The company I have been discussing in previous posts, my soon-to-be-former employer, is the eCommerce juggernaut Amazon.
I used to love this company. I fully bought into and accepted the vision of what we were continuing to create 12 years ago. Like I’ve stated previously, I began having concerns in the past 6 years, specifically in how employees are treated. We expanded so quickly that we quickly hired many managers and decision makers who never fully internalized the vision in terms of employee relations.
Not long after I started with the company in the Huntington office, Jeff visited and spoke to all of us. One of the things he said that had always stuck out in my mind was that retailers were missing that mom-and-pop store feel. It’s something that he, that we, wanted to perpetuate in how we treated customers. And at that time, customers meant both external and internal. Things have changed.
I’ve seen a lot, I’ve heard a lot. Hell, as a cog in the machine, I’ve been a part of some things that I didn’t entirely agree with at the time. I’ll have to live with that. I was in denial. I would think, “Surely this is not what it looks like. There has to be more to the story than what I know. Anyone who has read a leadership 101 book knows that you will never be successful if you treat people this way. Employees are not loyal to a company, they’re loyal to their direct managers – and if the manager mistreats the staff, things begin to fall apart.” Well, that is what has been happening because although any good manager knows these things, there’s no place for it in the current Amazon climate. As I’ve stated before, the current leadership style is that it’s acceptable to be an asshole to your employees.
These things had to hit me square in the face for me to realize it. The first nudge was a couple of years ago.
Those of you who have followed my book, 80% of the proceeds of “The Source” go to Megan, a child who has survived leukemia twice. What I haven’t broadcast (except on my radio interview on The Rudebuoyz on WMUL) is that Megan is my niece. Her mother, my sister, used to also work for this eCommerce juggernaut as a manager. Her career with the company came to an end, involuntarily, when she over-extended her FMLA because she was taking care of her 8-year-old child who was being treated for cancer. What kind of company does that? Sure, it may be legal. Sure, it’s not against company policy. But is it an ethical or moral practice? In my opinion, abso-freaking-lutely NOT.
I had an emotional crisis at that point. This ugliness happened to my family. I wanted to rage against the machine then. Yet, I had convinced myself that I needed to trudge on, for the benefit of my own daughter, so I could provide the best I could for her – and ultimately use some of my income to help pay for Megan’s medical bills. Well, I’ve already discussed how non-competitive my pay was in the Seattle market. I’m sad to say that I’ve only been able to send $300 to help, along with the meager royalties from book sales. Still, $300 is better than nothing, right?
Then I was hit with it directly, as described in What Did You Like Least About Your Job. It took me getting broken to accept the fact that this company that I have loved for so many years actually views me and other employees as expendable.
I get it now. Message received. The Universe knows that sometimes I need to be hit between the eyes with a 2 x 4 before I clearly see things for what they are. My Third Eye is bruised, and I’m tired of being treated as less than what I AM. I’m also tired of others being treated the same way. If you are reading this, know that you are worth so much more than you realize – don’t let anyone ever try to convince you otherwise.
Still, I was broken. The great thing about this is that I now get to take the pieces and re-create them in the image I want, not the image someone else tells me to accept.
“Rise. Rebel. Resist.”
This is what my former employer, Amazon, asked me. This was my response, and is solely my opinion on the events that have happened over the past 6 months. **WARNING** some strong language.
Over the past six years, the leadership approach has changed significantly. The company is currently in a state where in leadership, it’s acceptable to be an asshole to your employees, even when that means being demoralizing, demotivating and condescending. I’m worth more than that, and it’s not something that I will accept. The company doesn’t pay me nearly enough to put up with it. This all started back in June, right after Ms. X became my manager. During our first 1:1, she asked me about the length of the eLearning courses we developed, and when I said that our target was for none of them to be longer than 20 minutes, she had a full-body reaction on the scale of Kramer from Seinfeld. My interpretation of her body language was that I just received a full-body eye roll, which implied that the work I had done was sub-par. I withheld comment at that time so that I wouldn’t speak from emotion. I scheduled a follow-up meeting with her to discuss my concerns with her communication and that with her being new to the team, I wasn’t certain how everyone would react (I specifically mentioned X employee, who later left the company because of these issues). Ms. X advised that she had an agreement with her last team that when she did these things, they were to speak up and ask what she really meant. My first thought on that was that if her previous team had to have this agreement, and it’s still going on, what does that say about this leadership approach? Immediately after this meeting, I began having tingling sensation all over, tunnel vision and felt like I was going to lose consciousness. Through drinking water and deep breathing, I was able to make it over to urgent care who sent me to the ER because of the possibility of a heart attack. The ER doctor concluded that I had had a severe panic attack, but noted that my blood sugar was higher than it should be. In my follow up with my PCP, we learned that I’m diabetic. I struggled after the diagnosis to get my blood sugar under control. At the time, the other ID had left the company and I was fulfilling the job of two IDs. Not long, we got a request to develop training for another team. Ms. X wanted us to provide data, facts as to why we couldn’t take this work on right now. In my e-mail message to her, I stated what I was working on for two people (since the other ID left), how long it would take me to complete, and what it would take to complete this new work. I followed this up with the following: “Additionally, what these facts/data do not capture is the human factor. I have a few medical conditions that are negatively impacted by stress, including one condition that is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008. I cannot take on additional work stress without escalating the current negative impact on my health. I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow (7/1/2014) to discuss next steps.”
