Call to Action – Amazon Employees


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If you love your job at Amazon, be proud. Nothing is more fulfilling than believing in the job you’re doing and being excited about getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve been there. It was absolutely awesome, and a source of great pride.

I caution – do not be willing to immediately dismiss the horror stories you have heard about Amazon. From my observation during my twelve-year tenure, bad leadership practices are not something that happen on every team, every department, or every organization. But they do happen. When HR gets involved, the employee’s best interest is not always the priority.

I say this as a former HR professional. Human Resources has changed over the years, cultivating into the position of HR Business Partner. That’s right – an HR position that emphasizes a partnership with the business rather than being a genuine resource for humans. In this partnership, one of HR’s functions has taken center stage – protecting the company from getting sued. Think about that any time you hear stories of people who were given money to leave their positions with the requirement of signing a non-disclosure document. Why can’t they not talk about the terms of termination unless it’s something that could potentially be a PR nightmare for the company? However, those former employees are talking, at least anonymously and without giving specifics. It’s a story I’ve heard about multiple former Amazon employees. HR’s standard response to this is if you can’t give specifics, they can’t investigate. Well, that’s the crux, right? With a signed document, if someone does talk they are setting themselves up for litigation that they are not likely to financially afford. Without those specifics, the company can poo-poo the issue and say it doesn’t exist. Where’s the metrics, where’s the data, right?

It does exist. I resigned after I found myself in a position with a team that had quickly turned into a toxic environment with a boss who not only had no business being a people manager, it seemed that she couldn’t remember basic elements in a standard leadership 101 book. Even worse, the director of the organization appeared to have had an almost pathologically blind support of her. Why? In my opinion and from what I saw, she delivered to the higher ups, and that’s what mattered – regardless of how she trampled the people below her.

Notice that I emphasized “had quickly turned.” The Independent Publishing team at Amazon wasn’t always like that. It definitely wasn’t when I first joined the team.

Simply, does it exist on every team, every department, every organization? No. But in the places where it DOES exist, action is desperately needed. For those of you who are still employed as successful Amazonians, I would think that it is your duty – with your commitment to continuous improvement – to support shedding light on these instances that are creating a dismal atmosphere in some areas of the company. By not addressing it, it’s like saying the behavior is okay, unquestioned. That mentality spreads, possibly encouraging other leaders to attempt these egregious approaches to people and team management.

Take Uncle Jeff at his word. Don’t tolerate this behavior, even when it’s not happening to you specifically. That’s the biggest mistake I made. I didn’t start speaking out until I found myself in the rot. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t accept that any manager who behaves like this is good for the company. Do something before you’re the one in HR’s office trying to explain and get support as to why a manager’s behaviors are toxic for the team. Remember, toxicity can be contagious, infectious, and deadly – and killing a team’s morale is the antithesis to “Having Fun.”

Responding to Jeff Bezos’ Response to NYT


Readers of my blog know the issues I have had with my former employer, Amazon. I agreed with a lot that I read in the recent NYT article. Today, Jeff Bezos posted his response to this article. In reading Uncle Jeff’s response, I felt that he was very much out of touch with what was going on with middle and upper-level management. To give him some additional perspective, I wrote him the following e-mail. I did name names in this e-mail, but have taken them out for the blog posting for privacy reasons.

Jeff,

First, thank you for responding to the NYT story with your perspective on things. It’s refreshing to see that you still have the same vision that I fell in love with when I started with the company in 2002. I worked at Amazon until November 2014 and was often one of Amazon’s biggest cheerleaders. Unfortunately, that began to slowly change when I joined the Independent Publishing team in 2011.

I really had to wrack my brain to figure out where everything went sour. How did the employer that I loved so much become the place that was so disheartening, with stress levels that contributed to serious health conditions including atrial fibrillation, TMJ disorder, and severe panic attacks to the point of almost losing consciousness. Like stated in the NYT article, I am one of the ones that would often be crying at my desk until I finally did get to the point where I said enough is enough.

As you suggested in your response, I did report things to Human Resources. Aside from the inordinate amount of stress, things got worse in May 2014 when a new manager joined the team – *****. Many people left the team because of her condescending communication style – *****, *****, and ***** to name a few. I tried as best as I could to work with her and resolve issues one-on-one. Unfortunately, things came to a head in e-mail communication when the possibility of taking on even MORE work was suggested (after I was already doing the job of two people). I had to be honest and advise that I had a disability covered by ADA and taking on even more work would negatively impact my already bad health. I was specific in choosing my words – I didn’t say that I wouldn’t do the work, I said that if I did, it would negatively impact my health. She responded insensitively suggesting that I needed to be in another position and wrapped her response up with the “we are under the gun to get it deployed. From Amazon’s point of view the business comes first, i.e. customer obsession and deliver results, as the idea is people/leaders look after themselves and manage change.” I was shocked that I would get this type of response after identifying myself as someone with a disability. I continued to have issues with her. I went to HR (HRBP’s name) on multiple occasions about the issues only to be ultimately told that **** didn’t break any Amazon policies, so the feedback would just be forwarded to her manager (her manager’s name). My response to HR was “Regardless of whether it can be considered egregious or a violation of Amazon policy, it is not a healthy environment. And quite honestly, if Amazon supports this type of environment, then there is more for me to be concerned about than just what we discussed on Friday.” Not long after this, I submitted my resignation and honestly, I have been happier and healthier since I left. As I told HR, ***** has no business being a people manager. I also pointed out to HR that if they were taking the stand that regardless of her behavior that she didn’t break Amazon policy, then the message I hear is that the current Amazon leadership style is that it’s okay to be an asshole to your employees. To this day I still have nightmares about that toxic working environment.

