Insiders reveal what it’s really like working at Amazon when it comes to hiring, firing, performance reviews, and more

Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy surrounded by images of workers and robots in Amazon warehouses
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy.

  • Insider is investigating Amazon’s workplace amid a major effort to unionize the company.
  • The e-commerce and cloud giant has a complex performance-review system some employees say is unfair.
  • Amazon is investigating allegations of gender bias in its Prime division after Insider reporting.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is the second-largest US employer and still one of the fastest-growing in the country. It offers income and benefits to well over 1 million people, and it’s been a source of jobs and shopping convenience during the pandemic.

With that level of influence, Amazon’s operations have come under intense scrutiny, which has prompted a nationwide unionization effort. The following covers everything you need to know about what it’s like to work at the company.


How Amazon culls its workforce

Andy Jassy
Under outgoing CEO Andy Jassy, Amazon’s cloud unit has built up an impressive roster of cloud security partners – but they often also work with competitors Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

Insider is investigating Amazon’s system for improving, or ousting, employees deemed underperformers. Once managers label workers as struggling, they are put on a “Focus” coaching plan. If they fail there, the workers are moved to another program called “Pivot,” and then finally to an internal company jury that decides their fate at the company.

The system has been criticized by some current and former employees, who say it is unfairly stacked against them and can encourage managers to give bad reviews to good staff. Amazon says it gives managers tools to help employees improve and advance in their careers. “This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching. If an employee believes they are not receiving a fair assessment of their performance, they have multiple channels where they can raise this,” a company spokesperson said recently.

Amazon has a goal to get rid of a certain number of employees each year, which is called unregretted attrition. Some managers at the company told Insider they felt so much pressure to meet the target that they hire people who they intend to fire within a year.

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The company has been hit with allegations of bias

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There’s been a rash of lawsuits filed against Amazon alleging gender and racial bias. In May, five current and former female employees sued the company Amazon, claiming “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.”

In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a suit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she saw as a “harassment culture,” Insider reported.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.

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Amazon’s warehouses churn through workers

Robots in a UK Amazon warehouse
Robotic Amazon warehouses use robots to ferry shelves of items around the warehouse floor. Above, a photo taken in an Amazon warehouse in the UK.

The company’s fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don’t stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.

Amazon warehouses are partly automated, using robots that zip around the shop floor fetching pallets of merchandise and bringing them to employees who pick the correct items and pack them for shipping. The company hires thousands of extra temporary workers each year to support a surge in orders during the holiday shopping period.

During the pandemic, online orders have jumped at an unusual time for Amazon. It prompted an unprecedented hiring spree last year but caused tension with workers concerned about entering warehouses that could spread the virus. These issues came to a head earlier this year, when employees at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to form a union. The effort failed, but there’s a bigger union push gathering steam.

In his final shareholder letter as CEO earlier this year, Jeff Bezos defended Amazon’s working conditions, but said the company needed “to do a better job for our employees.”

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Amazon’s delivery network relies on thousands of drivers

Amazon delivery drivers pee bottle 4x3

The company partners with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, but it also operates a massive fleet of in-house delivery vehicles. These vans are driven by a combination of employees, third-party courier services, and contract workers.

Amazon is known for imposing strict time constraints on drivers and tracking how many times they stop and how fast they drive. While the company factors in break times – a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks – some drivers say they either can’t or don’t want to take them.

Earlier this year, a US lawmaker tweeted that Amazon workers have to pee in bottles. The company denied this, but multiple drivers confirmed it was part of the job. Amazon later apologized and said drivers have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic and being on rural routes, adding that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.

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How to get a job at Amazon

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Job seekers line up to apply during “Amazon Jobs Day” at a fulfillment center in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 2017.

Amazon remains an important employer that is growing quickly. Unlike some of its Big Tech rivals, the company offers a range of positions, from highly technical roles to blue-collar jobs. It’s recruiting methods range from massive job fairs to tough one-on-one interviews.

The company ranks among the top employers among technical students. In a survey published last year, Amazon came 10th in a survey of engineering students, beating out Intel and IBM but trailing Tesla and SpaceX.

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The history of the rolling suitcase shows how sexism can warp economics

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Rolling suitcases were seen as the domain of women.