Ms. X’s response to this shocked me: “I appreciate your note. Is there some other role that gives you a sense that it will be easier to maneuver.
The instructional design work will increase… it can be really fun work. The Sr. ID will be tasked with allocating the roadmap for both internal and external facing assets. From the company’s point of view the business comes first, as the idea is people/leaders look after themselves and manage change.” Emphasis added by me.
I was totally shocked that, one, a company people manager would respond in this way when someone identifies themselves as having a disability, and two, that the people manager would be ignorant enough to write it down in e-mail. Really, how would people react that speaking on the company’s behalf, a manager responded to a person with a disability with “From the company’s point of view, the business comes first.” I read this as “If you have a disability, manage it, deal with it and do your job or leave.”
It really felt like a betrayal by the company that I had come to love over the past 12 years. Even HR recognized how bad it was because the HR Business Partner apologized to me when discussing this issue. I actually only discussed the matter with HR because Ms. X went to them advising that I needed “special consideration” in my job. The days that followed that e-mail and the time Ms. X went to HR on me, it was a constant barrage of suggesting that I needed some kind of alternate arrangements (I never requested such), a different job, maybe work part time, etc. I was mentally beaten down with this to where I felt like I was no longer trusted to be able to do my job. I regularly cried at my desk (as witnessed by colleagues) and began having regular panic attacks (the severe kind where I almost lost consciousness – this happened one time when I was on I-5). I made an excuse at one point to work from home for a week because I could not drive toward the office without starting to panic and feeling like I was going to vomit. During this time I didn’t even leave my apartment for that week because I couldn’t even manage the thought of being around other people. I met with my PCP and discussed these things, to which she said she was shocked because she had never seen me like that. Because of my condition, she referred me to both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I was put on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication, including Xanax. I was able to come back into the office, but I would regularly have to take Xanax to be in meetings with my boss just so the way she communicated didn’t make me feel worse than I already did.
Even with all of this, things did not approve. I had one more face-to-face talk with Ms. X where I expressed concerns over what she thought about me, because her e-mail communication came off as so condescending, it made me think that she didn’t have a very high opinion of me. Again, she said that she wasn’t going to change, and she would write e-mails to me the same way she would to the new ID. I pointed out that her leadership training with adaptive coaching and adjusting your leadership style to your employees’ personalities – I told her that it seemed that she expected the rest of us to adjust when she’s not willing to do the same, although it’s what she teaches. She didn’t agree with me and pretty much ended the conversation.
It was okay for a while, then on October 17th I received another e-mail where Ms. X had jumped to conclusions and felt the need to e-mail me about the proper process, including our contractor on the e-mail, when if she would have sought to understand the situation, she would have known that I did everything that she had assumed that I hadn’t. It hit a brick wall – it was never going to end. I called my husband crying and begged him, “Can I quit today? Please say I can quit today?” After seeing how I had been, he agreed that continuing on with this company just wasn’t worth it. That day I met with HR and explained things. I had a box with me and advised that my intention was to pack up my desk then and leave. She asked me to give her the weekend and she would discuss the issue with my boss’s boss (she had documentation of all the issues I had with Ms. X). She said she would follow up with me on Monday, October 20th.
When I got the e-mail from HR on that Monday, she advised that after looking over everything, it was determined that Ms. X had not broken company policy. That was even more concern for me. I knew then, without a doubt, that the leadership style at the company had changed. We no longer cared about being customer centric for internal customers. As stated previously, the current leadership style is that it’s okay to be an asshole to your employees. I can’t accept that. Right after responding to that e-mail, I walked into Ms. X’s office and gave notice.
During this time (in June), I began getting insight from an investigator with the Seattle Human Relations Commission. When I told her about the work environment and the impact to my health, her initial response was, “J.B., this company has broken you.”
This experience pretty much encapsulates who I am as a person and as a writer.
When I was in high school, my junior English teacher scolded me for having a mixed metaphor in a poem I wrote.
I wrote another poem that was made entirely of mixed metaphors.
More’s the glory
Look to Heaven, look to her
Wrapped in clouds
Pinned with poison
Drip, drip, drip
Burn the eyes, turn the gut
Prostrate to freedom
More’s the glory
A scream not of terror, but of relief. On October 20, 2014, I gave notice at the office job that I’ve had for twelve years. Actually, my twelve-year anniversary will be the last day with the company, November 25, 2014.
The good news is that I will be taking a couple of months off from the corporate drag and focus on my writing. I will FINALLY have the energy and will to complete “Mining the Dark.” My ability to complete my own projects will be astronomical once I don’t have these other distractions.
The GREAT news is that I will devote much of this time to my daughter, spending the holidays with her and being more present at her school.
This time away from the grind will also allow me to continue my path to healthy living.
In a nutshell, I cannot wait for this next chapter to begin.
Expect more on these topics over the coming months as I continue to process the impact of it all, and how my life is getting better because I said ENOUGH.