One of the weird things is 'success metrics telephone tag.' Basically it works like this; Boss creates a function and defines what it means to be successful. Hires a group to do that function. The group grows and its bifurcated into sub-groups which each have a part of the problem, and each has their own "success metric" which should, in theory, contribute up to the top level metric. However, there are no 'peer ranking' of the metrics, so if you have one group that is keeping your HR costs under control (success metric is 'cost per employee') and you have another group with is keeping your employee's happy (success metric is 'employee retention') and a third group which is keeping employees productive (success metric 'revenue per employee'), they all sum up, in theory to success metric 'keeping people happy and productive at the lowest possible cost'.
Now you find an employee who discloses a condition which will both cost the company money (benefit payout), and reduce productivity (external issues, loss of focus at work) and suddenly two parts of the HR group are having their success metric impacted by this event. You can reduce that to only one group making the person quit. So from the top level "we're hitting two of our three metrics" is a better report to send up then "we're hitting one of our three metrics".
A fix for this is an suitably enlightened senior manager providing scale options, so "retain good employee" gets a weight of '6' and 'save money' 2, and 'productivity' 3. Now when you score it retaining them gets you 6/11 but getting them to quit only gets you 5/11. Retaining your best employees becomes the managed-to goal.
Understanding how a company approaches those problems will say a lot about the quality of its management and the maturity of its processes.
In russian, we have a common saying "царь-батюшка хороший - это бояре у него плохие". Loosely translated in english as "The King is kind, it's his the nobles that are bad." It is meant to be used as sarcasm.
Perhaps it is obvious, but in case it isn't: the meaning is that the person in charge of things is ultimately responsible and sets the tone for the rest of the organization, either by action or inaction.
That is why these sorts of things are a good test of management maturity. If problems like this get reflected up to the person in charge (and ultimately responsible), and nothing happens, then it is on them. If they go up and the metrics change so they can't happen in the future, then its a company learning from its mistakes. If you witness the full cycle (a problem emerges, the folks who are responsible are notified, they take some action, the problem persists, and there is no new update) then you can confidently choose to leave knowing that the people at the top want it to be that way, if on the other hand you see problems get fixed as they arise, then you can confidently choose to stay, knowing that bad situations are not intentional and will be fixed.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy
when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay,
job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits,
such as leave and health insurance,
and any other term or condition of employment.
So good in theory, not really useful in practice. Sometimes a useful tool for enhancing your severance package. And you have to think about fighting to stay employed at a company that is kicking you to the curb because you're pregnant. What else might they do? It does push people closer to unionizing though, and that is becoming a bigger threat for tech companies than it was due to shennanigans like this.
An organization as large as Google... can violate as many laws as they wish to. That does not mean that they should not suffer gravely for it.
I work for Google, and when my wife had twins last October, my team was extremely supportive when I took six weeks of paternity leave - they even threw me a little party and chipped in for an Amazon gift card for diapers etc. It was an entirely positive experience. A female coworker had a baby a week earlier and she was out from mid-September to early February. And she and I both applied for promotion that September, with the full support of our manager and her manager. I've since seen friends at Google have kids and take leave with absolutely no issues.
It's awful that your wife had this experience - she should escalate it to her boss's boss. I don't think it's standard for Google.
Nothing is perfect for sure, but the full intent of the entire org is to support googlers 2.0. There are of course naughty parts and peopleops exists to help with that.
 The PIP may have started out as a good faith effort to improve underperformers, but at this point I see them used more frequently as political and legal tools than honest attempts at "salvaging" poor employees.
But it's an intimidation tactic like any other - your options here are either leave quietly (like the author of the original post), or be fired unceremoniously as a documented poor-performer and have that hanging over your career, and maybe sue the company for wrongful termination.
99% of the time, even when the situation is patently unfair and insanely unjust, people will choose Option A.
Even if you choose Option B and sue the employer, Amazon has a warchest the size of the moon and lawyers on staff best measured in boatloads - so more likely than not you'd be forced to settle for a modest sum and still have the firing on record, and no admission of fault on Amazon's part.
How would something like a PIP affect one's career? Companies don't share that information, or they expose themselves to serious litigation risk. That's why most places have a policy to only verify an ex-employee's dates of employment and job title if someone calls to ask.
I never worry about pointing out the evils of Amazon (despite them making me sign a contract meant to intimidate me into shutting up) because I know if they take me to court I'll have the opportunity to have my say publicly. And that's the last thing they want.
At Amazon, if you get your PIP and you refuse to sign it, I think they will fire you, and then you will be offered a check in order to sign an agreement not to sue them.
So, if you get the PIP it may be more profitable to just refuse to sign it and start looking for another job (with a bigger severance) than waste a couple months at Amazon while looking for another job.
BTW- the reason I got my PIP was that I had a job at AWS and an offer in hand and went to try and transfer.
Amazon's lawyers are probably expensive right? They also have to risk setting precedents and future cases not being so easily intimidated. Seems like they would have a lot to lose letting this go to court, even if they intend to drag it out.
But that's the thing: they don't need to let it go to court, they just have to drag out the pre-trial proceedings for a few years until you've either moved on with your life or forgotten enough of the details. Most cases settle out of court, but before that happens there is due process that a good HR defense attorney can absolutely stretch out for years.
