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The Simple Moral Of Amazon's Workplace Story

I've been taking a summer blogging break to rest my mind before returning in September.

I figured that everyone is on vacation (in mind, if not in body) this time of year. Also, I like to think that I'm practicing what I preach on this blog by taking some time off. How can I encourage anyone else to put the work away if I never do it myself?

Then I read the New York Times story about workplace practices at, and so much for my self-imposed summer blogging break.

From reportedly having employees navigate a "rank and yank" system to encouraging verbal aggressiveness in meetings to questioning the loyalty of employees facing the worst life has to throw at them, Amazon's workplace culture sounds like a case of mean management on steroids.

The moral of the story, at least to me, is how easy it can be to lose perspective in today's overwrought workplaces that run on caffeine and contradiction. The contradictions are everywhere. We're encouraged to think like entrepreneurs at the same time employers track us ever more closely. We're placed on teams that might not exhibit much, if any, real teamwork. Technology is there to free us on the job, but it ends up confining us instead. We repackage old concepts to sound brand-new (today's "gig economy" is yesterday's "free agent nation"), and somehow fail to see the humor in it.

Worst of all, if we're not careful, we can begin to place more faith and loyalty in our employer than in our closest personal relationships. Something seems to be going haywire with our modern work culture, and we need to regain some much-needed workplace perspective. Here are seven takeaways for keeping our work lives in perspective in today's all-or-nothing workplaces:

1. Speak with someone who has lost a job. The average working professional fears unemployment more than just about anything, and it can drive a lot of on-the-job decision-making. Ask a friend or family member what it was like to lose a job. You'll hear fascinating tales of personal resilience in the face of adversity, and it can be oddly freeing to verbalize our unspoken workplace fears.

2. Imagine yourself without a job title. If you were stripped of your job title today, who would remain? How would you describe yourself to others? What makes you interesting outside of your job? If you're stuck for ideas, then it's a sign you need to broaden your horizons. Hobbies, family, volunteering, REM sleep at 3 a.m. and being mentally present at Thanksgiving dinner are the things of which a good life is made. On that note...

3. Set personal boundaries. What goes over the line for you at work? The more dysfunctional a workplace culture, the more your personal boundaries could be severely challenged. Doing the right thing at work takes courage and strength. Make it a career goal to look back with pride on how you carried yourself in a professional role, and how you managed to take the high road when it mattered most. You are far greater than any job title. Strive to be a good person first, and a talented professional second.

4. Stop obsessing about career. Our very serious obsession with all things "career" has clouded our vision. A good career is nice, but ultimately a career is simply a series of jobs performed over the long term. Good job titles are nice, but they can be a fickle mistress (See Tip #2). Good money is nice too, but it can't fix a poor work environment or fill us with joy. Stay open-minded to life's possibilities. Ladders are meant to be moved, not just climbed.

5. Don't get taken in by a "smart" pitch. A potential, high-profile employer tells you how it hires only "smart" employees. The company likes you, and that feels so good, doesn't it? Employers aren't playing dumb; they're smartly playing to your ego! But is it the right fit? Always trust your gut instincts. They're trying to tell you something. (And if your parents don't understand your decision, well, it's not their life.)

6. Don't fear failure. Refuse to be afraid of failure. Failing represents opportunities for growth, learning, experimentation and innovation. It's not all bad. Then again, some modern metrics might make us feel set up to fail. Today's workplace metrics indicate that our work teams are failing, but how are today's workplace metrics failing our work teams? Hmm. Now that's a good question!

7. Think dynamically about the workplace. The workplace isn't a static enterprise. It's always changing, and so are you! Envision yourself as a much older employee, potentially with a mortgage, a family and a bad lower back. Could you keep up the pace? Will current workplace metrics suit your older professional self someday? Life moves fast. Younger employees have a great opportunity to craft future workplaces that incorporate human nature into the metrics.

Well, it's some pie-in-the-sky food for thought for sure, especially since we'll be working through lunch again. It's never too late to create a kinder workplace, and to go a little bit easier on ourselves (see Tip #4). It's a big job, but somebody has to do it! Flag it as an "urgent" task. Now let's get to work.


  1. Not my kind of work environment. Dedication and hard work are great, but not 24/7 at the sacrifice of free time, rest, exercise, and pursuit of other interests.

    1. I agree. Everyone needs some downtime. No job is worth one's health, and Rome wasn't built in a day. Thanks for your comment!


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