I wish this was the only instance of bad people management I have seen. Unfortunately a couple of years before this my sister ***** (HTS Area Manager) had her position terminated after long absences…because she was taking care of her daughter who had leukemia. Not exactly the PR story you would want out, but I get the feeling that Amazon fixed that with her. ***** has never said anything about it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she was given money and had to agree not to talk about it. The reason why I suspect this is because I’ve heard stories of it happening with other employees. For the facts, I guess you would have to ask ***** and *****. For me, I should have known that if that could happen, then other malodorous things were on the horizon.

 
I have tried since the middle of last year to think of where things could have changed in my 12 year tenure with Amazon. The closest I have come to an answer is the rapid expansion that we saw right after the release of the first Kindle. Amazon had to grow SO quickly SO fast that unfortunately Amazon took on many people from other major companies who had bad management practices without giving much credence to whether they would be “Amazonian.” As these hires grew and spread over multiple departments, unfortunately many groups within Amazon are now no better than Microsoft in their approach to employees and leadership. Actually, I know former Amazon employees who like being at Microsoft better! It’s really disheartening. When I left, it was very much like escaping an abusive relationship. Heartbreaking to this day.

I would also like to point out that this is not coming from a bad employee who is trying to smear Amazon. If you look at my track record, I was an excellent employee with good reviews every year that I had them. I never had any disciplinary action nor was I ever on a PIP – in 12 years. If it could happen to me, one has to wonder how many other stories like this are true.

I urge you to dive deep into the front lines where these problems occur. From what I saw, it’s not an issue with executives or the S-team. The rot lies with upper and middle level management. Please do as many skip-levels that are required to weed out the element that is ruining the company employee relations from the inside. Bring back the times when been a right fit for Amazon actually meant something. Amazon has been great at being #1 in customer service year over year. Please consider why Amazon has never been on the list of best places to work.

All the best for things to improve.

Powering through the Pain


hope concept

I had every intention to post the second part of my blog series “My Life Beyond Fat.” Unfortunately, my body had other plans.

I have been having severe abdominal pain for a while and ended up in the emergency room a few nights ago. After ER testing and follow-up ultrasound with my doctor, they confirmed that I have a 3.5 inch mass around my left ovary. The mass consists of two simple cysts and one complex, solid cyst that has the features of an endometrioma. I have a follow up with a specialist on Tuesday, which will probably mean an MRI. If it is confirmed endometrioma, surgery is likely along with a biopsy to confirm that it is benign. Until then, pain management…which means lots of pain meds, chamomile tea, laying around, and reading. It also means that I’m getting seriously behind on writing and editing work. That stuff can wait. I want this orange size thing out of my body!

Thank the Goddess we’re in the Chicago area now, close to family who is helping to take care of me. Wowza. My husband suggested that surely it didn’t hurt that much. I suggested that he stand close enough so I could grab his junk and twist it as hard as I could…then he would know exactly how much it hurt. *wink*

My Life Beyond Fat, Part I – The Beginning


Broken heart sign, loss of love concept

I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t fat. However, it has taken me over thirty years to type that sentence. When I was younger, I would have been mortified if someone said the “f” word. When it came to my self image, I knew two things when I was younger: I was fat, and fat is unattractive. As many young girls in our culture do, I deduced that I was unattractive. And because of this deduction, I was mortified when someone said the “f” word because they were basically saying I was ugly.

Adolescence is a perilous time. If children can be mean, then teenagers can be downright evil. Along with growing up being told that I was fat (sic ugly), and that I “had such a pretty face if only I could lose weight,” in middle school an older student branded me Shamu. When everyone would snickered, I joined the laughter as if I were in on the joke instead of being the joke. Little did they know that the laughter was merely the embankment for my tears…tears that I would later expel in the privacy of my bedroom.

The media only compounded my debasement. Bear in mind that a significant part of my adolescence occurred in the 1990s during the height of “heroin chic.” As I would gaze longingly at the magazines in the grocery store checkout, I saw no reflection. I could not see myself in those pages. I would look down at myself and silently pray that God could transform me into the gossamer models that seemingly everyone either favored or emulated, sometimes both.

Then there was me. The opposite. Not to be favored. Not to be emulated. Not to be loved.

The media images and name calling built into a gospel cacophony. As in all things, repetition builds fluency, and I soon became an expert in fat and shame.

A Taste of “Finding Serenity”


The full moon in the night sky reflected in water

As I wait through the process of review and editing with “Mining the Dark,” I have been working on my Mountain State Vampire novella, “Finding Serenity.” This story is a bit of background on Dr. Rick Allstedt. Here’s a small taste. The tone is a bit different than the other books. Enjoy and Fang on! v–v

“Over several weeks I continued to acquaint myself with her, usually meeting at CBGB or another dank and dark club. Sometimes I just watched. Seeing her move in her world was like witnessing an epic adventure, a heroine navigating her way through the turmoil of the human condition, all while maintaining a dignity and grace that most humans can never claim. I was sleek in my observations, only making contact when the time was right…when she would be amenable to my advances. The last thing I wanted was for her eyes to fill with dread at my approach. Yes, I wanted her to excite when she saw me, a quick rush of blood through her veins, her skin warming a few degrees above normal, blushing her countenance with the anticipation of my attention, my enthrallment. To be sure, I was the one who was enthralled beyond my own imaginings as a vampire. When I was with her, there was no life, no death, no breath, no blood…just Serenity.”

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