As far as their lawyers, it costs a big company like Amazon very little, since the lawyers are likely on salary. They would probably hire an outside attorney to represent them in person at a trial, but since the vast majority (>95%) of cases settle before they make it that far, their internal HR lawyers would probably handle most of the grunt work of filing paperwork until someone actually needs to show up at the court house.
Also it's probably not as much money as you think; unless it can be proven that the company's actions were malicious and intentional against a protected class, you probably won't see much more than 6 months salary. The problem is in gathering the evidence to prove this and keeping track of it over the course of a few years.
But then I guess it's just more lawyers keeping other lawyers employed.
But generally you're right -- when you sue someone, only the lawyers win. At a minimum, a cursory background check would turn up the lawsuit and potentially damage your chances at getting another job. It's the same as with whistleblower cases: you have to ask yourself if the injustice you're trying to correct is so big that it's worth potentially destroying your career (whistleblower laws promise huge rewards for exposing behavior but they can be very difficult to collect on and generally make you unhireable).
That said, if a specific company (like Amazon/Google are rumored to do) routinely does things like this, they could face a class action suit. Class action suits are a company's worst nightmare because they are run by the lawyers -- who have every incentive to be as public as possible about the proceedings. Dragging a company's name though the mud in the media is a good way to get them to settle on your terms, and the former employees aren't at the forefront of the case so there's little downside to it. It actually wouldn't surprise me if we see a class action suit come out of this; this kind of treatment is common enough in the tech industry and there's a lot of money on the table if a law firm can put together a case. But again, in a class action suit the lawyers keep most of the money, so ultimately they're the biggest winners.
If there's a pattern there, then a clear discrimination case could still be made, I think.
(1) it's difficult to prove, and often juries really want bright line discrimination (eg an email saying fire that bitch for getting pregnant); a pattern of discrimination without a smoking gun is a harder sell to a jury
(2) be ready to never work in that industry again, and maybe to never work again
(3) do you really want this to be what you do with the next 2-3 years of your life
She declined to pursue it. Or as the saying goes, "in its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." One law for the rich, another for the rest of us.
So now someone who has a baby on the way has to pay for a lawyer and fight an uphill and expensive case.
Most recent example is Ellen Pao -> CEO Reddit.
Which is fucking bullshit, because everyone with a modicum of logical thinking could see that's exactly why it's happening. But instead of them having to prove that the PIP was justified, you get people having to prove that they're not being fucked over by a bully.
That's great to hear. But one reason bad things happen is that people, especially management, believe in their company's good intentions and policies and don't realize that the reality is much different. The only way to know is to observe what actually occurs. (Of course, I'm speaking generally; I have no idea what happens at your company or what you know.)
A similar situation occurs with health insurance. People trust their insurance and assume it works until they get sick and learn the reality of it.
If this national elections cycle in the U.S. does not include a serious consideration of the typical interactions that people have with their health care systems, I'm moving to Mars. No spacecraft. I will be traveling there on a column of self-righteous fire, with my frustration as the propellant and my fury as the oxidizer. I will breathe a mixture of 80% pure stubbornness and 20% magical libertarian free market gas.
For a small fee, I will attach a tether to Donald Trump before I go, and release him outside of Earth's gravity well. He'll have no trouble surviving out there, being completely self-sufficient, and constantly surrounded by a thick cloud of his own hot air.
I thought the Bush-Gore election cycle was bad. It's almost like this time the two branches of the Inner Party are putting up decoy candidates in advance of the primaries, so that they can get shot down, and the real candidates can safely fly in over the flak.
As long as companies can get away with this sort of behavior without any meaningful penalty from either government, consumers, or labor unions, it will only grow worse. It seems ever more prevalent that the corporate accountants no longer tally "ethical integrity" on the correct side of the business ledgers.
That's right: probably the hardest working people in the country, doing the jobs nobody else particularly wants with a smile on their face, saving money too, with research proving they have lower crime rates than citizens.
This is what the "electorate" is most focused on.
That's a pleonasm.
Why is it that there are some in this community that want bank CEOs jailed for what their underlings do, but give a pass to tech darlings, who have "lost control" to the MBAs as the company has grown?
Are leaders responsible for the behaviour of employees, or are they not?
I can't speak for Larry, but I worked at Amazon from 2001-2006 and everything you've read recently is consistent with the corporate culture back then, and falls directly out of guidance from Jeff. What you are reading about is the end result of Jeff executing successfully on his vision.
P.S after my wife's PIP, it was determined that her skills could be be utilized on a different team, so she was given an opportunity that she continues to excel in today. Cheers!
PIPs are pretty widely recognized as "this is your advance notice that you will be laid off." Almost sounds like the writing was on the wall but she got lucky with an internal move.
I'm low-mid level Eng working for Google for a lot of years, your story is quite surprise to me.
I had a new born a couple of months ago. Every time I want x weeks leave, I simply spend 1 - 2 minutes filling a form online and will receive a call shortly to confirm the leave. Then all set.
During 1:1s, my manager always asks me to inform him in any case I have to work after hours. I really appreciate his consideration on my life. (Of course, each manager could be different).
She's in a group that's supposedly not doing very well in Google so this could be why. Still, she's a talented and very well educated individual (she was literally loved in all her previous jobs, even in the jobs she didn't like).
The poor Google experience may be exceptional, but we have 2 friends who recently joined Google and have a really bad time.
Prohibited Acts / Mistreatment / Retaliation 
Best of luck proving retaliation.
Most people think of “performance improvement” as something well-intended, because they take performance to mean “how good I am at my job”....
