a sign of an unhealthy work environment. For things like that to happen AT ALL – much less with the knowledge or tacit approval of senior management – is a sign of pretty crappy management at least in some divisions or work groups.

        I’m an Amazon Prime member and have shopped at Amazon for years, but NO workplace is sunshine and rainbows the way the Amazon apologists make it out to be.

        Reply
        1. Stephanie

          Yeah, the LinkedIn rebuttal was eyeroll-inducing. Even the lifers at my company (oh, there are many) who talk about bleeding [company color] will say critical things.

          Reply
        2. Stranger than fiction

          Well put. And just because they only interviewed 100 I’m sure there’s a 1000 more who weren’t or didn’t want to be…even the lawyers said they’re hearing from ex employees all the time.

          Reply
            1. Ad Astra

              Yeah, a lot like that. I played it once in gym class and found it easier than tennis OR ping-pong, two things I’ve never been good at.

              Reply
      8. Stranger than fiction

        Does he work the grueling hours and is he expected to be online during vacation though? I’ve heard about this first hand about one of their divisions in my area.

        Reply
      9. Biff

        I haven’t seen you here before. So I’ll admit that my suspicion is that you are part of a image-saving campaign. Sorry, call me jaded if you like.

        Reply
        1. Stephanie

          I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt as
          (1) I think there are regular readers here who lurk.
          (2) Amazon doesn’t really seem to care about its image to that extent to have face-saving campaigns.

          Reply
      10. hayling

        I read a blog recently (can’t find it) by someone who worked at Amazon but wasn’t comfortable with dogs. She said it’s so aggressively dog-friendly that it’s awful to be someone who doesn’t like them. It sounded awful (and I like dogs!)

        Reply
        1. Book Person

          From The Awl! “I Was an Amazon Chew Toy.” Basically, allergic employees had to jump through a lot of hoops to prove they were allergic enough not to be around dogs, and ended up in cramped, windowless offices because the notion of a “dog-free floor” was too much of a buzzkill, apparently.

          http://www.theawl.com/2015/01/i-was-an-amazon-chew-toy

          Seriously, though, given the way Amazon treats the companies whose products it sells/on which it makes money, I am completely not surprised by the reports of their corporate and warehouse culture. I go out of my way to shop wherever else I can. Even beyond the employee treatment, I can’t support a company that plays those kinds of tax-dodging games. In the UK, the company received more in grants than it paid back in taxes, for instance: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/tax/10060229/Amazon-received-more-money-from-UK-grants-than-it-paid-in-corporation-tax.html

          Reply
    2. Lore

      This piece is really interesting to me. I interviewed there a number of years ago and the obsessive focus on metrics and data-driven responses to everything was a main reason why I didn’t get the job (and was sort of relieved). I have no idea how to quantify the work I do–number of errors prevented? Number of days shaved off proofreading schedule?

      Reply
    3. Dice-K

      My impression is that OP#4 didn’t want to spell out the name of the company she is applying for…so why was it okay for Alison to do it in the response?

      Reply
      1. Macedon

        Because the OP isn’t agreeing or disagreeing with her assumption and therefore places him/herself at no additional risk on top of the letter’s disclosure.

        Reply
      2. LBK

        I think it’s pretty obvious who it is…and it’s not the OP trying to keep quiet her own experience with the company. The article is already out there, it’s not like Alison is endangering the OP’s job or reputation by attaching the name to the letter.

        Reply
      3. Rat Racer

        If the concern is that saying the word “Amazon” would somehow destroy the OP’s shot at getting a job there, I would argue that the OP’s anonymity is more important than the company’s. There are probably a gazillion people applying to Amazon every day. The OP would be hard to pinpoint in the mix (wait – am I being totally naive here? can Amazon’s ninja analytics uncover someone’s identity on AAM??)

        Reply
      4. Ask a Manager Post author

        Amazon interviews a huge number of people every week. There’s nothing in the letter that’s identifying to the OP. (Whereas everyone reading this would know the OP was talking about Amazon, and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.)

        Reply
      5. OP #4

        I’ve never seen a letter writer name the company they were applying for before, so I wasn’t sure if it was ok to do that. It’s not exactly a secret–Amazon has been all over the news this week.

        Reply
        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I think people don’t list the name because they don’t want the post to come up when the company name is googled. But given the amount of press this story is getting, I doubt this is going to make it to the top of the search results (unless Alison has REALLY good SEO).

          I’ve always found it a little weird when people say “I work at a company that rhymes with Meneral Gotors” or whatever. :)

          Reply
          1. Amy UK

            I think it’s to avoid Google Alerts. I can imagine a lot of big companies have people monitoring the company’s mentions on social media/general news sites. So while saying Target would trigger an alert, the ‘Meneral Gotors’ or ‘the store with the orange shirts’ doesn’t.

            Reply
    4. Elizabeth West

      I’m torn on the whole Amazon thing. They’re not the only company who treats employees like dirt, or monitors them, or makes them work crazy hours. If I boycotted all companies who did this, I might as well move to the middle of the desert and live off the grid. In addition to that, I use a lot of their products:

      –I have a Kindle
      –I order from them all the time (third-party sellers too)
      –I have two accounts, one US and one UK
      –I watch TV there when I miss my shows or don’t have cable (like now; Doctor Who is about to come back on and so is The Walking Dead and I may have to turn my DirecTV off forever because bucks)

      I guess I’m not enough of an activist to blow them off, plus the older I get the more convenient I prefer things. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. I will NOT, however, EVER publish a book through them. Just no.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        It’s like you’ve described my Amazon relationship exactly. I also ordered my friend’s books through there. Whatever else it is, it IS a great service.

        Reply
      2. LQ

        So as someone who has concerns about publishing books through them (which I TOTALLY GET!) do you buy books through them?

        All their practices are so slimey, but on the other hand they are like 75-90% of the online book market from what I’ve read, so it is darn near impossible, or shooting yourself in the foot to not use them.

        Reply
        1. ThursdaysGeek

          I use their wishlist, and if the books I want are likely to be available used, I first try buying them through BetterWorldBooks.

          Reply
        2. Book Person

          If you’re trying to support an author or a publishing house by buying something, please go directly to the publisher. Most sell through their own websites. There are also lots of fantastic independent bookstores in the States and the UK who have strong web presences (Waterstones, Blackwells, Powells, and City Lights are the ones that come immediately to mind). They might be worth checking out if you love the convenience of Amazon but are having a moral quandry about it!

          For some background, from someone inside the book industry: Amazon takes a 60% discount on all books (standard trade is 40-50% off list), and on top of that has publishers pay for shipping both to and from the distribution centres, does not order in bulk (which raises shipping fees with multiple shipments), and returns books absolutely destroyed. My press has had books come back /literally torn in half/ since paperbacks and hardcovers are just tossed willy-nilly into a box together; since their payment system is entirely automated, they credited themselves for a full refund on every single one of those ruined, unsellable books. Smaller presses can actually lose money by selling through them, but most people think if it isn’t on Amazon, it doesn’t exist. It’s a damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation for us and many similarly-sized publishing houses.

          Chapters, Barnes and Noble, Apple, all of these also aren’t /great/ with small publishers, but are better than Amazon by leaps and bounds in their terms. Heck, ask your local library to stock a copy; they’re even more wonderful to deal with since most purchase through library wholesalers.

          Reply
      3. Cath in Canada

        I recently decided that I was going to avoid Amazon for everything except gifts bought through Amazon.co.uk for my UK-based family. So when my local book store didn’t have the book I was looking for, I asked them to order it for me. It cost $5 more than Amazon and took three weeks to arrive – AND I got soaked in a sudden rain storm on my way to place the order, and again when I went to pick up the book! Frustrating…

        Reply
    5. Whomever

      FYI, I work at a major tech company that competes with Amazon and has a lot of ex-Amazoners, and the general consensus here is it’s about 80% accurate for many groups (and there were some amusing exchanges, e.g. one person said “mostly accurate but they never had mandatory cuts that I saw” and another said “what do you mean? One year I was required to cut 10% because we hadn’t done it the previous year!”)

      But as always I’m sure there are fine departments. I spent years on Wall Street, an environment also notorious for bad work-life balance and never felt the least bit of a problem with it (got lots of vacation time, always used it, kind bosses, etc), of course I was in tech, not the business side of things.

      Reply
      1. Biff

        I can’t think of any single company that is in competition for Amazon’s market. I mean, B+N for books, Ebay for used stuff, and Overstock for larger items and household goodies. I’d love to know where you think I should shop instead. Hint. Hint. Hint.

        Reply
  3. A Non

    I have a sibling who works for Amazon as a programmer. Their work team responded to that article with confused expressions, followed by wondering who they found to interview, followed by mocking the article.

    Amazon is a HUGE company. I don’t doubt that there are parts of it that are toxic. There’s going to be a variety in any company that size. But the parts that my sibling has worked in over the last ~5 years, and all the parts that they know well enough to talk about, are fine. The worst they’ve mentioned are some annoying coworkers and one or two deadline crunches. They’re certainly not working 80 hour weeks or dealing with backstabbing. Go interview, look for all the usual clues about what the environment’s going to be like, pay special attention to the person who would be your boss, and decide accordingly.

    Reply
    1. jamlady

      My brother-in-law works for them and has an amazing set up (and gets paid pretty darn well too). I asked him about it and he had a similarly confused reaction, but also said he’s likely high up enough (and remote enough) that he has a totally different experience than a lot of people. Amazon is so huge and constantly ahead of the game and it certaintly wouldn’t be the first company to overwork the folks lower in the totem pole… But it’s so hard to generalize the entire company based on the interviews received. It’s just suuuuch a small percentage.

      Reply
    2. Retail4Life

      I used to work at Amazon. A lot of what I have been reading lately is true but you’re right it’s a huge company and I know people who were super happy working there because of their department/team.

      That said do you really want to work for a company that treats anyone like this? I understand you have to think of yourself first and foremost but would you work for a company that you knew had poor labor practices like child labor? Or in some other way did something you found unethical? Just a thought.