  • A new essay in The Guardian highlights how rolling suitcases were undermined by gender roles.
  • The suitcases were seen as female-coded for years, keeping them out of the mainstream.
  • The anecdote showcases how systemic biases shape our economy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Today, rolling suitcases are the mainstays of moving sidewalks, duty-free shops, and business commuters pacing while on the phone. But while it’s a no-brainer that rolling a suitcase is easier on your arms than carrying it, they’re still a relatively recent addition to the mainstream.

That’s strange, though, because they’ve been around for a long time.

An essay in the Guardian by Katrine Marçal argues that the product resisted widespread adoption for decades because of sexism. Women were rolling suitcases for decades before the actual product was officially “invented” in 1972, Marçal reports, writing there was an “unmanly” association with the product. It also ran into another gender norm: That men were expected to tote luggage on everyone’s behalf. Luggage wasn’t seen by society as something that should ease travel burdens for women traveling alone, Marçal writes.

Eventually, as Marçal chronicles, solo travel by women became more ubiquitous in the 1980s – and a new design in 1987 somehow made the rolling suitcase safe for men to use, too.

The anecdote showcases how what is seen as the traditional cycle of economics – products meeting demand, and consumers buying them – can’t be separated from perceptions around gender roles and other systemic exclusion. In the case of the rolling suitcase, men went without a more useful device for years, for no reason besides bias. But economic history has more serious repercussions than sore arms from similar instances of prejudice.

For instance, women are about 70% more likely to get seriously injured or die in a car crash, Insider’s Rachel Premack reported in 2019. It may be coincidence, but female crash test dummies weren’t used until 2003, and when American car companies introduced that dummy, she was just five feet tall and weighed 110 pounds.

Beyond automotive safety, many consumer products are designed without women in mind, Nicola Erdmann and Sophia Ankel reported in 2019. For instance, many smartphones are too small for women’s hands – and Apple, which came under particular fire for iPhones being too large, didn’t include a menstrual tracker as part of its health app for several years.

While men can and do use rolling suitcases today, biases can persist in shaping the economy, and who has access to certain products. As Insider’s Isobel Asher Hamilton reported, algorithmic bias goes beyond apps that depixelate people of color’s faces into white faces; leading facial recognition software is less adept at identifying darker faces and female faces. That type of software has been used in policing – a practice that was curtailed in the last year following protests over racist police brutality (and following years of advocacy by activists).

And, while the fashion and clothing industry has somewhat opened the doors in terms of plus-sized fashion, many retailers still opt out of clothing larger bodies – potentially leaving billions on the table.

It makes one wonder, what economic progress is being left behind right now, just because of perception around gender roles?

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Why you need to be aware of your implicit biases to support your colleagues during stressful times

stress migraine
To support our colleagues through stressful times, we have to leave bias at the door.

  • Gender bias – the tendency to associate certain traits more so with one gender – can creep into work.
  • Everyone should be aware of their own biases to create a climate of trust for colleagues experiencing stress.
  • Be mindful of others, and don’t assume a colleague’s stress is due to being in a marginalized group.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Let’s say your colleague shows up for your Zoom meeting crying. When you ask what’s wrong, they share that they’re having a tough time balancing the demands of work with three young children at home, caregiving for aging parents, and dealing with a spouse who travels constantly for work.

So, what does this colleague look like? Did you picture a woman?

If so, you’re not alone. Like so many of us, you may have some implicit gender bias about things like who’s more likely to cry at work, who takes care of young children, or who is a caregiver for aging parents.

Gender bias is the tendency to associate certain traits with one gender over another. Sometimes, this means favoring one gender over the other. And gender bias is just one of many biases that we need to be aware of – and work on – to support our colleagues during stressful times.

But let me start with some good news if you’re struggling with the assumptions you made: If you have a brain, you have bias. We tend to think of bias as a bad thing, but it isn’t always.

Read more: I went through a divorce and months of unhappiness in my role before I hit my breaking point. Here’s how I put my life back together.

Bias is a natural byproduct of the way our brains work. Biases help us categorize objects so that we can quickly determine what’s safe and what isn’t. Biases help us make decisions more easily so that we don’t have to tap into our cognitive bandwidth every time we decide something. A bias toward eating more vegetables and less dessert is a healthy bias, for example.

For most of us, starting at a young age, we start to discriminate between those who are like us – the “in group” – and those who are not like us – the “out group.” Recognizing our in group can help us develop our sense of identity, belonging, security, and safety – but it can also lead to harmful prejudices.