However, that’s not what “performance” means in the context of a employment contract. When a contract exists, non-performance is falling short of an agreed-upon provision of the contract. It doesn’t mean that the contract was fulfilled but in a mediocre way. It means that the contract was breached.
If you are ever given a PIP, polish up your resume and look for a new job, immediately. Your company is trying to fire you without giving you either the grounds to sue them or compensatory payment. You will also need to record and regularly back up all interactions with your superiors until you leave. There is no meaningful way to recover from a PIP without a judge or union rep on your side. Your career with that company is over.
So shouldn't we be yelling even louder? That seems to make it even more unacceptable.
"Im sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp."
I'm not so sure, especially about Jeff Bezos.
"After my surgery [for cancer], while I was still on
maternity leave, I received a form letter saying
that the health insurance provided by my employer
had been terminated. Dozens of panicked emails
and phone calls later, the whole thing was, I was
told, a glitch in the system. After a week of back
and forth, I was offered COBRA coverage, by which
point I had already switched to my husband’s
insurance, where I remained for the duration of my
Even a design intern working for free could have picked better photos.
"What was your biggest failure?"
(Alright...let me try to pick one of the leadership principle to parrot back through my biggest failure while also having my self-esteem show down thinking about my failures).
I am sorry for all the folks working there.
It wouldn't surprise me at all that the entire health insurance infrastructure in the country is glitchy to the core, but who knows.
What am I missing, how would Amazon save money by her switching insurance providers?
Large companies actually underwrite their own plans (this is known as self-insuring). The plan is managed by a known insurance company (e.g. Aetna, Blue Cross), so from the employee's perspective it's the same, but the actual risk is borne by the company. I would be very surprised if Amazon did not do this, given their size (~200K employees) and company age (over 20 years).
As a rule of thumb, the break-even point is about 1000 lives covered. Once a company gets to that point, it starts to be in their best interest to underwrite the insurance plans they provide.
Source: Founded a health-tech company that sold to insurers (which meant selling to companies that self-funded their plans as well, as they were they real risk-bearing entity).
It makes it hard to place an exact price tag on how much this employee's coverage would have cost the company without knowing the details, but it's clear that it would have been very expensive to them one way or the other - and certainly a lot more than it cost them to have her switch to her husband's insurance instead.
 It's just like how your renter's insurance rates will [often] skyrocket immediately if you try to file any claim at all. People aren't used to this in the consumer health insurance market because there's a lot of indirection in the healthcare system, but that's how all insurance models work at a high level, so that's how the costs all (eventually) flow (extra emphasis on "eventually").
 There's also the added wrinkle that we also use "health insurance" as a political tool to do things that have nothing to do with risk smoothing at all, so the model gets tricky to unpack, but that's a separate matter.
I thought Tim Armstrong(AOL) is evil but Jeff is on another level. At least AOL did not fire the mother.
The main reason you are not an insurance company is that insurance only works at scale. But if you have a big enough pile of cash to effectively run your own insurance company, then you can go pay Humana (or whatever) a lot less to just handle the paperwork instead of the actual insurance. It's often a good way to provide better coverage for your employees and spend less money on it, since you aren't paying an insurance company for participation in the risk pool.
But then this does create conflicts of interest where the company is directly incentivized not to pay out for employee health. This isn't particularly worse than the private model; private insurance companies are always incentivized not to pay out.
This is why we need single-payer. You need an actor without a profit motive, and government is it.
That's a really common talking point for single-payer healthcare, but it unfortunately it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Government-run agencies have the exact same incentives for profit as private companies do, even if they don't use the terms "profit", "margin", and "P/E ratio".
Ironically, the closest thing we have to single-payer healthcare model is Medicare, which absolutely does have all the problems associated with a profit motive. In many ways, it's worse, because Medicare is able to set prices across the board by fiat, is not required to negotiate with providers, and is essentially mandatory for providers (so providers just have to swallow whatever reimbursement rates Medicare offers). As a result, providers make an operating loss on Medicare patients, to the tune of 7% nationwide.
Think about it from Medicare's perspective. You have to balance your books at the end of the year. Do you either (1) ask Congress to raise taxes to increase your budget and hope they act quickly, or (2) lower the price you decide to pay for services, knowing that it will have zero impact on whether or not providers will still perform services for you? Unsurprisingly, they choose (2).
Also, ironically, most patients who are happy with their Medicare plans are actually using privately managed Medicare plans anyway. So they're essentially opting into profit-driven insurance anyway, with the only difference being that their premiums are being "subsidized" by their past tax withholdings.
 There's also the VA, but single-payer advocates usually balk at that comparison since the VA actually operates the medical practice itself, unlike the single-payer models typically proposed.
 This means that they make a loss even before accounting for any overhead, such as salaries, or markup.
 And at the rate that MA is increasing, pretty soon the majority of all Medicare patients altogether.
Yes, I have experienced this first hand.
I don't know about the new laws and such, but that sounds kind of silly to me. Why would they have to pay if she's not covered?
Does insurance have the concept of "breakage" like with rebates in terms of whether people follow through on these "glitches?"
What a sad state of affairs.
Walt could have gotten coverage from his former company, they made him an offer that he refused. He preferred to kill people and sell drugs instead, because he liked it.
I would not have bought the premise of that show 15 years ago. Absolutely not. It would have seemed beyond far-fetched.