      Reply
      1. Not Today Satan

        Agreed about the ethics–and for that reason I really wish they spent more than a paragraph on the sweatshop conditions of their warehouses. Between that, this article, and the way they strong-arm the publishing industry–Amazon sucks. I encourage everyone to stop shopping there, and I wouldn’t work there unless I absolutely needed to.

        Reply
        1. Elysian

          After reading the article I am trying to figure out how to stop shopping there, but honestly I’m not sure I know how. I live in a city, shopping for stuff is a huge pain in the butt. Gotta get in the car, drive over an hour to the nearest WalMart or Target (which honestly aren’t better, labor-wise), park (UGH), and then hope they have what I need. They probably won’t though, cause they’re pretty small and a lot of people shop there. Then drive an hour home. Two-three hours wasted without getting the socks or whatever I needed. Amazon is a god-send because I don’t have to deal with finding a place to buy these things… but I would rather not support a company with such bad labor practices.

          Reply
          1. Creag an Tuire

            This is why I have a philosophy of “Don’t boycott, Just organize”. Frankly, it’s impossible to participate in the modern economy without doing business with a company with bad practices.

            Reply
          2. KerryOwl

            Shopping local is of course best when you can swing it, but Target and Wal-Mart don’t really count as “shopping local” either. But there are many other online options besides Amazon. You may have to go to several online stores rather than just one, but I do just that to avoid shopping at Amazon whenever I can.

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            1. Elysian

              I’ll have to try harder, I suppose. The problem is that my $5 pack of socks becomes a $20 pack of socks once I add shipping, or there is a minimum order or something. I even bought something recently, and looked as to whether I could buy it from their website, just to discover that they process all their orders through Amazon by default! It’s nuts how pervasive they’ve become.

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              1. Nanc

                I’m not sure this is true everywhere, but where I am, you can order from Target and WalMart online and if you ship to store, the shipping is free. It’s usually 4-5 days, but I can live with that.

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                1. Amy UK

                  Yeah, but then you have to find time to go and pick it up, which isn’t ideal in smaller towns. Where I live, even the shops on the High Street (ie the main shops in town) close by 6pm so almost impossible to get there in time if you’re working a 9-5/6. Malls are open later, but you’re looking at a 20 minute drive and £4 in parking fees, or an hour on the bus and about £6-7 for a ticket.

                  So while free click-and-collect is great if you were going into town anyway or live in a big city with a local branch, it’s still an annoyance for a lot of people.

          3. Ad Astra

            I, too, am having a hard time finding a way not to shop there. I don’t want to give my money to a company that treats its employees that way, but the mid-sized city I live in is surprisingly lame and I often can’t find what I’m looking for (case in point: Snout Soother for my dog). The nearest big city with decent shopping is about 3 hours away. I feel rotten about it, though I haven’t bought anything from Amazon since the story ran.

            Reply
            1. KerryOwl

              You can buy Snout Soother from the NaturalDogCompany shop on etsy. (Still not a great company, but probably better than Amazon.) Again, I get the “I need to shop online” thing, but Amazon does not control the internet!

              Reply
              1. Ad Astra

                Good to know, thanks! I was surprised that PetCo and Target didn’t have it. There is a locally owned pet store in town that I haven’t tried, but there aren’t any “natural” pet stores. And regular Vaseline just isn’t cutting it for Fido.

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                1. Raptor

                  Vaseline is extremely drying to the skin. If your dog is like me and has a skin allergy that is causing the dryness (contact dermatitis in my case and I’m allergic to things like aloe), I find that the best product to use is coconut oil. It will be a solid in most houses, but will melts as soon as it makes contact with your hands. You can find it in the cooking section in most major stores. And, if it doesn’t work, its a pretty good cooking oil.

                2. Ad Astra

                  Thanks, Raptor! I knew coconut oil was a popular choice, but didn’t realize Vaseline could be part of the problem. Our dog doesn’t have any allergies that we’ve noticed, but his breed is known to have lots of skin issues and allergies, so we already have him on a grain-free, soy-free diet. He’s a high-maintenance pup.

              2. Vin Packer

                You’d be surprised, though; Amazon often controls the money-exchange process for other online shopping websites, almost like PayPal. Even if the product, company, site, etc. has nothing to do with them, they could still be making money off of your online purchase.

                Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t avoid them, just that nobody in the first world should ever fool themselves that their hands are completely clean when it comes to this kind of stuff. Consumers don’t have the power we wish we had :(

                Reply
        2. OfficePrincess

          To be fair though, there was a series of articles done about their warehouse conditions last summer. It makes sense to just do a small recap when the details are all archived.

          Reply
        3. Gawker!

          A few months ago, Gawker did a series on Amazon, and I remember an entire piece on the Warehouse. If I have some time i will try to find the article.

          Reply
        4. Elizabeth West

          Well to be fair, there have already been multiple in-depth articles about the warehouses. I’m more concerned about the publishing stuff, because that could directly affect me in future. If I ever publish anything, that is. :P

          Reply
              1. Book Person

                (Er, which also sounds like I don’t care about the egregious conditions their warehouse staff face. Definitely, definitely do. Am appalled by it, and don’t shop at Amazon for those ethical reasons as well as professional ones. Post was more to say don’t feel bad about your first post!)

                Reply
        5. Stephanie

          In my limited experience, they’re not the best with their shipping partners either. I work for one of the shipping majors in demand planning. We got a week’s notice for the Prime Day event last month (we usually do our distribution plans several months ahead). It was sort of chaos as we almost ran out of trailers to ship things and had to rework our entire load plan.

          Reply
    3. SL

      I was reading a couple blog posts on Medium (which has a majority-techie readership and writer base, so potential bias) where they pointed out some of the unanswered questions of how the Times got the information and potential biases in the article. Something was already rubbing me wrong about the Times article, but those posts really cemented it for me.

      Granted, I worked in the Bay Area tech scene for a while, so I take a very different (mostly positive) view of the corporate cultures out there than a lot of people do.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        I’m not sure “Bay Area tech corporate culture” is necessarily a positive contrast, given the stories I hear from people who work there, either.

        That said, while it’s certainly good to be skeptical of taking any newspaper report at face value, I wouldn’t want to have a high-level job at a company that treats high-level employees well but is awful to the low-level employees. “I got mine, Jack” is really not a good way to be.

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        1. SL

          I meant “positive” as in, I personally have a positive view of the industry, the work, and yes, the corporate culture at a lot of these places. Not everyone does, and not everyone has a positive experience when working in tech. But I’ve met inspiring, passionate people there who love their jobs, which makes it hard for me to take an article like this seriously. It feels like the NYT specifically sought out people who had reasons to be angry with Amazon (with good reason, especially in the case of the PIP-receivers) while absolutely refusing to contemplate that there are others who truly enjoy the work they’re doing and others who are being treated fairly within the company. But then again, the Times wouldn’t get its readership up again unless it treated this whole thing like a big scandal.

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          1. Kat

            I don’t think anyone is “refusing to contemplate” that there are people who enjoy the work they’re doing and who are being treated fairly. I think everyone assumes that some percentage of people at any corporation are there because they love the work or feel the pay is a more than adequate tradeoff for the work they’re doing.

            It’s about the risk involved, as well as how you feel about the companies practices towards those lowest on the totem pole. I may be happy to work there and thrilled with the work I do now, but what happens if I accidentally get pregnant? Get diagnosed with a disease? Break a bone?

            Reply
          2. Ad Astra

            If what those employees said is true, why would it matter if someone else had a positive experience? I don’t want to work at a place where even one employee was managed out of her job because she had cancer.

            Reply
            1. SL

              That manager, whoever it was, needs to be fired immediately. There was no excuse for that. But you have good managers everywhere, and you have bad managers everywhere. I could easily imagine this happening at any other company, not just Amazon, if you put the “right” people in management positions.

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              1. Desdemona

                Isn’t that kind of misleading when you’re talking about Amazon? The whole point of that company’s system is they *know* what their people are up to. They can tell you to the second how long it should take their minions to get any given item from any point in their warehouse, and can give immediate feedback to said minions for the smallest infractions, but they don’t know their more senior managers are pushing people out for getting cancer?

                Reply
          3. Anonymous Ninja

            “It feels like the NYT specifically sought out people who had reasons to be angry with Amazon”

            The NYT also specifically sought out Amazon and asked them to tell their side of the story. Amazon declined. No one from the executive team chose to comment or to say that these experiences are all due to a few rogue managers that have since been disciplined or terminated. All they did was make a few employees available to talk about their experiences.

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      2. MK

        Eh, when the company forbids all but a few chosen employees to talk about the culture, I don’t think there is some big mystery about how the journalist got the information. In fact, the article mentions that many of the people interviewed wanted to remain anonymous because they still work there and didn’t have permission to speak.

        Reply
    4. Three Thousand

      Yeah, there are a lot of things I dislike about Amazon as a company, speaking as someone who doesn’t work there, but it’s almost certain that different employees in different departments are going to have very different experiences, just like they would at any other enormous corporation.

      Reply
    5. Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system

      They’ve attempted to recruit me a couple of times for developer job. While I agree that it is unlikely that the company is pervaded by a toxic work-culture, I’d advise the OP to try to talk salary and benefits as quickly as possible. In my experience, they do not pay competitively. When I brought this up, I got a pitch about how working for such a great company and doing such neat stuff at my job would make up for the lower salary. YMMV but, seriously, try to figure out early if it is worthwhile to undergo their interview process. Disclaimer: I’m not trying to slag them, I don’t have a grudge against them, etc.

      Reply
      1. Stephanie

        Yeah, my friend is also in software and said their salaries weren’t that competitive. Which, why bother with the risk of crazy if the money’s not even that good?

        Regular commenters will remember I flamed out at one of their warehouses. I just no-showed. Not that this stopped me from getting calls to work during peak.

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      2. Lindrine

        +100 on talking sooner about benefits. I would also ask them questions about the department culture itself and do the old “How did you get started here”, “What has your career path been like here”, etc.

        Word does get around how different companies pay different departments. It is odd that they were trying to recruit you but it never occurred to them that the “But Amazon!” was not convincing you and they needed to dangle other incentives.