As researcher Jennifer Eberhardt explains in her book, “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” “at its root, bias is not an affliction that can be cured or banished. It’s a human condition that we have to understand and deal with.”

So, let’s look at some biases we should all be aware of, especially when creating a climate of openness and trust for our colleagues who are experiencing stress.

Be aware of discrimination and its effects

Chances are, you’re working with colleagues who are part of marginalized populations, which are groups that may experience discrimination because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions. Here are just a few:

  • LGBTQIA+ professionals
  • Senior citizens
  • Racial/cultural minorities
  • Military combat veterans
  • People with physical disabilities
  • People with mental illness, including substance abuse and other addiction disorders
  • People on the autism spectrum

Of course, your colleague doesn’t have to identify with one of these categories to be subject to discrimination. Perceived discrimination consistently has been shown to be associated with diminished mental health, and even the anticipation of discrimination can lead to higher stress levels. Constantly feeling on edge or unsure about how you’ll be treated can trigger a long-standing stress response.

Whether it’s related to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or beliefs, feeling undervalued and uncertain about the future directly impacts mental health now and in the future.

Learn about stereotypes and microaggressions

So what can we do about discrimination issues? We need to be mindful of our own stereotypes and microaggressions. Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about a particular type of person or a group of people.

So, if you’re speaking with a woman about her stress, make sure you don’t assume that she’s the primary caregiver at home. If you’re speaking with a colleague with a disability about his stress, don’t assume that his stress is related to his disability.

And what about microaggressions? According to Columbia University’s Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

So, if you’re speaking with a non-native English speaker about stress, don’t “compliment them” for being able to speak so clearly or fluently. If you’re speaking with a non-binary colleague about their stress, don’t say, “I can’t keep up with your latest pronouns.”

Finally, we shouldn’t assume that the stress a colleague of ours is experiencing right now is about their marginalized group experience. And we also shouldn’t assume that it isn’t. There’s more about other people’s experiences, cultures, and backgrounds than we can ever truly understand. So be thoughtful, careful, compassionate, and open to feedback about how you’re speaking and showing up for everyone – equitably.

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Police ignored the role of race and gender in the Georgia shootings. Here’s what Asian advocates in Atlanta are saying about it

Atl Flowers
Lijing Zhao lays a bouquet of flowers outside a spa where four people were shot and killed on March 17, 202. in Acworth, Georgia.

  • Georgia activists have mobilized to help the families of six Asian women killed on March 16.
  • The attack has forced a conversation over misogyny and hypersexualization directed at Asian women.
  • Georgia officials came under fire for accepting the alleged shooter’s narrative of the attack.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

E. Lim had little time to process the brutal attack that claimed the lives of six Asian women and two others at three Metro-Atlanta spas.

As the organizing and civic engagement director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Lim-like many of their colleagues-was in response mode. Atlanta born and raised and a local organizer since 2015, Lim told Insider their initial reaction was to detach from the killings.

“I’ve had to dissociate so hard, because I know people in similar situations,” said Lim referring to the common experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

The horrific violence that unfolded on Tuesday night in Atlanta has forced a national conversation over the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination, as well as the misogyny and hypersexualization directed at Asian women in this country.

The official narrative of what happened, which seemed to accept the explanation given by the assailant, has also galvanized Asian-American activists and organizers in Georgia to turn this into a teachable moment.

“It is racialized,” said Lim. “When you talk about ‘massage parlors’ and then talk about how sex work might be involved, you’re talking about race.”

A statement condemning systemic racism and gender-based violence had 180 signatories from state and national organizations, said Stephanie Cho, director of the AAAJ-Atlanta. The group is fundraising to support the families of those killed.

“White supremacy is literally killing us,” said Cho. “Asian American communities have been under the radar on this issue, but honestly, this is a time for us to really come together, be in solidarity, and really have those tough conversations community conversations around policy.

“YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT RACE”

Beginning at around 5pm on Tuesday night, a gunman attacked a massage parlor north of Atlanta, and then two other massage parlors in metro Atlanta, killing six Asian women and two others.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department identified the four people killed at Young’s Asian Massage as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was also injured in the shooting. As of Thursday morning, the Atlanta Police Department had not released the names of the four people killed at the two spas in Atlanta.Sent from my iPhone

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Flowers were left at one of the spas targeted in the March 16 attack.