But not anymore, sadly. I can totally believe it now. Makes me wonder if I need to re-evaluate some of my biggest choices in life.
I tried to find a source but couldn't, it's too old, all the matches I got where about the new spin-off. I remember seeing it mostly on TV and TV magazine (critics of the series). Just to be clear, it wasn't a full documentary about the US system :) just a note to explain that the US doesn't have universal health care and that people without insurance were in deep shit.
The point was we are VERY rich and could afford to not have our citizens stress about healthcare.
Oh no? I'm in top 0.2% in income in the world, and I'm sure there are people here doing far better than I am. How about you?
I think per-capita GDP is clearly a better metric, putting the US around 10th, but total GDP isn't an awful one for broad strokes.
California is also, like, 75 times bigger than Vermont in pretty much every metric, so I'm not sure why you seem so surprised by such an implication.
The point of the "richest country in the world" remark is that the U.S. could very well afford to be the most progressive modern society if it chose to do so. Instead, it opts to sink money in failed fighter projects and nebulous "terrorist"-hunting surveillance and drone strike programs.
US households alone hold $85 to $90 trillion.
This is from 2010, US assets have massively rebounded since then, likely pushing this figure even higher.
"Some 39 percent of the world’s wealth belongs to Americans, while Western Europe accounts for another 31 percent."
EDIT: I can see my karma for this comment is swinging around wildly. Consider the following:
* You are (based on the typical HN audience) probably young now, most likely healthy. You will eventually get older, and will likely have medical issues eventually.
* I argue that healthcare is not something to be earned, but something you are entitled to as a human being. No one should ever die from health reasons due to not having enough money. If its too expensive to do this (which is clearly false, as other countries are able to do so with less money than we spend in the US), we use R&D spending to ruthlessly drive down the cost.
* I came to this point of view over time. I am a healthy young male. I've known people who have died because they couldn't afford healthcare. I've known someone who worked as a prostitute to pay for her SOs cancer treatment. My mother would not have been able to afford a surgery to mediate her degenerative disc disease in her spine without the affordable care act.
I am not arguing for the elimination of the tech startup scene in order to have universal healthcare. I'm arguing for the transition to single payer and the streamlining of healthcare deliver in the US to lower costs AND ensure coverage for everyone.
We're a first world developed country, and its about time like we acted like one.
Of course, there are other things that are not so good for businesses in various European countries, but I'd chalk up the health care system as a win for small companies and entrepreneurs.
umm.... so what? we should sacrifice the health of a nation of hundreds of millions of folks so a few hundred thousand get to work at 'homegrown tech giants'? w00t!
Calling it insurance is a farce.
But I suspect when given the choice between cheap insurance or an expensive payment plan, everyone would pick the former.
Insurances should not be priced 'bottom to top', the basic coverage should cover the more needed and costly procedures then start adding more 'optional' coverage with increased payments.
It's really more accurately "(Group) Healthcare Cost Amortization".
To succeed in the marketplace, companies must embrace a competitive strategy. Authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma describe three generic competitive strategies, or value disciplines: operational excellence, customer intimacy and product leadership. These are described in their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders (1997).
The author’s main premise is that companies must choose—and then achieve—market leadership in one of the three disciplines, and perform to an acceptable level in the other two. 
Operational Excellence: Amazon, Walmart
Product Leadership: Apple, Mercedes Benz
Customer Intimacy: Nordstroms, Home Depot
We studied Amazon and Walmart as case studies for companies that have pushed the boundaries of operational excellence. You can also think of these companies as the ones who cut costs on a race to the bottom; companies at which efficiency is prized above all else.
Don't have a kid while working for a company that demonstrates a strict adherence to the value proposition of operational excellence. You will be regarded as just another expendable cost on the bottom line, and you will be replaced by a younger, hungrier individual with less commitments outside of work. The company will find a way around the laws that generally protect mothers/fathers in these situations - that is why they are a market leader, because they will go where no other companies are willing/able to in order to uphold the mantra of operational excellence.
Decided to go to my local ACE hardware store and the experience was night and day. Never going back to Home Depot if I can avoid it.
So, I have an anecdote, and this story is an anecdote. I'm not saying that my friend's story offsets the story here (especially because I wasn't the cancer patient in either case). Let's slow down before we draw too many conclusions from either one.
"You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories."
Unless Amazon is willing to release the numbers, then most people will tend to believe the bad stories (like Julia's) over stories like your friend's.
Amazon has gone significant lengths for me as a customer. The fact they aren't addressing this issue with the same intensity should be telling.
what exactly would you expect them to do to address the situation? I dont see people who currently work at amazon complaining. some say thats because they're scared to which could be true or maybe it's just that the people who are giving these stories happened to have a lot of things fall into place at just the wrong time to make it seem malicious. no one in these stories post about what they did to demonstrate that they were performing well or not, only that other things were happening in their life then they got bad performance reviews. you know what? thats actually a common thing, major life events happen and your work performance starts to become poor. why not ask how long a company should continue paying an employee who's performing poorly? it's something that I have never seen an answer to by anyone or any company. on top of that what if someone had been doing poorly for a good amount of time, then just before review time comes up when they're going to get a bad review, they announce that they are pregnant or sick. what should a company do then?
as I said in the beginning, this whole thing has turned into a witch hunt and nobody cares to ask any of the questions that matter and allow any one or company to build off of.
1. why should it be any business of yours on how they address the issues since you aren't involved (proverbial you, maybe you do work there)?