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        1. Ani

          I really believe that WalMart (and Amazon) have changed forever the blue-collar workforce reality for the worse, and that what the NYT was doing in part in that article was showing what kind of changes to white collar norms might be coming if other companies follow as they did with the blue-collar workforce. It’s alarming in that sense.

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    6. BRR

      My sister-in-law works for them and I’ve heard other second-hand stories. From what I can gather it’s an intense culture but not nearly as cut throat as the NYT article made it seem. I also know a lot of people who enjoy saying they work there, it’s a wow factor for them.

      I’m not sure about visiting your relative on short notice but if you’re coming from a 40 hour a week culture this job might add a lot of stress that would aggregate your condition and depending on your hobby might not provide time for that. And those last two factors you can think about without asking in an interview.

      Reply
    7. Sigrid

      My brother-in-law works there, also programming. He says his department is fine, no trouble with work-life balance (he has two kids, one with special needs, and he’s never had any trouble taking time off to care for them; he’s also never had any trouble taking time off when we’ve visited). But he says it’s extremely department-specific; the article is completely accurate for a lot of other departments. He’s also relatively high up the totem pole, which I’m sure makes a huge difference. My advice would be to be really, really sure you’re going into one of the good departments.

      Reply
    8. Artemesia

      I have a relative who worked there and his major complaint was terrible management. He said that the turnover was incredibly high for highly skilled people. They either hired badly and people didn’t cut it or they drove people out and given the high cost of training, it was extremely cost ineffective. He felt that if the company had paid attention to the metrics of managers e.g. losing good people rather than being so quick to push out technical people for bogus reasons they would be far ahead.

      Reply
    9. Mike C.

      This is a company who has ambulances waiting outside the gates of their warehouses waiting to take people away foe heat stroke. I’m mean come on, how can you be ignorant of these issues?

      Link

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    10. Mike C.

      Did you and your coworkers mock the fulfillment workers who were being carted off for heat stroke as well? Do you and your coworkers think it’s funny that people are managed out for the sin of having a miscarriage or wanting to see their families once in a while?

      I don’t expect you to answer for the sins of the company you work for, but to not only be ignorant of what’s going on around you but to mock the terrible experiences of others really takes the cake.

      Reply
      1. A Non

        Ah… no. My sibling (who works there, not me) and coworkers were amused by the article that assumed that the horror stories they gathered is representative of the overall culture of a company with 150,000 employees. Because the culture that they work in is not like that whatsoever.

        That said, I do apologize for that phrasing. That was a very poor choice of words on my part.

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      2. fposte

        And if they had done that, I’d be offended too.

        People mentioned in an article are not the same thing as an article. This is not a metonymic situation.

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    11. Anna

      Wow A Non, how heartless can your sibling be? Breast cancer, miscarriage, and physical ailments are mock worthy?

      You know I worked with a former Amazon producer, and yea, he was a complete Amhole. When we had a timeline to design things, he would phone me at all hours to try and get the project designed earlier than the delivery date. Then our ECD had a little chat with him, that he can’t be phoning the designer at 9pm on a friday, wondering why something that’s on schedule to be delivered on the next thursday, wasn’t delivered on friday. Then, when he continued to be an Amhole, he got fired. And the reason they gave when informing the rest of us? “He didn’t fit in here…actually he was a complete asshole.”

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Huh? There’s nothing to suggest the sibling was mocking the people in the article, just the article itself. That’s like saying a bad review of a book about disability is slamming people with disabilities.

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        1. Anna

          But the article was about how Amazon was pushing out people who were going through crisis’. Performance plan after a diagnosis of breast cancer?! I disagree with your metaphore, as the OP said that they mocked the article after they wondered who they found to interview. I think it really makes light of the problems that people are dealing with in Amazon.

          I’m probably taking it too seriously, but the way A Non worded it seemed very blase, and yes some places are toxic, but the issues that people at Amazon are dealing with is just…too extreme.

          Guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree!

          Reply
          1. A Non

            My point (and I think theirs) was that in a company of 150,000 people, yes, there are going to be some horrific stories. I work for an organization of ~600, and know some horror stories. The overall culture is still generally good, though. My sibling’s and their coworker’s experiences don’t line up with the picture the article was trying to paint at all.

            I did phrase my initial comment very poorly, though, and I apologize. For what it’s worth, that’s my wording, not theirs.

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            1. Stranger than fiction

              But do you acknowledge that your sister and others who are defending may still be in that “kook aid” drinking phase and just haven’t personally experienced the bad crap yet?

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              1. A Non

                My sibling has been there for 5+ years and worked in multiple departments, and their coworkers aren’t newbies either. So if they say that their environment isn’t toxic, I believe them. If 60-80 hour workweeks were the norm in their areas, they would have noticed that by now. My sibling’s also been able to take long vacations to travel without it being a problem.

                Is there bad crap at Amazon that they haven’t experienced? Yeah, I’m sure there is. It’s such a huge company that I doubt there even is one overarching culture, and suspect that an article like that could be written about any other similarly sized organization. (Work conditions in warehouses sound like they’re a different kettle of fish, though.)

                Reply
    12. AndersonDarling

      I’d continue with the interviews, and if I was a top contender or offered the position, I would ask if I could do a peer interview with the co-workers in the department.
      I worked at a company that had great departments and unbelievably terrible, brutal departments. You don’t know which one you would be working in unless you can talk to people in the folks in the department and ask them what the culture is like.

      Reply
    13. SV Area Worker

      I work in Silicon Valley and have some coworkers and friends who used to work for Amazon Lab126 (responsible for the Kindle, Fire Phone, etc.) and every one of them doesn’t just hate the time they spent there, they’re eager to go on a rant about how poorly managed it was, and how happy they are to have moved on. Maybe it depends what department of Amazon you get into.

      In a lot of the articles about Amazon I see a lot of talk about the warehouse workers, but I think the article was really specifically about the salaried employees at corporate headquarters… specifically those doing software development.

      I had already decided I’d never work there and had already advised a few friends not to apply there, even before this article came out. It was funny because a friend had just asked me my thoughts about Amazon the day before this article was printed. He took it as my opinion, but now he’s pretty convinced I may have been right.

      Reply
  4. Mr Resetti

    OP#4: If they think it’s “not that bad,” consider that your friends may be slowly boiling frogs or masochists. All jokes aside, they may simply be too close to the company to realize it’s kinda terrible. I spent years working in a pressure-cooker, but I drank so much Corporate Kool-Aid I didn’t even know things could get better than they were. I worked for the best company in the world – It said so right on my badge.

    If you DO go for it, please be careful, especially with your health. Three years after leaving that job, my health still suffers from the abuse I put my body through in those days, replacing sleep with work, food with coffee, and everything else with sheer adrenaline. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve fled a lot sooner.

    Reply
    1. jmkenrick

      Also, verify what department your friends are in. Corporate culture can often vary dramatically depending on the department.

      Reply
      1. BRR

        I want to add consider the city. My sister-in-law has worked in the NYC and LA offices and describes how they’re different from each other and how they’re different from the Seattle office.

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        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          That is a very, very good point. Even in a small company like mine, the culture varies widely by location. When I worked for a big corporate conglomerate, the Chicago office felt very different from the NYC office.

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      2. OP #4

        This is one of the things I’m struggling with! My friends are in a variety of different departments, none of which are close to the one I’m applying for. And their experiences vary wildly: some always work overtime, some never work overtime, some seem to have such flexible schedules that they can take weekdays off whenever they want. I’m not sure how to get an accurate picture of the department I would actually be working for.

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        1. yasmara

          It *should* be a fairly common practice to talk to someone in the department during the interview process, not just the manager. I’ve done that from both sides – hiring and hiree. I would hope you could get a clearer picture that way – even if it’s in a sideways manner by asking them what they do in their free time (and pay close attention if they say anything along the lines of “what free time?).

          I work for a Very Large Company and workloads vary wildly across different areas.

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    2. MK

      Well, the “not that bad” comment makes perfect sense; of course the journalist would pick the most striking examples for their article. But even assuming they highlighted the extreme cases, it still sounds like a workplace most people wouldn’t love. And the OP has 3 seperate reasons to want to avoid it.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        The thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s “the worst” out there that was picked, the fact that it’s happening is pretty terrible.

        Imagine if I said, “yeah, we only sexually harass employees in half the departments at work, the rest are really respectful!” Does that make me look good or bad?

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        1. MK

          I wasn’t suggesting that. My point was, supposing you work in a high pressure environment, but not one where people regularly burst into tears after meetings, if you read such a story “it’s not that bad” is a natural reaction.

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        2. LBK

          That seems like a false equivalency…I think there is a sector of people who would enjoy and thrive on a highly competitive, intense, data-driven work environment. By definition there isn’t anyone who enjoys sexual harassment.

          I’d also think that at any large company, there are going to be better and worse departments. It’s nearly impossible to have cultural homogeny across thousands of workers spread throughout several locations all being run by different people and being expected to do different things. There are sure as hell some departments in my company I wouldn’t want to work in; I don’t think that makes it unconscionable for me to stay here.

          The Amazon article is particularly damning and I think they do need to make some high-level changes so that the worst of the worst departments aren’t nearly as bad as they’re being reported, but that’s not to say there aren’t departments that already have good cultures where the OP would enjoy working.

          Reply
          1. LQ

            Don’t the harassers enjoy it by definition? I mean that’s why they do it right? So for those people a work environment that was rife with sexual harassment would be awesome. I do agree that some people certainly like it. But that doesn’t make it good.

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    3. the whole damn system is flawed

      “All jokes aside, they may simply be too close to the company to realize it’s kinda terrible. ”

      It’s also worth considering whether their attitude comes from a personal life that is radically different from yours– when work is your biggest obligation, crazy hours and culture may truly seem “not that bad”. I definitely put up with a lot more work stress when I was 22 and single and invincible (and too young to know any better) than I EVER would now.

      Reply
    4. Chameleon

      For what it’s worth, my friend drives for Uber here by headquarters; he says that Amazonians are by far the most miserable people he picks up.

