Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookseller. Fast-forward to 2020, and Amazon is one of the world’s largest, most powerful, and (at times) controversial companies.
Amazon now employs nearly a million workers worldwide. At the end of the first quarter of 2020, the tech giant had more than 840,000 full- and part-time employees, according to its earnings report.
The multinational company also reported its net sales rose 26% in the first quarter to a staggering $75 billion. Though it started with selling books and music, Amazon has become the “Everything Store,” an online retailer of numerous products, the new owner of Whole Foods, and much more.
So, what’s it like to work for the world’s most valuable brand? It depends on who you’re asking. Amazon has several subsidiaries and business functions, so it would be difficult to cover every area of working for this tech behemoth. Working in an Amazon warehouse is much different than working as a delivery driver, in the corporate offices, or as a remote employee.
As one of the Big Four tech companies like Facebook and Google, Amazon is also a frequent target of criticism for a hyper-competitive work culture and its role as a corporate monopoly in the American economy. Major media sites have run multiple investigations into Amazon’s work culture over the years.
The Amazon jobs that have gotten the most media attention have been those at the company’s fulfillment centers, which is its nickname for warehouses. Amazon has about 75 huge fulfillment centers in North America that employ more than 125,000 full-time workers.
The tech company utilizes a variety of building types for fulfillment centers, and its largest ones are around 800,000 square feet in size. Typically, these warehouses employ about 1,500 full-time associates. In some fulfillment centers, Amazon employees work alongside robots that help sort, pick, and transport packages.
Amazon increased its minimum wage in late 2018, raising the rate to $15 per hour. The new wage covers full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal positions for about 350,000 employees who work in warehouses, customer service, and even at the newly acquired Whole Foods stores.
Full-time employees at Amazon also receive a generous benefits package, including medical, dental, and vision insurance, a 401(k)-retirement plan, and up to 20 weeks of paid maternal or paternal leave.
Sounds like a sweet deal, right? The pay may be good, and the benefits may be comprehensive. Still, many reports from media sources and ex-Amazon employees say working in a fulfillment center is dangerous and intense.
Amazon’s obsession with speed at its warehouses has led to high injury rates, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting. A report from The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health said employees at Amazon’s Staten Island, NY, warehouse experience “harmful working conditions that prioritize line speeds over safety.”
High Expectations and Hard Work
Amazon warehouse employees are typically assigned the roles of pickers or packers. Pickers pull merchandise off shelves and place them on conveyor belts, while packers package products, give them labels, and send them down conveyor belts to be taken to delivery drivers.
Emily Guendelsberger, a journalist, took a job as a picker at an Amazon warehouse and then gave a first-hand account in a 2019 book called On the Clock, and it painted a rather grim picture.
Guendelsberger attached a step counter to her shoes and said she was walking about 15 miles per day while retrieving and sorting packages. After a few shifts, the reporter said she began to feel intense pain in her feet.
In the book, Guendelsberger also mentions Amazon’s high production quotas in warehouses. She said the company tracks how quickly pickers retrieve items from shelves and place them in bins, which puts heavy mental and physical pressure on associates. The reporter says there are vending machines in some fulfillment centers with free over-the-counter pain medication, and there’s usually a long line outside the nurses’ office.
Rachael Lighty, an Amazon spokeswoman, told Syracuse.com the claims by critics like Guendelsberger are exaggerated. Lighty said warehouse employees are encouraged to take breaks, and the company supports workers who aren’t meeting performance goals and helps them to improve.
An Intense Corporate Culture
Amazon has an army of warehouse workers and delivery drivers, but also plenty of corporate employees. Jeff Bezos started the company in a garage in 1994, and now its headquarters in Seattle employs more than 45,000 people.
The tech giant has dozens of corporate offices worldwide, including ones in Santa Monica, CA, Brooklyn, NY, Vancouver, and Mexico City. Jobs at these offices include tech positions like software engineers and positions in business development, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate investments.
Getting a coveted corporate position at Amazon is difficult. Jeff Bezos sets a high bar for talent in the company’s hiring practices, and people who interview there are expected to know its 14 leadership principles. One of those principles is “Customer Obsession,” which Amazon’s website describes as “working vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.”
Amazon corporate employees make between an average of nearly $60,000 to almost $153,000 per year. This is a bit lower than Amazon’s big tech competitors, but its employees have an excellent benefits package, including bonuses and stock options.
If you want a job at Amazon corporate, it won’t be easy. Various reports over the years have claimed the company has an extremely competitive workplace culture.
Business Insider sorted through thousands of Glassdoor reviews and found that many employees say they like being challenged and working with brilliant people. But the culture can be “cutthroat,” and most people are expected to work 12 hours or more per day.
Despite claims of an intense culture, Amazon has an overall 3.9 rating out of 5 on Glassdoor, and 86% of current and former employees approve of Bezos, the CEO. Amazon was also ranked as LinkedIn’s best place to work in the world in 2018, taking over the top spot from working for Google.