Because even in a capitalism based society, there ought to be boundaries set up to prevent abuse of workers - directly or indirectly. You can't treat people like cattle.
2. the way things are going it makes absolutely no sense for amazon to post anything about the situation because whatever is said will be torn to shreds and people will demand more information.
False. If Amazon made a genuine effort and owned up to their past mistakes, revamped a few policies and company culture, instead of making meaningless PR-speak statements, that would genuinely change people's minds.
3. I dont see people who currently work at amazon complaining
4. or maybe it's just that the people who are giving these stories happened to have a lot of things fall into place at just the wrong time to make it seem malicious.
Would be true if it happened to one or two people. But it seems like a pattern with Amazon. Hard to blame "bad luck". There is a positive correlation.
5. o one in these stories post about what they did to demonstrate that they were performing well or not
Because they were busy being sick with cancer.
6. why not ask how long a company should continue paying an employee who's performing poorly?
So the next time you have a bad day at work, maybe your boss will be completely justified in firing you.
7. what if someone had been doing poorly for a good amount of time, then just before review time comes up when they're going to get a bad review, they announce that they are pregnant or sick.
Doubt this will be as common a scenario as you think, but lets assume it is. Lets even grant you that the company is justified in firing that employee. Does that make the cut-throat backstabbing, review anonymously, email on weekends and midnight, survive or die Darwinian culture at Amazon ok?
8. this whole thing has turned into a witch hunt
Wrong. Amazon is not a person. Nobody is demanding Bezos' head on a pike. It's about highlighting a cultural problem within an organization from which you'd certainly expect better.
9. Nobody cares to ask any of the questions that matter and allow any one or company to build off of.
Well, enlighten us.
2. what policies have actually been violated? again no analysis has been done (publicly) for any of the existing claims. if amazon does an analysis and finds that things were done according to policy and that policy is not out of the ordinary from other companies, they would have to divulge personal information about these employees which should not and I'm sure wont happen. maybe the ceo of the company can instead make a broad public statement that this should not happen and that if it does happen to report it to him personally?
4. in the scope of how many people who currently or have ever worked at amazon, this is effectively one or two people.
5. they were too busy being sick to report why they got a bad performance review and what they did to improve it?
6. what? I said that no one has said what they feel is acceptable and no one has reported how long they were performing poorly. of course one day is reduculous, but is 6 months?
7. now you're following along with all the rhetoric. as others have reported, the anonymous reviews are usually used to provide good feedback and help people get promoted. emails on weekends and midnight are just a random anecdote from the nyt article that didnt go into much detail. cut-throat backstabbing? that's the first ive really heard of this. survive or die? is that not true for every company out there?
8. just because it's a company doesnt mean it can't be a witch hunt. additionally if you read the comments many people are demanding bezos' head on a pike. regarding the culture, what about the people who do enjoy and thrive in that kind of culture?
Or before drawing conclusions from the plethora of anonymous posts all over the Internet.
It's like telling that's acceptable to have a plane crashing for every other plane that arrives safely.
Some light research online indicated that Amazon would not be a good place to work. It was just anecdotes, but I had a nagging feeling that these negative anecdotes about Amazon were easier to find than for other large companies I was considering. I decided against pursuing Amazon, but wondered if I had put too much weight on this research.
It stuck in my mind and all the other negative things I've heard about Amazon between 2006 and now sort of snowballed for me. How they treat their corporate employees, how they treat their warehouse employees. How they treat their business partners. How they treat their sellers. (Hint: the opposite of how they treat their buyers.) And so on.
So the recent NYT article told me nothing new. I had already realized that Amazon had this definite pattern. Whereas the occasional anecdote you hear about other companies just remains a few anecdotes, it doesn't become a pattern.
The anecdotes are hard to find. Glassdoor promotes positive reviews over negative ones, effectively burying them, even when the negative ones have more up votes and you're looking at reviews ranked by vote!
Most people Amazon is hiring aren't exposed to the negative reviews of the company.
Yeah, that's why it's so important for people to gain awareness of this while it's so visible. It's not just anecdotes, it's a pattern. Every large company has things about it that suck, every company has its former employees with complaints about it. But Amazon is in a qualitatively different category. Other companies don't get such a bad overall reputation.
Thanks, but no thanks.
That user-base will only continue to visit Glassdoor if they maintain their reputation of having credible reviews around companies. It really does not seem in their best interest to shoot themselves in the foot in that regard. Of course Yelp was accused of similar things (whether true or not) and I'm not sure it really hurt them, so who knows.
Even it makes it clear that Amazon is a much worse employer than other tech firms, with an average rating of 3.0 vs >4 for Google, Facebook, etc. 
They take care of their customers very well. Their customers are their revenue stream, not their cost centers.
> I met some of the strongest, most brilliant women of my career there.
> I quickly noted, when it came to leadership positions, they were almost all men.
> the voices commenting on the New York Times piece so far have been predominantly male leaders of male-dominated teams.
> Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime.
> On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can’t: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents.
> You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees.
Those types of statements can make sense in the right context but they seem out of place here, in this article. I wasn't able to make that connection that she seems to be able to make readily and without effort.
Did you miss the second half of the article where her team taken from her and she was placed on a PIP when she returned from maternity leave?