Around 6% of the population in metro Atlanta identifies as Asian, according to Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2020 estimates. Cherokee County, where the first attack occurred, is around 2% Asian.

Almost immediately, the narrative of what had happened put forward by Georgia officials downplayed a “racial motivation” for the killings and relied on what the alleged killer had told police. Jay Baker, the spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff, said at a news conference that the suspect had had “a really bad day,” was “kind of at the end of his rope,” and had told police that he considers himself a “sex addict.”

But community leaders in Atlanta had a clear message: The racism and misogyny impacting Asian women must not be ignored. And even if sex work was involved, the lives of these women were no less valuable than any other.

The killings also hit home hard for Wei Jia, a local organizer, who lives about a mile from one of the spas. Echoing others, Jia told Insider that the focus on whether the perpetrator was a sex addict fit into an old trope of a Jack the Ripper like character with no real interrogation of history.

“The sheriff sympathizing with the gunman, like saying that he just had a ‘bad day’ speaks volumes,” said Jia. “He didn’t mention anything about the women that were killed. Didn’t mention anything about their families, about their lives.”

Jia pointed to the long history of dehumanizing and sexualizing Asian women: Prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, The United States banned the immigration of Chinese Women in the Page Act of 1875 under the guise of preventing sex work.

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A woman places a sign of solidarity outside a spa where four people were killed on March 17, 2021 in Acworth, Georgia.

“That a white male murdered Asian women in the United States is part of a very long history of white supremacist violence against anybody who wasn’t white,” Jia said.

Blaming an alleged sexual addiction as the motive in the killing of six Asian women and two others is itself racist, while taking the perpetrator at his word further victimized the victims and denied them their humanity, said Bentley Hudgins, a queer organizer based in Atlanta. “They’re so ready to distance themselves from calling this racist and misogyny and trying to downplay this as just like a white incel who was mad he didn’t get off that they’re missing the point entirely,” Hudgins said in an interview.

Hudgins and Jia’s comment came just hours before Buzzfeed News reported that Baker, the sheriff’s department spokesperson, posted racist anti-Asian shirts on Facebook last April that blamed China for the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, which tracks xenophobic hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 3,795 incidents have been reported between last March 19 and Feb. 28 of this year. Close to 70% of the incidents were against women. In a recent survey, NAPAWF found that nearly half of Asian American and Pacific Islander women have been affected by anti-Asian racism in the past two years.

THROUGH TRAGEDY, A TEACHABLE MOMENT

Community advocates in Atlanta say they are prioritizing support for the victims’ families and the community at large, and they explained those efforts at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Much of our focus is back towards the victims and their families and really what our communities need,” Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund adding that legal services, mental health, and language support were needed.

Instead of allowing a sympathetic narrative toward the perpetrator to dominate coverage, attention should focus on reporting stories from the community and about how this attack impacted the community, she said. “We continue to bring the focus back to who are the most vulnerable in our communities, and working towards making sure that we can provide safety and security for us all.”

The intersection of race, gender, and class colors the response and underlying assumption made about the worth of those killed, the organizers said, while the killing of six women in the course of their work also underscores the vulnerability of those in low-wage jobs.

“This is a gender and race based violence that happened to our community,” said Leng Leng Chancey, Executive Director for 9to5, an organization focused on increasing economic security as well as political power and participation of working women.

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Julie Tran holds her phone during a candlelight vigil for the Atlanta victims held in Garden Grove, California.

She pointed to the challenges of dealing with sexual harassment and assault along with other institutional barriers. “Low-wage workers already faced multiple hurdles and systemic racism every day,” Chancey said. “I mean, who can you really report this to?”

Organizers said the events of this week, horrific as they were, can serve as teachable moments for how to discuss and cover violent attacks on marginalized communities, and the importance of listening to individuals from those communities.

Shortly after the attacks, the Asian American Journalists Association issued a guidance saying the use of “massage parlor” as a descriptor to describe the business establishments is outdated and reinforces negative stereotypes that hypersexualize and dehumanize Asian women.

The guidance also stressed the need to study the context within which Asian communities are experiencing and receiving this latest news, while acknowledging the diversity within the “Asian community.”

“The media needs to understand that the Asian community is not a monolith,” Sarah Park, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the Korean American Coalition, said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“We speak over hundreds of different languages. We practice different cultural religions, we are all different individuals.”

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