      Reply
  5. Sara

    #3 I think I’m a reasonable person, but would find an email about a medical issue odd – particularly if I don’t know the person well. I have been in those shoes where I wanted people to know about a medical situation rather than putting on a happy face/forced answer when asked. But being candid with people I trusted was far more helpful. People talk about these sorts of things, and word gets around when it’s with sensitive topics. People who were in my circle or workgroup, became aware very quickly. My background is in communications, and from that point of view, all staff emails are used for all staff notices, so I can’t imagine a situation where sending a personal update on a medical issue would be the norm. I think it has an awkward outcome as well. Think of those who read it but don’t respond publicly, or at all to the sender. Or if someone replies all (there’s always those people!) then it puts more pressure for others to be seen as responding, when perhaps people would rather say something in person. I’d think twice about sending this email!

    Reply
  6. jmkenrick

    OP#3 – I agree with Alison it depends on the culture, but if you decide that an e-mail isn’t the right choice for your office….have you considered asking a few choice coworkers to get the word out for you? It doesn’t necessarily need to be anything organized, but often when people share stressful news like this, other assume a certain level of confidentiality.

    If, when you talk to your team about it, you make it clear that you’d like people to know, word will probably start to get around pretty rapidly.

    When my parents divorced, it really sucked having to tell each friend one by one. Instead, I asked a few choice friends to get the word out. It really removed the social pressure from a lot of “so, what’s new?” conversations.

    Reply
  7. themmases

    I’m thinking of OP3 and wishing them all the best. This is such frightening, stressful news to get at an otherwise happy time.

    When I worked in pediatrics, a coworker did have a serious complication with a pregnancy we were all aware of. A work friend of hers sent out an email (with her blessing as far as I could tell) essentially so we would stop asking her how things were going in that way people do, where they’re expecting to hear cute news. Although we shared more personal stuff on department email– many people had work showers thrown for them– I certainly did not consider it TMI because I would never want to cause someone pain by bringing up something like that. The other people I talked to felt the same.

    As an aside to OP3, my pediatrics work was mostly with people with congenital heart disease. These diseases and their treatments are scary and definitely not without risk, and the infant/young child years are the hardest. However, I also met many adolescents and adults who are living healthy lives to the point that many of them clearly don’t think about their hearts much at all. Those people have earlier, less refined versions of heart surgeries still in use today. Just in the few years I worked in this area, the diagnostic options for patients came a long way– safer, more accurate, able to show us amazing stuff like non-invasive images of blood flow and the moving heart that we could never see before. There is so much hope out there for patients and families, and noticeable good being done today to make it even better.

    Reply
    1. Mean Something

      What a great response. OP, my thoughts and sympathies are with you.

      I agree with so many others that letting a colleague or colleagues give the news, in person or by email, so that people know not to approach you with lighthearted enquiries. You might also ask them to let people know your preferences–“She’d rather not discuss the situation in passing at work, but if you want to send her your well wishes by email or note, I know she’ll appreciate your kindness.”

      Reply
    2. Turanga Leela

      It’s good to hear this. OP, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this scary situation. I’ll be keeping you and your baby in my thoughts. Please update us when you can.

      I had a similar situation, and what worked for me was to keep announcements factual but nonspecific. “As you know, I am expecting a baby in September. However, it looks like the baby will need some medical attention after she is born. This is not what we had hoped to hear, but we are hopeful that everything will go well. Thank you for your support.” And it’s not out of line to ask that they pray/think good thoughts/etc. for the baby, even if you wouldn’t normally get religious in a work email.

      Reply
      1. Lindrine

        +100. I would then only share more details as needed with manager and possibly specific coworker who I felt comfortable sharing more with.

        Reply
      2. Meg Murry

        As an alternative/add-on to Turanga Leela, I’ve known several people going through rough times like this who sent out a more general message like what she is suggesting, and also put it on Facebook, but then wrote a more detailed blog post(s) about the situation and the experience and the current updates. That way it isn’t a case of TMI over email or Facebook (or something horrible like someone “liking” the news of a terminal diagnosis, etc) but there is a way for anyone interested to get more information. A friend recently lost a baby at 20 weeks, and she said writing about it and her feelings has a been helpful way to deal with the grief – and it allows people to know what’s going on without going up to her and saying “how are you feeling today?” or expecting her or her husband to let us know the details.

        I am sorry you are going through this OP, and my thoughts are with you. I suggest coming up with 1-2 lines for anyone that says “how are you?” when they are an acquaintance who is just making chit-chat that basically is a way to say “not great but I don’t want to talk about it”. Honestly, “Oh, you know, and you?” is a completely neutral answer that isn’t “fine”.

        Reply
        1. Judy

          Look into caringbridge (dot) org. You can set up your privacy in several ways, and give people a link to your journal. People can subscribe to get emails when you update your journal.

          They also have a planner feature (no one I’m following uses it) that allows for coordination of help like meals.

          Reply
          1. Ann

            Yes, this! We had a co-worker diagnosed with cancer who did this and it was a great way to keep everyone informed. Plus, she was able to feel everyone’s support through the messages and comments left on the sight without the awkwardness of not knowing what to say when you’re face-to-face

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    3. Renee

      My husband had open heart surgery as a baby, though the defect was not discovered until he was 9 months old. He is now 6’4″ and a big husky guy with no physical limitations. No one would ever believe that he was ill as an infant if not for the scars.

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    4. catsAreCool

      “I certainly did not consider it TMI because I would never want to cause someone pain by bringing up something like that.” That’s how I feel too.

      Reply
  8. qkate

    OP #3: I think it depends on the size of office you work in. I’ve worked in large 100 or 200 person offices, and a much smaller office of about a dozen. In the smaller office, I saw everyone all the time, even if they worked in a different sort of role. I think an office-wide email in that case would make sense, since there’s a high likelihood that you and I might chat about your pregnancy at some point.

    For the larger office, there’s a whole lot of people that I have rare, if any, interaction with. I think I’d be confused why I was included in your email when I would’ve been so unlikely to interact with you, never mind feel close enough to strike up a conversation about your visible pregnancy. (I adhere to the principle that I don’t start talking about someone’s belly unless they bring it up themselves first, but I know not everyone adheres to that and anyway, I digress!) I think in a larger office, your best bet is to send an email to your team and any other teams and individuals you work closely with. So you’re still getting the word out to people, but targeting the message to a relevant audience. Still, if someone did write the whole office, I’d hardly begrudge them for it. It’s a tricky situation to handle and I’d figure you made the best choice for you.

    I wish you and your family the best of luck with your pregnancy. That’s tough but I’m rooting for you. :)

    Reply
  9. Saurs

    OP2

    I would’ve told her that they are probably not going to be great at the tasks she’s assigned, and that delegation would’ve worked better in a different way.

    Have you not been apprising your manager of the temps’ performance and progress thus far? Is there no one to report to?

    Also, you know, it hurts, finding out someone has ripped the rug out from under you without so much as a by-your-leave. Am I being elbowed out gracelessly? Insultingly? Is she just incompetent?

    It’s probably best not to approach the office manager using any of this language. “By-your-leave” implies that an underling has done something flagrant, without precedence, and without your permission. Hurt feelings aren’t going to matter, her incompetence is less than evident at the moment, and framing what’s happened as an “insult” upon your person is not going to help to resolve the issue because the issue is one of communication and competence (yours, apparently), rather than offense. Tackle what’s happened and why, rather than your fury and embarrassment.

    Reply
    1. Judy

      I would certainly approach my manager about the division of duties, if you have reasons a different split would be better.

      I’ve not come to expect any discussion when it comes to moving tasks or projects around. Certainly I’ve had times when my manager would float an idea, but generally, it’s a group meeting (20+ people) when I learn that project A is now Wakeen’s and project B is now mine. Or I learn that all the projects supporting the chocolate teapots are mine, and all the peppermint teakettles that were mine are going to Jane.

      Reply
  10. Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system

    #3: I don’t mean to “pile-on”, but from the way OP3 described the listserv, I’m not sure it would be appropriate for this kind of message. Perhaps you could get a judgement call from someone in management there?

    If you decide to address this via email, you may want to google around and see how other people have written such accounts. This is just me, but I’d put some time into crafting the message so that it a) conveyed the situation and b) encouraged people to leave me alone. Ie, I wouldn’t want anyone taking up a collection to buy me flowers or anything like that.

    Reply
  11. Limepink22

    I agree with others for OP3 to get a nice gossip-prone coworker to spread the news in a respectful way. Your other coworkers will be happy to give you the space you’d like and to not add pressure or obligation for you to keep making idle social niceties with them. I hope all goes well for you.

    OP2 you need to talk to your manager, maybe you can phrase it as “now that we are streamlining the reporting, what would you like me to focus on? ” this gives your manager an opening to discuss an upcoming project, or if you have a performance issue, or maybe if there is a company wide restructure going on in better detail and i think the phrasing removes a lot of emotional tones from the situation.

    Reply
  12. Stephanie

    #4: So FirstJob was a pretty toxic culture. While we didn’t have any lengthy high-profile NYT articles, there was plenty of press about attrition and stress there and how it impacted the mission. And we were known in the industry as being a place where people burned out and left.

    That being said, while that was many people’s experience, it wasn’t everyone’s. Some people were able to make the culture and job work for them.

    It could be the same case at Amazon. I would listen to your friends and look for any red flags that might pop up during the process.

    Reply
    1. NickelandDime

      Rumors are rumors, but sometimes they’re true. There are companies I simply don’t apply to, because I’ve heard too many bad things. Constant layoffs, cut throat culture, working people to death, less than competitive pay (because you’re supposed to be so honored to work there, decent pay doesn’t matter) put companies on my “don’t bother to apply” list.

      Reply
  13. AcidMeFlux

    Regarding 3,I once had the opposite experience. Years ago my elderly and ailing father took a sudden turn for the worse and I decided to fly home back to the US. He died before I got there, and I had asked a friend and co-worker to give the rest of the school a heads-up (there were about a dozen people). When I returned, I had to deal with 12 people, one after another saying, “Hi! How was Christmas? How’s your dad?” I asked my friend what the hell had happened, and she said, “Oh, I decided you’d probably feel more comfortable sharing that with everyone yourself”. Uh…..