If they only pay lip service to the letter of the law and you return to find your job effectively gone, then that's still crap treatment that will disproportionately affect one gender, given the usual length of maternity leave compared to paternity
The other things could and should have been improved by Amazon. Their obligation is to get you back into a situation as close as practicable to the one you left.
what about the new manager? why should they have to change teams? basically what you're saying is that everyone on the team should suffer significantly so that one person can return to lead the same team with different members rather than just leading a new team that needs a manager?
If it's a massive career-impacting hassle for employees of people on leave at Amazon, where they "suffer significantly" that's yet more evidence for Amazon being a terrible place to work.
"Her team was reassigned" (during her extended absence) - reasonable. Disappointing, for her, perhaps, but reasonable.
"and she was placed on a PIP" - she comes back from maternity and is told, formally, 'your performance is unacceptable and is going to have to improve to stay at the company'. This just screams vindictiveness. "Your pregnancy inconvenienced the company / team, so here's a formal black mark for you, often used as an excuse to be able to fire you at any time in the future".
No manager with any sense at all is ever going to write an email like that, don't be ludicrous.
I read the piece as a commentary on Amazon's lacklustre (or worse) HR department, poor parental leave policies and systemic aversion to women in leadership rather than a "health insurance screw up". That seemed to be a subplot in a more wider issue - Amazon's callous disregard for employees and a culture which seems to actively discourage women from reaching executive leadership positions.
The health insurance "screw up" only occurred because she was on maternity leave. As a man, this isn't necessarily my area of expertise, but I'm pretty sure only women can go on maternity leave.
That's not to say this couldn't also happen to a new father on paternity leave... but paternity leave barely exists in the US to begin with.
This was right at the peak of the Amazon/Hachette beef. If you're an editor, it's not a big leap to realize that if you need a new job after Amazon, you're going to be less and less welcome the more time you spend there.
Some of her other projects fit in with the comments you quoted.
The relevance is that if you screw with maternity leave then you make your work environment toxic for anyone that gets pregnant, which only affects your female employees, and then usually well before they get anywhere near upper management.
For a general retailer, this is not a good plan.
Ah, the PIP. Shorthand for "we're going to get rid of you because of office politics, but only after we humiliate you and make you feel like a horrible person".
I must say that I admire this guy's "ingenuity" and psy ops he subjects employees to to make them conform and yield at their job.
The problem is that a lot of jerks are using the self-proclaimed "changing the world" mantle as cover for their lousy behavior.
Your body, your self, your individual knitted from human fabric is a liability. If they could chop your labor-power from your flesh, from your family, from your community, and expropriate it as their own, the owners would. The labor market is not a market for human beings, it is a market for working bodies. Bodies that don't work profitably are bad bodies.
That sounds like "My work gets done while I stay home with my family and community," and that would be awesome.
It's the dream that makes me get up and go write code every day!
Remember, states like England passed laws expropriating land titles from yeomen in order to put it into the hands of bourgeois property holders.
If they could take your labor, they would and if they could take it without paying you, they would. They have. They will.
(Your original description sounds an awful lot like the goal of open source, is what I'm saying. The infinite replicability and liquid scalability of software makes it hard to apply industrial-age metaphors to it ;) ).
Capitalism is a hell of a drug.
The ideal would be to have a strong social safety net and a fair system of redistribution that operates with minimal micromanagement or intrusion into individual affairs.
Basically you have a government that taxes everyone according to the same rate and provides health care, unemployment and disability protection, insurance against certain emergencies (FEMA, etc.), and some sort of basic income. But as long as you pay into this system and are a 'shareholder' you can do whatever you want.
Employment should be at-will. Companies should be easy to start. Regulations should be minimal and justified by specific rationales (e.g. environmental protection).
The problem with the USSR and to a much lesser extent European Socialist countries is that they try to micro-manage. They have all these messes of laws that try to dictate exactly how things work and exactly how people must live their lives. That doesn't work. It just chokes everything and weighs everything down.
The irony is that all this micro-management is put into place because the obvious alternative -- just redistributing wealth -- is politically toxic. So instead of just redistributing wealth, we try to reach in and piecemeal adjust the operation of capitalism to make it 'more fair.' The end result is the worst of both worlds: the system remains unfair, and we end up with micromanaging regulations that are far more expensive than what it would cost to just redistribute wealth.
The US healthcare system is a great example. We have everything that is bad about micro-managing Socialism (heavy regulations, bureaucracy, inefficiency) combined with everything that is bad about capitalism/free market healthcare (inequality, losing coverage when you get sick, etc.).
No "system" is fair. All systems contain intrinsic biases, emergent behaviors, randomness, massive opportunities for cheating and exploitation, and unintentional/non-obvious "goal functions" that conflict with the stated intents of their designers or operators. Constructing a fair system through central planning is impossible... IMHO it is "perpetual motion" or "halting problem" impossible. Complex living systems are not logical and their behaviors cannot be pre-specified by an intelligent designer.
Wealth redistribution is the obvious answer. Instead of trying to impose the impossible on a chaotic counter-intuitive world, just apply noise reduction and normalization.
One thing none of these countries seem to get is that complex regulations and micromanagement are more expensive than taxation. These things have huge unintended costs, largely in time and in preventing innovation.
If we had free health care and basic income, who cares about at-will employment? If I lose my job, I'll just move on. You don't need all those regulations if you apply a "fairness correction" after the fact.
Cry me a river about competing with people with a greater work ethic. I'm not OK with government doing anything that involves initiation of force to achieve political ends.
