08/26/2015 Molly Moseley

Want to create a toxic work environment? Just mimic what Amazon does

Emails at midnight requiring a response. Employees encouraged to criticize and undermine colleagues. Virtually everyone is losing it and crying at their desks. For most of us, this describes our nightmare employer. But for thousands of people who work for Amazon, this is reality.

Or so a recent New York Times article leads us to think.

The minute the story was published, everyone was talking about the horrific claims of how our beloved online retailer seemingly steals the souls of every person who works there. Could it all be true? Are a few bad eggs complaining without just cause, or is management failing to address major issues? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Businesses both big and small can learn from the bad press by taking a step back to evaluate their corporate culture and decide what’s working and what’s not. By regularly asking some important questions, improvements can be made to help boost employee engagement and satisfaction, and therefore, productivity and retention.

1. Is there adequate work-life balance?

The Times article claims Amazon employees often work 80 or more hours a week. Clearly few other things exist beside work and sleep when those are the hours you’re expected to clock.

While people may understand work is a priority, it’s not their only priority. Work-life balance is a must for attracting and retaining quality workers. In fact, 52 percent of people have turned down a job due to work-life balance concerns, according to an Accenture survey. Additionally, the survey found work-life balance topped employees’ definition of success, ahead of money.

2. Is the culture attracting the right employees?

Every business has a unique culture. For example, what you’ll find at a conservative financial institution won’t likely be the same as a small advertising start-up. The culture is a reflection of the brand and it should represent the qualities you want to see in employees. If everything aligns, it can be one of the best ways to attract the right people for the right jobs.

In Amazon’s case, there appears to be a major disconnect between the culture and the brand image. Are some employees coming to the company expecting one thing and experiencing another? It’s possible, and high turnover rates will follow.

3. What are people saying and how is it affecting the company’s reputation?

In business, few things are more valuable than reputation. Reputation opens doors and closes deals. It also influences who will be the lifeblood of a company and work there. Want unbiased insight into what employees think about working at your company? Look online, company review sites and social media are fantastic resources.

Amazon’s Glassdoor rating isn’t as stark as the Times report would have us think it. At 3.4 out of 5 stars (based on 5.9K reviews), the company ranks average, neither particularly high nor low. Still, their PR team is definitely in crisis mode, and our bet is that they are working extra hard to recover from the media blow. This won’t be the last we hear of this story.