    Reply
    1. OfficePrincess

      Wow. When someone asks you to share that type of news for them, there are two appropriate responses. “Ya know, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing that for you, but maybe Mary might be a better choice” or “I’m sorry to here that *discreetly spreads the word”, not just deciding not to and leaving you blindsided. I’m so sorry you had to put up with that.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        Yes. And even if you feel pressured to say yes or do it in the moment without thinking, and then can’t bring yourself to do it…TELL THE PERSON before they walk in to that time bomb. Tell them ASAP, and maybe they can ask someone else to spread the word. Tell them at the last minute, and at least they won’t be completely blind-sided.

        Reply
  14. John Vinall

    #4 – I don’t think anyone’s mentioned this, but;

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazonians-response-inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-nick-ciubotariu

    That’s an unsolicited (according to him) response by one Amazon employee.

    I would caution you from taking any hit piece articles too literally. Don’t forget newspapers are out to get a story, not the truth – there’s no mileage for them in an article saying “Amazon’s just like any other workplace, there are good bits and bad bits”.

    Reply
      1. A Non

        No, he is not in HR if that is what you are thinking:

        •I’m an Engineering Leader. I manage other managers, as well as Engineers – which means I run an organization and have visibility into both Executive direction as well as everyday Engineering cadence.

        •I have worked in two of our biggest product groups: Marketplace and currently, Search and Discovery, which means my experience covers a good swath of the Amazon populous.

        As a manager he would have a role in interviewing candidates for his own positions as well as for other teams, but that is not his primary job function.

        Reply
          1. A Non

            I think that means product search.

            http://www.amazon.jobs/team/search-experience

            The Search Experience team works with groups across Amazon to create the most-used product search interface on the internet. We strive to understand the intent of our customers and to present results that are easy to read and contain relevant information allowing them to make an informed purchase decision.

            Here are some things you should know about us:
            •Our team is made up of world-class Software Engineers, Designers, Data Scientists and Usability Researchers, around the globe, who work in a close-knit collaborative environment
            •Everything we do is iterative and data-driven by running hundreds of experiments each year
            •We own business critical, high-performing, tier-1 services
            •We work with Big Data using machine learning techniques to understand customer intent and display the right set of information in the most relevant manner
            •We do all of this across desktop, mobile and tablet devices

            Reply
    1. Turanga Leela

      On the flip side: a few years ago, a friend got a job offer from a high-profile local company (not Amazon) that had been the subject of a similar newspaper article. We talked about it and agreed that the article was based mostly on the perspectives of unhappy former employees, the bad stuff was clearly exaggerated, and the reporter was out to do a hatchet job rather than present a balanced perspective. The company also had a record of being innovative and effective, at least by some metrics, and we figured that that kind of organization sometimes ruffles some feathers.

      He was miserable at the job. All the bad things in the article were accurate, and the company leadership was regularly lying to the press about policies and working conditions. This is an open secret in their industry, but the company continues to advertise itself as a great, results-oriented place to work. I have an acquaintance who works in their recruiting department, and from his social media posts you wouldn’t think there was anything controversial about the place.

      Obviously this isn’t always true, but sometimes the hit piece is accurate.

      Reply
      1. Ad Astra

        90% of the time, the reporter wasn’t out to do a hatchet job. It’s a journalist’s professional responsibility to cite sources, confirm claims, and allow the subject of criticism to defend itself. The purpose of an article like that isn’t to make a company look bad, it’s to expose wrongdoing.

        It’s good to take a critical look at any piece of journalism before forming an opinion, but it’s totally weird to me that so many people assume journalists have it out for a specific person or organization. They’re just trying to tell the truth as best they can, and the New York Times is pretty good at it.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous Ninja

      I pointed this out earlier, but the NYT gave Amazon an opportunity to comment. They chose not to (although they did make a few employees available to talk about their experiences).

      Reply
    3. OP3

      What I noticed from his response was that he didn’t dispute some of the facts in the NYT article. They do have an anonymous feedback mechanism. Even if he’s personally never experienced something bad from it, it’s a structure for feedback that offers opportunity AND incentive to tear down others. Also, he said something like, “I’ve never worked a weekend I didn’t choose to work.” But despite his emphasis on data, he declined to say how often he “chose” to work a weekend or evening. He might feel like he’s choosing how to do his work, but it’s the company that sets expectations for what he will accomplish. If your “choice” is to work 80 hour weeks or not get it done, well, it’s still his choice…. with the alternatives being established by the company, and the company not bothering to offer something looking like a 40 hour week.

      Reply
      1. Amy UK

        This is a really important point. Saying “I choose to…” means nothing unless you qualify what you’re choosing. For all we know, this guy could be some asshole who never takes time to see his family so 80 hour working weeks mean nothing to him, or he could be a well rounded guy who manages his workload well and pitches in on the odd stressful weekend every couple of months.

        When I’m looking for a job, I don’t care what hours the employees “choose” to work- I care about what the official working hours are, and how often those are actually reality. That in itself tells you a lot about the company culture.

        Reply
  15. EmilyG

    I recently spent several years living in Seattle and OP4’s prospective employer certainly has a reputation there. In fact, we all thought that they were doing the bulk of their hiring from outside because Everyone in Seattle Already Knew About Them. I’m sure the stories of happy brothers-in-law above are true but I hardly met anyone from Amazon, happy or otherwise, which I attribute to their not having enough time to do the activities I did…

    The main reason I’m commenting is to suggest OP4 carefully consider the “Oh, I’ll just stay a year” plan. I moved to Seattle with a similar concept (to work for a different organization) and it turns out that you can feel kind of trapped when you move someplace for work–it took longer than I expected for the right “next job” to come along. Also, the NYT article on Amazon explains that they make you repay relocation expenses, signing bonuses, or lose stock if you leave earlier than agreed. All of those tech companies are very good at structuring stock awards so that the longer you stay, the more you lose by leaving.

    I’d say, go and do the interview, but keep your eyes peeled for red flags, and also read anything you sign regarding stock, relocation, and signing bonuses very, very carefully.

    Reply
    1. MsM

      Good points about the “it’ll just be a year” plan. It can also be really tough to search if you’re coming home every night drained and demoralized…or if you can’t leave your desk to take a phone call, let alone schedule time for an interview.

      Reply
    2. The Man With the Yellow Hat

      I will offer a slightly difference perspective and somewhat disagree with Alison: I would candidly ask teh company what you want to know.

      I recently interviewed with an organization that it is VERY difficult to find substantive information on. There are some articles/opinions/commentary on the organization but they all overwhelmingly focus on one aspect of the organization which admittedly, is somewhat problematic. I was concerned about how the organization’s challenges in that area ( and their reputation) would impact my ability to do my job. Based on the organization and the job, it is reasonable to believe there would be impact. I did a good deal of reading on the organization prior to the interview trying to come to a balanced assessment but at the end of the day, I just was unable to.

      At the interview I told them how excited I was to be there(true) and how enthusiastic I was about the job possibility(true). Near the end of the interview I was given the opportunity to ask questions. I reiterated my enthusiasm for the position but explained that I was concerned about some of the challenges I thought the person in the position might face, discussed the research I did on the organization and explained I was having trouble sorting truth from very strong negative opinion and asked them to address my concerns. They did.

      If I took the job, I wanted to take it with eyes wide open and figured I had nothing to lose by asking the questions. I was not only interested in their responses, but the way the handled my questions. If they had been evasive or tried to completely discount the articles/published opinions that would have been a red flag for me. Instead, they acknowledged that the organization has faced challenges and gave specific examples of the organization heading in a new, more positive direction. Their responses made sense to me and helped me see the organization in a new, more positive light. I guess they were not put off by my approach- I was offered the position a few weeks later.

      YMMV. – I am a very direct person and the approach probably worked for me because it was me just being me. I do not do “coy” well. I knowledge that candor and straight-forwardness does not work for everyone.

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        I read glassdoor reviews of my current employer. Comments were that it was a pressure cooker and people were expected to work super long hours. I have had that job before and do not want it again, so I asked the hiring manager (now my boss) about it.

        He said, “Yeah, that’s true, but that’s the corporate HQ. Our office here became part of the company two years ago in an acquisition. We are not like that at all.”

        He was right, fortunately.

        Reply
  16. KT

    For #3…I have alopecia, which is nothing in comparison to what you’re going through I know, but how I handled communicating it went really smoothly.

    My hair loss was very sudden and quick (as in one morning I woke up, and half my hair was gone…woke up the next day, the rest was gone). I started wearing wigs, so that morning I sent out a note just to my little department that said “Hey there, you have may have noticed I look different…” and explained that I had alopecia and was wearing wigs.

    I told them that I was not self-conscious or shy about it, so they could certainly share this info with anyone else if asked.

    It addressed the people I see day to day and kept whispering/comments down–an all-employee email would have been too much in my office culture.

    Reply
  17. Jennifer

    On #5 – what about former managers who are no longer in the workforce, not on LinkedIn, and retired off the grid and would require serious private detective-level tracking down to get contact info on? I only have one living former manager from the past 15 years and going back to the 20th century would mean figuring out where that retired, off-the-grid manager is now. (Hopefully still living, but I honestly don’t know!)

    And actually generally, is it really expected that former managers from long ago would have anything useful to say? I’d be surprised to get a call for any of the people who worked for me in entry-level roles back in the 1990s because presumably they have more relevant references now. I don’t even remember much other than very general “oh, she was a conscientious worker but painfully shy…but I bet by now she’s handling that better” or “she’s the one who got a little pissy about doing mostly data entry when that was clearly the job description…but she was 20 and probably has more perspective now.”

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth West

      I think unless you’re applying for a law enforcement or government position where they want to know what you’ve been doing since birth, eventually these older jobs /contacts will fall off your resume. IANAHM, but wouldn’t expect to see someone from that long ago put down as a reference.

      For my last job search, I had a very similar issue. The managers I worked for who were no longer employed at those companies weren’t my references so I had no outside contact info for them. But I listed them in the Supervisor box anyway so anyone calling could verify that they worked there also. I just put “no longer there” beside their names. Nobody ever asked me about it, not even once.