The status quo is maintained by force. The government you have distrust for is the thing that keeps everything from breaking down.
There will always be people who want more, work more, work harder, strive harder, and are more ambitious. That has nothing at all to do with "this system of labor relations".
The government you have distrust for is the thing that keeps everything from breaking down.
Feh... I mistrust the government because they're the main reason things are so broken now. The only "government" I want is self-government and whatever voluntary associations people form that don't claim a right to use force for any cause other than defense.
No one in their right mind is expecting the means of production to be collectivized into a bureaucratic mess (considering how many corporations are practically Stalinist dystopias in their own right).
At least the bourgeois states have made their body politic agree at least at some level that it is fair to have a system of property where everyone, in legal principle, is capable of becoming a property owner. The promise that one can achieve economic security by accumulating capital through labor and becoming a property holder is the carrot. The police, military, and private security forces are the stick. It's easier to maintain order with a carrot and a stick than with just a stick.
Your criteria for a solution are exactly mine as well. I bet, though, we have very different ideas about what an individual is or what it means for them to make their own choices.
On government: I cannot say anything about the presence or absence of large governments. It's possible that large scale coordination of human beings requires large scale structures. Capitalism has large scale structures of its own. Markets, financial institutions, national and supranational bodies of law and force, political parties, and who knows what else that slips my mind are all massive apparatuses of power and coordination. Does capitalism not require large government bodies? There are many people who believe invasive governments with their heavy-handed economic policies are a perversion of capitalism. I'm not such an idealist. Capitalism has been unstable since its early inception. It has come up with many, many tricks to keep itself afloat. Laissez-faire failed. What we have now, what many people call neoliberalism, is its latest incarnation. I believe people who believe in bourgeois ideologies and relations of property will be ever creative in coming up with new principles, instititions, policies and markets to keep the system afloat. Call it the efficient government hypothesis: The government is as big as it needs to be for the system to be stable.
On the individual: I emphatically reject many fundamental liberal principles about the self. I am not an atom. I do not exist apart from my social relations. All of my relations are integral to my being. If you poked a hole in the social fabric where I am, I believe that you could reconstruct a large part of my being simply from the information of which fibers criss-crossed to stitch me together. An ideology that treats me as an atom that makes decisions for its own sake while ignoring how essentially mixed up I am with other individuals is barren to me. It does not tell me how to be happy, how to live a good life, how to be prosperous, how to be productive. My prosperity is fundamentally tied up with the prosperity of others. My productivity is nil without the productivity of others (I am a programmer, a profession extremely reliant on everyone else's work). Property is a relation between atomic individuals. Exchange is a social relation between atomic individuals. I am neither. I don't think anyone is. The failure of property and exchange to capture human relations makes the system unstable. It is an abstraction, and a leaky abstraction. Everyone knows what happens when you stick to abstractions that leak. You get into a lot of trouble.
I am perfectly capable of cooperating in good faith with my fellow human beings. I extend that good faith to everyone else: I believe everyone else wants to live in harmony with each other. If I didn't believe this, I would have to accept that society must be structured by force and that some must dominate the others. I cannot accept this. If must be an optimist, I will be an optimist. It's not hard, though. People are good, or the makings of the good. My liberty and my prosperity are in good hands.
On property and individual freedom: An individual tautologically, in a very weak sense, always makes their own decisions. It may be that their choices are strongly shaped by material conditions. When we talk about liberty in the bourgeois sense, we tend to think about making individual choices in the absence of violence.
The problem with this is that you have attached a word to what is impermissible: Violence. It is a symbol, it is an abstraction. It is not reality. Power does not care about symbols, abstractions, or ideas. It only answers to reality. If a human being gives him or herself to an idea, they relinquish the ability to perceive reality outside of that abstraction and they become vulnerable to those who would manipulate that idea. I might not be very clear right now. It's a hard concept to pin down. What I mean to say is:
If you believe that unjustified violence violates individual freedom, then those who seek to curtail your freedom will use their power to frame their actions that harm you as non-violent, or that it is justified violence.
Hence propaganda and the manipulation of social customs.
We are led to believe that being brought into this world helpless and dependent on others without our consent, and then being raised and inculcated in the way the human machine works, and then left to fend for ourselves in a reality where our fellow human beings will let us fall into the flames of despair and poverty below is a non-violent social situation.
Individual choice, my ass. If one wanted me to act on my own choices, they would give me the security so that I could. Instead, I have to give up my individual initiative and ability to make choices to someone else in exchange for the means to survive. Individual freedom in our current system is a function of how much capital you own. That's not freedom. Calling this freedom is ideological propaganda. Everyone knows freedom is good, let's call our hierarchical society of domination free.
If society believes in individual freedom, then society ought to provide for all individuals. Would this work? If one believes in individual freedom, it must be because one believes that individuals will act for the greater good, because the good of society is the good of the individual. Anyone who thinks individuals will behave selfishly and destroy such a society does not believe in freedom. They believe that only a few should be free, and everyone should be ruled by them in some way. Hence, our current economic relations.
The right to dictate another person's actions is not freedom. It is tyranny.
I don't think anyone who takes the idea of individual freedom seriously, has ever contended that every individual should have the ability to make (or at least act on) any conceivable choice. That is, right this minute, I could make a choice to pack my bags, fly to Sweden, and spend a year chasing Swedish super-models. But I can't actually afford to do that. But that in no way means I'm not free, it just means that there are some choices that aren't available to me. But nobody is putting a gun to my head telling me "You can't go to Sweden". More to the point, I'm perfectly free to continue working at my "wage slave" job for the next year, eat Ramen noodles and spend as little as possible, and save every penny so that - next year - I can take my trip to Sweden.
