According to a number of accounts from former employees, the experience of working for Amazon is a lot like living in a micro-managed police state.
The price to pay for exceptional customer service, more than 100 Amazon employees told The New York Times, was any and all corporate sympathy for its workers, often leading them to live in a perpetual state of job-related stress.
“When you have so much turnover, the risk is that people are seen as fungible," Amy Michaels, who left the company in 2014, explained to the Times. "You know that tomorrow you’re going to look around and some people are going to have left the company or been managed out.”
Many of Amazon's self-described "superstars" admitted that the company was, in fact, known for weeding out workers who couldn't handle the company's demands or who were viewed as being potential problems.
A new report from Bloomberg describes how at many Amazon warehouses, the first thing that many employees see are large flat-screen monitors letting them know that in order to prevent theft, they're being constantly watched on the job.
The ominous, continuously-playing slideshow depicts former employees caught stealing, represented by black silhouettes, and describes how they got caught and how they were reprimanded.
“Only people that would have something to say about it is people that’s doing wrong,” Maurice Jones, a former warehouse worker, told Bloomberg. “It’s just letting people know that you’re being watched.”
Mixed in with the descriptions of how some employees were caught stealing and subsequently arrested are the sort general bulletins one might expect to find in an office break room, like reminders that February is Black History Month.
On the one hand, the warnings make sense given that loss prevention is a critical element of Amazon's abiliy to stay profitable. On the other, there's something to be said for the sort of company culture the constant reminders create.
In George Orwell's 1984, the residents of Oceania are always surrounded by two-way television screens that both watch and listen to them while also beaming in propaganda from the state.
In addition to being greeted with the flatscreens when they come into work, Amazon warehouse workers are equipped with devices directing them through their day, allocating their time for them, and warning their managers when they're falling behind.
Are the two management styles a perfect one-to-one comparison? Not quite. Does one imagine that Jeff Bezos might have a slight respect for Orwell's Big Brother? Definitely.