      Reply
  18. Florida

    I’m going to disagree with most of the comments. I don’t like the idea of asking a co-worker to do it for you. That’s not fair to the person you are asking. Yes, that person might agree to do it, but that still doesn’t mean it fair to ask them to do it. If you were still in the office, and not on maternity leave, and I heard it through anyone other than your manager, I would think that was weird. If your manager is the appointed person to spread the news, somehow that come across differently than a peer.

    I also think the mass email is awkward, but again it depends on the office culture.

    What I have done in a similar, but non-pregnancy-related, situation is when people say, “How are things going?” I assume they are asking about the weather, so I say it’s fine. If they say, “How is the pregnancy?” I might say something like, “Well, we are having some complications, but I’m getting through it.” Most people drop it at that point. If they ask for details, depending on who it is, you can tell them the story or say, “I really don’t want to talk about it. Thanks your concern, though.”

    I’m not saying that’s the best way to handle it for everyone, but that’s the way I would handle it. I’ve found that if someone else (the appointed co-worker) says, “Mary doesn’t want to talk about it.” Then people often interpret that to mean that “Mary doesn’t want to talk about it to anyone else, but I’m an exception, so I can tell her that I’m praying for her (with no regard to your beliefs about prayers.)” But if you tell them when they ask, very few people will keep pushing.

    Best wishes to you. This is not hard situation all the way around.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      I think it depends on your relationship with the person you ask to do it. When one of my former coworkers went out on medical leave, there was a de facto person everyone ended up asking if they knew how she was doing because everyone knew they were really close and talked outside of work. It wouldn’t be odd for me to hear news from a peer if I knew they had that kind of friendship with our coworker.

      Reply
      1. Florida

        Part of what is weird to me is why I would hear it from a third party at all, even if it was a friend, if OP is there.

        I’m under the impression that OP is still working and all of this is going to happen while she is still working. If I heard it from someone else after she went on leave, then it’s totally different.

        Much of this definitely depends on the culture of the office. In fact, that is probably the most important factor.

        Reply
          1. Florida

            That is a more than fair statement and I can see how you would be more comfortable having someone else deliver the news. I’m referring to how I would perceive it as the recipient. I think most commenters (including you) are talking about what is best for OP. I don’t mean to negate that perspective at all. Im just saying it is important to consider both sides.
            It’s really a sad situation all around and people are going to be more forgiving on the delivery (whatever method OP chooses) than they would be if she were delivering some other information.

            Reply
    2. JB (not in Houston)

      The fact that you feel this way means that there are others who would feel the same. So that’s something for the OP to consider–would her manager or coworker mind being this person? But that said, I can’t think of anyone in my office who would have a problem with being the messenger on something like this, and judging from other comments, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have a problem with it. So I think the OP can still consider asking her manager or coworker, if she has someone she reasonably believes would be ok with it.

      Reply
    3. Monodon monoceros

      I think asking a coworker is also a culture thing. If there is an obvious person who could handle this task, then you can ask that person. If you think your manager could do it, then ask them.

      I had a period of a few weeks a couple of years ago where I had multiple terrible things happen in a row. I was out of the office for about 3 weeks. It would have been pretty weird to send an email to everyone. Instead, both my manager and one of my coworkers quietly passed the word along why I’d been gone for so long (during actually a busy time when people were expecting me to be there) and also that when I got back I wanted to work to have the distraction, and not to talk about everything. I was so appreciative that I could just work and not have everyone stopping me in the halls asking where I’d been.

      Reply
  19. AthenaC

    #4: Everyone is different. One person’s “intense” work environment is another person’s “toxic” environment. For this OP specifically, it sounds as if their friends do well in that sort of environment but the OP themselves would not be a good fit.

    Reply
  20. gnarlington

    To me, it sounds like the marketing rep in #1 is avoiding the OP for some reason. I mean 14 months and still no photo? That’s weird. I’d do what Alison suggested, OP. Just go to her and say, “I’m ready right now if you’re ready!”

    Reply
  21. Macedon

    #5. Your would-be employers expect you to keep up to speed with the company’s recent goings-on, when you interview. They’re aware you’ll have seen it. The fact that they haven’t brought it up themselves tells you that they lack the freedom or inclination to do so, or that they anticipate people who’re still continuing with the recruitment process post the article’s release don’t buy into it. Either way, you have some feeling of their attitude towards the piece.

    When meeting with them again, ask the same questions you would regularly: what’s the culture like, balance, etc. Don’t bring up the article itself – they’ll know to confirm or run damage control on some of the sensitive issues. ( For instance, I expect if you ask what the programme is and how flexible hours are, they’ll volunteer to say it’s not as bad as the rumoured 80h/week, or that it’s ‘challenging’ and ‘for a particular kind of heavily attuned person’. Something along those lines.)

    As for the deeper question you seem to be asking — should you let a major headline chill your feet about this gig? — sure. Why not? Your gut seems to be pointing that way anyway. But do bear in mind that every job’s a deal with the devil: generally speaking, the bigger the name, the more prestigious/challenging the work, the higher your title, the better the pay? The longer the hours, the more brutal the pace, the more competitive the environment. There’re exceptions, but not especially many. Hell, many top lawyers and bankers I used to interview had overnight sleep pods and several spare suits in the office, in case work dragged. (For the record, the pods are nightmareish.) This isn’t to say that you should suck it up and go with Amazon (I wouldn’t; I don’t like them), but you should probably take five and ask whether you’re the kind of person who could work in an environment like the one they offer. And if you’re not, whether you shouldn’t recalibrate your job search to a different employer league.

    Reply
  22. Bend & Snap

    #3, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I had a very complicated pregnancy with the potential prognosis also being, “Your baby might die.” I’m a very private person so I told only the people who needed to know at work and kept the rest to myself…to the point that my coworkers threw me a very sweet surprise baby shower, which was a hard thing to handle given that I didn’t know if I’d actually be bringing home a baby.

    I did appoint a couple of people to run interference while my daughter was in the NICU because I didn’t want to deal with the inevitable nosy questions and that worked really well. We kept any details off social media. (My kiddo is now 2 and totally fine, btw.)

    I also had a coworker who found out mid pregnancy that her son had a fatal genetic defect. She chose to carry to term and asked her boss to let people know what was happening and not to ask her questions. He also reminded everyone of this when she returned from her maternity/bereavement leave. It seemed to work well for her.

    All of this to say–whatever works best for you is what you need to do. However, I think you’ll get a better response and fewer invasive questions if you ask your manager to handle disseminating this information for you. That way it’s not a two-way conversation and people know to handle you with care without getting in your face.

    I hope this is helpful and will be sending you healthy baby wishes.

    Reply
    1. OP3

      Really glad your daughter is all right! Even though it is no doubt completely different, it still makes me feel better to hear ‘we went through something scary and horrible and now we’re ok.’

      Reply
  23. Bend & Snap

    Oh and #5 I have a bunch of friends at Amazon and they say it’s a hellhole. Average length of employment is one year. But it’s a resume maker if you can tough it out and one of my friends quit and then got hired back as a contractor, thereby escaping the sweatshop conditions.

    Just don’t go in thinking what you’ve heard isn’t true…it is.

    Reply
  24. Jubilance

    #4 – Just some personal thoughts about the company and how to approach this. In my career I’ve worked for 4 Fortune 100 companies; several of the things noted in the Amazon articles are things I”ve experienced, like new hire orientation, having to repay relocation packages if you leave early, and employee rankings. I didn’t find those things to be outside of corporate norms or surprising, but I did find it surprising that the Times included it in the piece. The Times was pushing a particular agenda, and they found people willing to talk who matched that particular agenda. If the Times had wanted to write a glowing piece, they could have found folks with nothing but great things to say. In my experience, you can have 2 people who work for the same company, who have vastly different experiences – and both are valid. When you talk about a 100k+ person organization, it’s impossible to assume that the culture is going to be the same for every person. In my current company, I changed departments and the cultures were totally different. I’ve worked with people who had miserable experiences here, and folks who had an amazing experience, and the biggest deciding factor was their manager & team dynamic – that can make or break the situation more than the overall corporate culture.

    Overall I’ve always heard that Amazon was a results-driven organization and demanding. For me that wouldn’t work, I value my work-life balance a lot right now, but other people thrive in it. You have to be honest with yourself if this is the type of place where you can be happy. Try to get honest feedback from people in the specific area you’ll be working – maybe HR isn’t expected to work 80hr weeks, but IT is. Give it careful consideration and be honest with yourself about what type of environment you can thrive in. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Rae

      Yep I can verify this. I work for a company that has gotten “Best company to work for”. I love my company. However, I do know that there are departments that have crap jobs, insane work hours and high turnover. This really isn’t the fault of the company, it’s just a crap job no matter how you spin it and they do try really hard to make the best out of it. Now, we’re no where near talking slave-labor hours…but had that department been interviewed in isolation…we’d look very, very bad.

      I think this conversation actually ties into 2 emails that Allison answered recently. The one about the young guy who wanted to work a ton of hours. There are some people who just want to put in the crazy effort and get the crazy emotional highs that come from being a martyr for your company. The other thing is raising the minimum wage. Cases like this where people are working 85 hour for a salary–even if that salary is 35k (well above even the $15 min being asked) is exactly why I think that wage laws need to be reformed again, not simply minimum wage. Companies can, will, and have found ways to get around minimum wage requirements by salaried employees.

      Reply
    2. The Strand

      Actually, I’m surprised that you’re surprised by the New York Times covering these topics (repaying relocation, orientation, employee rankings).

      While you may have found that there are general trends in the four Fortune 100 companies you worked at, presumably in similar locations, the New York Times was for once living up to its ideal as being the “Paper of Record” and provided information for a general audience. Many people who read that article aren’t coming from your background of back to back Fortune 100 work; some are retirees, others stay-at-home parents, others work for small companies, as freelancers, for nonprofits, academia or government. They all have certain things that are common to a type of business or work that would have to be explained to an outsider.