If society believes in individual freedom, then society ought to provide for all individuals.
That's absurd and contradictory. As soon as you say "society should do X" you are talking about depriving someone of their choice to not do X, unless you believe that you can get 100% unanimous agreement with you idea. And when does that ever happen on a large scale?
Yes, and another word for it is "government".
Yes, as someone who has dated a member of the church of scientology, and had a good friend get married there, then divorced when they discovered her husbands great grandfather worked for the IRS, and then re-married in a scientology arranged wedding, and seen the consequent personality changes and manipulations, .... and as someone who worked for Amazon for three years... I feel quite comfortable comparing Amazon to the Church of Scientology.
The funny thing is, this article reminds me of something I didn't notice. Things really were different in the way women were treated. There's definitely a bit of male chauvinism going on, and also women were treated better at amazon, probably because they were seen as more helpless and delicate. They certainly got less abuse in my group than the men did.
This is the lesson to take away-- the really dangerous thing is not just that Amazon is often a hostile and abusive workplace-- you can find that anywhere, and you can find pockets of decency in Amazon as well.
The lesson to learn is-- and this is leaking out about Amazon over and over-- that Amazon is a cult.
Her comment about the PIP being obviously a way to move out out-- shows that the actions (the PIP) have the opposite intended purpose to what they are supposed to. If an employee messes up (eg: goes thru a divorce and their work suffers) then they should be helped to improve.
That PIP is obvious code for "we're giving this person the ax and we're only keeping them around to cover our asses legally" shows that the company is manipulative and deceitful. -- If a firing was legitimate, they wouldn't need to lie with the PIP. If PIPs were used for their intended purpose, people wouldn't know that it was time to resign.
This kind of mantra heavy, "culture" heavy, ideological heavy, deceitful attitudes from a company are, in my experience, clear signs the company is very much like a cult.
I saw it in Scientology, at Amazon and at another company I worked for (also terrible)... but none of this existed at the other 20+ companies I've worked for in my career.
I'm always learning, always growing and it's a great place to work.
I guess what I'm asking is: how do we square "hey, workers need to be able to take family leave for potentially long periods of time" with "this team needs a leader"? It's a tricky question, and the shittiest answer is "oh, well, you can work from home! XD".
Obviously, longer term absences are qualitatively different, but again not insurmountable.
More importantly though is that not only had someone else taken over her position permanently, but she was put on a PIP. A PIP is usually reserved for extremely poor performers who are on the razor's edge of termination, not an otherwise good performer who just returned from an extended absence.
But of course I know multiple people at Amazon who had PIPs used against them politically - a PIP is an employment lawsuit mitigation strategy, even though it's a "Performance Improvement Plan" there is never an actual intention to follow through, it's always the precursor to firing.
Her team being taken away from her because she went on maternity leave is extremely shitty. Her being put on a PIP immediately after returning is what takes this from "shitty" to "heinous".
I understand that it's less about providing evidence to sink lawsuits (so many PIPs don't hold up to legal scrutiny: it actually opens less liability for a company to say "we're firing you because we don't like you" than it is for them to issue a PIP) as it is about demoralizing the employee and making them feel like terrible people, so they feel like them getting railroaded because of office politics is their fault, a) so they don't want to file a lawsuit and b) so vengeful managers can dig the knife in a little deeper and humiliate their victim.
Honestly, the best thing to do when given a PIP is to immediately start sending your resume out and calling any contacts that might lead to a new job. If you have enough of a nest egg to afford to be unemployed while you're looking for your next job, go ahead and put your two weeks' notice in the day you get the PIP.
No, it's not. I've had employees on PIPs that are here years later with no problems.
If this is genuinely a case where your manager has repeatedly told you about your poor performance, and is now going official with a PIP, then yeah, probably recoverable if you get your head screwed on right and do a great job.
But a PIP that hits you out of left field unexpectedly is pretty much always a political maneuver, and represents a decision to fire you that has already been made.
- First is, where possible, you get the replacement in on a defined temporary cover contract, and do a proper handover of duties to them.
- Second, you offer the person on leave paid "Keep in Touch" days that allow the person to stay abreast of what's happening.
- Thirdly, when they return you have a formal hand-back session that brings the person up to speed and makes it clear to all their contacts that they have returned to their responsibilities and taken back over their old position.
I have seen this work correctly and smoothly multiple times, for both maternity and long-term sick leave. It doesn't involve pretending that they are still in post while they are out, but it involves the company being willing to pay more than lip service to supporting them during a period of long absence.
Thanks for this! Could you elaborate on how this works? It's rather new to me.
I had back surgery a decade ago that kept me out of the office for two months. I managed about 30 people at the time in 4-5 groups. My director and his admin took on the administrative stuff, and one of the team leads took over the day to day. I was able to do a call about every other week to go over project items.
I came back, and things went back to normal, the positive benefit is that a couple of previously unrecognized employees got director-level recognition.
Every other developed country has these policies and importantly they have the work culture to deal with it. People leave for a year on maternity and come back just fine, because people know that's how it's supposed to work.
Ultimately, the employer will have to take a bit of a hit if we want employees to have more secure lives.