      So, though I get annoyed when something I’ve been reading about for two years on blogs and more targeted websites reaches the Times, and suddenly I hear about it from my dad or distant friends like it just happened, that’s often as it should be. The Times should be writing for that general audience, not for people who are already extremely knowledgeable about what they’re covering.

      Anyway, forced ranking says to me that a company is not keeping up with the times, though it was another thing in the ’90s (I worked for a Fortune 100, Fortune 500 and a top Canadian company during that period). My friend who recently graduated with a Top 20 MBA had the same reaction: it makes Amazon sound old-fashioned. Great discussion upthread about the other polarizing things they’re doing with data, which is new to a lot of people. Did your recent employers have a similar feedback tool?

      I also disagree that they were specifically pushing an agenda. Reporters are often assigned stories by their editors, in response to existing discussions “on the street”. Long before Amazon’s fights over pricing and ebooks were publicized by the Times and others, there were discussions over social media. If you haven’t read the exposes that have been coming out on Gawker over the last few years, about both the working class warehouse workers hired third-hand for Amazon, and the white collar people working direct in Seattle… not to mention the stories on Reddit…or posts on GlassDoor… Mark my words, in a few years we’ll read a piece like this about Elon Musk and SpaceX, and people will be just shocked (unless they’ve been reading specialist news sites).

      Anyway, Amazon could have provided a clear picture, from their data, about their actual employee retention numbers, satisfaction, and the like, but refused comment except of the “rah rah” kind, and refused the reporters access to Bezos to begin with. Now that was definitely an agenda.

      Reply
  25. Rae

    #1-Please also consider that they may have taken your previous unavailability as you not wanting your photo to be taken and not knowing how to disclose this in a polite way. There are many people in bad situations to which a public facing photo is dangerous. On the same hand those people often grapple with how to let others know this without creating a situation where they could be fired for liability. Domestic violence vicitims face this alot. As someone adopted from the foster care system, I keep a big photo of me, my brothers and my parents at my desk. I let all my co-workers know that this is what my family looks like and if anyone comes in claiming an emergency and that they are my parent/sister/brother and does not look like these people do not let them near me.

    The photographer may simply be scared off not wanting to get in the middle of things. To someone it could sound like you’re dodging. I would ask your manager to schedule the photo session with the newbie.

    Reply
    1. OP1

      Rae – I doubt my unavailability could be taken for not wanting the photo taken because I have communicated my schedule to her repeatedly.

      She scheduled the first session last August during my vacation – I was already out of the office when she sent the calendar invite. She scheduled another session a few months after that when I had training on my calendar (she could have checked my availability on the calendar and should have seen the conflict.) I emailed her that I would be in training that day and she said she’d come grab me for a minute during training and she did not.
      I emailed her later that day and provided my schedule for the following weeks (mostly wide open.) She did not schedule anything until my most recent vacation, last week, sending the invite when I was already out of the office. (Deja vu!)

      I’m willing to continue believing it’s all been a combination of missed timing, conflicting schedules and low priorities (on her part) rather than a demonic grudge.

      Reply
  26. Anon for this comment

    #4

    I think that Alison’s advice is spot on. I work for a large multinational company (that has not been recently profiled) that has a reputation for poor work life balance, long hours, and challenging work environment. To date, I have not experienced any of that because the office/industry I work in operates very differently from the more well known aspects of the company. That said, the people I know who work in those areas of the company have confirmed every part of the company’s reputation. When I interviewed, I was very upfront in asking about that reputation and the expectations of the position I applied for, but I also talked to contacts in similar roles to confirm.

    I think you also have to keep in mind that you are looking for the job that is the right fit for you and what you can tolerate. The response from some business journals to the Amazon article was that environment was ideal for identifying talent and weeding out low performers, so you always have to bear in mind that what seems reasonable to others may not be reasonable to you.

    Reply
    1. periwinkle

      +100

      Like with many organizations, it depends on where you are, what you do, and who runs your group. I work for one of the other Really Big Names in the Seattle area (no, not that one… yeah, that one), where some employees burn out fast and others have built multifaceted careers over a span of a couple decades. The company has some serious flaws, naturally, but if you find the right niche you can thrive. Almost two years in and I’m still loving it.

      At least there’s a side benefit to the NY Times piece – it will make our old-school organization look more appealing to potential applicants. “We’re not perfect but we’re not Amazon!”

      Reply
      1. The Strand

        Would this, perhaps, be a company famous for its permatemps?

        I have to say that the three folks I knew (none of them permatemps) who had clocked time at Microsoft tended to have good experiences. Even the one who had to give jury testimony during the Big Lawsuit.

        Reply
  27. Accountant

    Another perspective from an amazon spouse– my husband works in an upper level blue collar role in a warehouse. He has a college degree in an unrelated field, and a two-year degree in electrical engineering technology. After four years, he is making six figures and gets $30-40,000 per year in stock. With a two year degree. He works a lot of overtime during peak, but nothing unreasonable. In the warehouse, they’re not allowed to work more than 60 hours a week. It’s been totally fine for him.

    I realize the “expose” article was about folks that work in the white collar part of the business, but in a company that huge, the experiences (even in warehouses) vary widely. And to be honest, when I was reading the article about all the horrible things that happen in the white collar part of amazon and how they work people to death, I was thinking about how they could write the exact same expose article about many big-law law firms or big 4 accounting firms. Not that that makes it any better, but my gosh, working conditions can be terrible for white collar workers in so many industries. I make half what my husband does and work hundreds of more hours in overtime in public accounting, FWIW.

    Reply
  28. OP #4

    OP #4 here. Yes, I’m applying for a job at Amazon. That article came out right after my first interview.

    The comments here are about as mixed as my friends’ opinions, which is why I’m having a hard time getting a clear picture of what it would be like to work in the department I’m applying for. Some always seem to be working overtime, some never work overtime, and some only have overtime during product releases. Some love the corporate culture, some hate it, and some find it cheesy but bearable.

    To be frank, I’m a low-level admin with no opportunities for advancement in my current company, and it’s getting hard to live in Seattle on my current salary. My friends who work for the other big tech companies spent years as low-paid temps just to get their foot in the door; Amazon may not pay its full-time employees as much as those companies, but they do hire directly instead of going through those temp agencies, and having Amazon on my resume could do great things for my career. I would happily put up with some stress for that, but not if it’s as bad as the article makes it out to be.

    And yes, I’ve read the articles about the warehouse workers and they are awful. I’m trying to get out of an industry that I have some ethical qualms about, and I’m still trying to decide whether I’m comfortable taking a job at a company that treats any of its workers that badly.

    Reply
    1. dawbs

      In my experience, as some folks said up-thread, it’s sometimes the point at which there’s nothing to lose by asking.

      So you get to the ‘do you have any questions?” part of the interview..and go with something more like
      “All of this is promising. I’m excited about the possibilities I’m seeing here.
      At the same time, I don’t want to accept a job here unless it’s the correct fit for both your company and for me–it’s always best for both of us. so I’d like to ask about the atmosphere.

      I have friends who have worked in various departments at amazon and I’ve heard some rather mixed reviews of the work/life balance working here. And, of course there was the article in NYT about the ups and downs. I’m taking all of that with a grain of salt, because people have their own motives and axes to grind–so what can you tell me about what you expect on that front and what the hours and a work week would look like?”

      (And then I’d try not to talk. be very quiet and let them answer lots and lots.)

      Reply
      1. AnonPi

        I like how dawbs phrased this, could be a great way to broach it with HR.

        Also, see if your friends who already work at amazon could maybe touch base with someone in the department you would be working for and ask what its like for that department. Like a few others have said, generalizing a whole company can be misleading. Where I’m at my dept sucks, but there are others that are much better. Could be the same there.

        Reply
    2. SL

      I’m super glad you’re taking all these mixed reviews (including ours!) with a grain of salt. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is ask smart questions when you’re interviewing with your specific department. Your department might be one of those constant-overtime departments, or it might not be. The culture in the department might be extremely competitive, or it might be aimed towards fostering collaboration. You won’t really know until you hear the answer for yourself (and remember to read between the lines; interviewers aren’t likely to tell you right off the bat that you’ll be working 60-hour weeks, but they’re likely to say something about the intense work, high productivity demands, etc).

      Reply
    3. Verde

      I worked there many years ago, in the early days, and still know a few people there. The best thing you can do is go in with your eyes open and, if you take a job there, just make sure you cover your own butt. Have back up – savings, a ready to go resume, etc. You will work long hours.

      Do not rely on anyone to have your best interests at heart, even if they really do. I don’t mean that it’s a company full of back-stabbers or anything like that, it just means that if someone at a higher level decides to make a change to anything from department structure to staffing levels to what your actual job is, it will just happen no matter what anyone else says.

      I have a lot of funny stories and horror stories, and being “let go” from Amazon was, in the long run, the best thing that could have happened to me. Their “get big fast” motto was not always beneficial to the staff, and as everyone has said here, it’s a huge company and each team has different experiences. Just remember that culturally, they’re pretty set in their ways and not very nimble, so don’t expect a lot of change anytime soon.

      Reply
    4. EmilyG

      If you’re already in Seattle, that removes some of the qualms I had upthread on your behalf; it would be easier to walk away. I probably don’t know enough about what your role would be, but do you think it would be as many hours as the software engineers work? How directly do you think the Amazon experience would translate into a good next job, in a way that you couldn’t just get that job now? I definitely think you may as well interview, but also that there must be other opportunities for you. Good luck. I moved away from Seattle for other reasons, but my rent was going to go up 8% the following year and even this ex-Manhattanite was feeling the heat.

      Reply
    5. SV Area Worker

      I’ve heard horror stories from software developers at Amazon Lab126 for a few years now, which had already given me the impression that Amazon would be an awful place to work. This reputation about their work environment existed before the article came out, it was not created by the article. It’s just gotten a lot more publicity all of a sudden. That said, everyone I know who has had these awful experiences has been a software developer. Maybe deadlines and workloads are more reasonable for other departments, and maybe they aren’t micromanaged as much.

      Reply
  29. PhoenixBurn

    I interviewed with Amazon last year, in the fall, for an HR role. With 10 years of experience in HR, and more than half that being management (in a business partner role at time of interview), they were interviewing me for a Senior HR Assistant position which would be hourly with the potential to move up to a business partner role after at least a year of proving myself. I asked a lot of questions, was very candid with the interviewer, and was willing to consider the role because positions can be structured differently within organizations (and who knows, their business partners may be the equivalent of VP’s…). After two phone screenings, they advised it would be a non-exempt, hourly position at the local warehouse at a rate of around $15/hour (I was making $60,000 where I was), and that I could expect to work no less than 60 hours a week (the OT was supposed to make up for the difference in wage). I was to expect longer hours in peak season. The next step was a half-day interview at the warehouse, with 6 different people and the requirement to sign a non-disclosure agreement before I entered the site. I declined the next steps – I knew that this wasn’t the environment for me, because they were clearly not taking my current experience into consideration and simply wanted another “HR” person to recruit for the site. I also knew that I wasn’t willing to reduce my wages that much, or work 60+ hours weekly – like the OP, I have family, hobbies, and other commitments that I give my time to.

    Ask questions about the environment, reach out to your friends, and make sure you generally have a good feeling about what is expected and what you can deliver before you proceed with any offers, etc. Interviewing doesn’t necessarily mean an offer, and if you’re unsure if you want to continue, just go through the interview process and use the opportunity to gather more information to make an informed decision for yourself.

    Reply
  30. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    It sounds like Amazon might not be the place for you. I’m confident the NYT piece was exaggerated (or relevent only to certain departments), but I’m also confident that it’s a high-pressure, lots-of-hours kind of culture. That’s not something that’s likely to change, even if they address some of the more egregious concerns raised in the article. For a person with stress-related health issues, ill family members, and a demanding hobby, it just doesn’t sound like the right fit.

    (It wouldn’t be the right fit for me, either. I also struggle with stress and anxiety, and I do my best work in environments that are more focused on reflection, deliberation, collaboration than urgency and achievement.)

    Reply
  31. Anon Today

    Oh, one more thing I’d say about the Amazon interview: I disagree with Alison’s suggestion not to raise the question about the article in a future interview. I think it would actually be uncomfortable not to – you both know that you read it (or should have, if you’re applying there!) and that you’re wondering about the truth. I’d raise it very directly: “I’d love to talk about your take on the article the recent NYT article. What has been your experience of the culture in this department?”

    Reply
    1. Technical Editor

      I agree with you. It would be my first question to remove the “elephant in the room” awkwardness.

      Reply
  32. Anonyi

    If it *is* Amazon that you’re discussing, I have a couple of friends who work there.

    A lot echo the article – it’s a lot of work, it’s stressful, it’s brutal, and they are pretty much just waiting for their options to vest before they get the heck out of there.

    A few are probably article-light. They like the company, they’re paid well, it’s not too brutal. Sure, there are occasionally really stressful weeks, but most of the time they can get out to see their friends, do stuff, etc.

    There are a couple who seem completely happy.

    Whether it is or isn’t, departments really can vary a lot through an organization. I’d check with your friends on the inside, or someone at Linked in, and ask. If the culture in your particular department is something you wouldn’t want, don’t work there. No job is worth suffering medical problems for! But, it may be that you’re in one of the departments that has a more relaxed culture. (From what I can recall, Kindle is supposed to be brutal, gaming is apparently about as relaxed as anything in the industry. Go figure.)

    Reply
    1. Marty

      I feel that I must come to Amazon’s defence. I worked there for five years as a software engineer. First the truth, Amazon is a huge place, and growing at a rediculous (unsustanible) pace. As a result, it is highly varried. Some parts of the company defenitely operate as described in the article. Most of the company does not.

      Typically, Amazon is always happy to take whatever you are willing to give it. The secret to success is prioritization. If you try to do everything that is on your plate, you will work 60 hours a week and fail (in knowledge work, it is typically impossible to work 60 hours a week for prolonged periods, those that tell you otherwise aren’t getting enough sleep to know what effective is.) Instead, you must find the important things, make sure they get done, and let the unimportant things lie. If you do this, it is perfectly possible to work only 40 hours per week.

      As for your sick relative, one good thing about Amazon tends to be the relative flexibility (may varry by department). If you can get the important things done, nobody will care that you work from home, or at odd hours to do so. This should allow you to take care of that.

      As for advice if I were interviewing there: 1) find a friend (or firend of a friend) who works there and can do a little reconicence on the team that you would be working for. 2) If it is kindle (or other highly secretive area), things are likely to be harder. 3) If you aren’t going to be in software, things may be harder.

      Reply
  33. ComputerGeek

    I work for what I consider to be a small company. I was employee #98, and we have about 350 now, a couple years later. We’ve gone from startup to high growth mode, to trying to figure out how to transition into a sustainable, long term, stable company.

    We have horrible reviews on Glassdoor. We have ex-staff who badmouth us at every opportunity. We have some current staff who feel the same way. (I can’t answer why they’re still current staff.)

    Some of the reviews on Glassdoor and opinions from ex-staff are spot on and dead accurate. Experience in *any* company is so dependent on your direct manager. I’m lucky. I have a fantastic manager. Some of my friends in the company have had pricks for managers. Sadly, the damage was done and those friends moved on before said manager was shown the door. If you asked those still-friends and ex-coworkers, they could truthfully and accurately recount horror stories. Stories that I believe, and stories that would have made me start looking. Even though I’m a fully content employee and intend on staying here for quite some time. Why? My boss is different.

    That’s with a company that has had between 100 and 300 employees during my tenure.

    The top two hits on a quick google search indicate that Amazon has 150,000 staff members. That’s *almost* as many people that live in my city. :)

    In my experience, when I am knowledgeable about a subject and then read an article in the newspaper, the article usually contains several large, material mistakes. Things that would slant the otherwise uninformed reader into forming an opinion that isn’t congruent with the actual facts. When I don’t have knowledge of a subject, I’m sure not going to base my opinion on secondary (at best) or tertiary sources.

    If you’re going to form an opinion and you cannot have first-hand knowledge, the best way to be informed is to use primary source material. That’s definitely *not* newspapers.

    What do you call a statistician that takes an extremely small sample size and extrapolates it to be representative of everything? I believe in America, that’s called a journalist.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t agree with her take on this one … which is totally fine; it’s rare to find someone who you agree with 100% of the time. She’s still my favorite career blogger out there, despite having the nerve to feel differently about this than I do :)

      Reply
  34. Amazon anon

    My husband works at Amazon and living in the area, I have a lot of friends whose husbands work there also. Your experience is going to vary greatly depending on the department and manager you have. From what I’ve seen, you’re more likely to have a good experience working in a department like sales or something more periphery and more likely to be able to relate to the article if you work doing coding or something closer to the tech side. Also, the lower level coders tend to have a worse experience than the ones a few levels up.

    My husband and I can definitely relate to parts of the article but the more extreme parts seem off base and seem to be more the result of a bad manager, which you can get in any company. He does work long hours and works more than the norm out of office as well but he’s been there 1.5 years and will probably be there for at least another year yet. I’d love to give you more detailed feedback but I don’t want to identify us or the department.

    Reply
  35. NEWriter

    I speak from first-hand experience having worked at one of the biggest online corporations in the world for about 3 1/2 years before I was laid off. FYI- although I was very upset at the beginning of being laid off it actually was a blessing in disguise (more on that later).

    Having been someone who used to wake up to find a news story about her employer on GAWKER or Yahoo (or even the NYTs) about the questionable practices and “hearsay” from an insider there is always going to be a few people who fiercely defend the practices of their employer… until of course they are let go. I lost certain “friends” who, in retrospect, would fall under “work place” friends after I was let go; some of whom I’m mostly sure was on the other side of me being let go. However come about a year later, when they had also been let go after not agreeing to insane workplace demands on them, the same practices that they were fierce defenders of were the same practices that lead them to be let go. Talk about irony!

    Yes there are confidentiality agreements. Part of that is the severance package that comes along with working for one of the bigger corps. Mine was 14 pages long and although I had to spend a few days reading it the main moral to the story was being told that if I legally went into an agreement not to talk about what happened at work to online news media I would be given a certain amount over the course of two months, paid health insurance, and other incentives that could help me (hopefully) find my feet sooner than what had been happening at the time (this was 2013 when the economy was worse than it is now). It’s a normal procedure esp. in certain companies that do not have the best reputations if you dig a few inches under the surface from the very upbeat employees and those who may be just out of pure luck (and some brown nosing).

    Talk to your friend a bit more- ask some more questions- ask some direct questions and feel around the topic a bit. Do read those articles and do read between the lines too. As someone who had an undiagnosed severe anxiety disorder for 9 years I will be quite honest that there was a significant impact on me by the time I was let go. I have PTSD at work whenever I do something wrong and always assuming I will be let go because of one small thing which in other offices would not be let go. I worry about checking my email in the morning or walking away after my first week thinking that I did something wrong. These concerns come up even over the weekends and evenings when I should be relaxing and having the reassurance from my supervisor and temp agency contact that i am getting raving reviews.

    Reply
  36. Cranky PM

    Re: Amazon – this isn’t new. The Times article didn’t reveal anything new. It’s been like this for decades. Decades! You’re right – you might have a manager who can protect you from some of it, but you have to understand that this is what the company is like. Period. I have a friend who just quit after 20 years and he is literally spending every week at the doctor dealing with the impact the stress had on his body (and he didnt work for one of the departments mentioned in the Times article). He also had a cancer scare last year that his doctor directly attributes to his stress from work.

    I worked for Microsoft years ago, and when I joined I knew what I was getting into. I didn’t go in thinking “maybe it’s not as bad as ALL OF THOSE ARTICLES AND HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE SAY”. I said, it’s the chance of a lifetime, and I’m going to learn as much as I can, and understand that this is the price of doing business. It’s fine to take the job thinking that, but don’t think it’s going to be different.

    Amazon has had this data for decades. It’s not that they don’t know. It’s that they don’t care to do anything about the data they have.

    Reply

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