The great Amazon exodus

From Brad Stone’s “Fully Charged: Amazon’s great resignation” posted Monday to Bloomberg Technology subscribers:

According to media reports, the turnover rate inside the company is reaching crisis levels, and a record 50 vice presidents departed last year. “Like any company, we’re affected by macro trends, and what we’re seeing is in line with what’s happening across the industry,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

But according to employees I’ve recently spoken with, there’s little doubt that the Great Resignation, at Amazon at least, is on the verge of turning into a Great Exodus. One recently departed senior manager in the search engine group told me that of her intern class of 12 people, half had left in the last year. A senior engineering manager at Amazon Web Services, who also left last year, said that turnover in the cloud division was over 20% in 2021 and over 50% in some major AWS units. (The company says these figures are vastly overstated and that actual turnover is far lower.)

One frequently cited reason for the high rate of departures is Amazon’s unusual compensation structure. Unlike other tech companies, Amazon caps salaries at around $160,000 for its white-collar workers, then adds stock grants that gradually vest in steadily increasing chunks over a period of four years. The system made many employees wealthy when Amazon stock was notching double-digit gains every year. Now that the stock price is down 24% since its high last July, many employees—particularly engineers and experienced managers—can earn significantly more elsewhere. Inexplicably, Amazon never planned for the day when a languishing stock price would inevitably led to high rates of attrition.

Beyond compensation issues, Amazon also appears to be struggling with cultural challenges—including the ones that Momazonians founder Sarah Schnierer pointed out in her post, like an unremitting pace and cutthroat environment that doesn’t take into account the personal obligations of employees, particularly during the pandemic. “Spending 5.5 years at Amazon is wild—most people don’t stay there that long because it’s a really demanding place to work,” Schnierer said in an interview. “Add on all the stress of raising two kids, Covid and daycare closures, and I was so wiped. I had tried to be a change maker and I saw some progress but since the pandemic it wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. I knew plenty of teams whose version of flexibility was acknowledging that emails wouldn’t be answered until midnight.”

My take: Working at Apple can be stressful, but Jeff Bezos’ megacap is in a class of its own. If you’re interested in Amazon’s business culture, Stone’s “The Everything Store” (2013) and “Amazon Unbound” (2021) are the books to read.

2 Comments

  1. Jonny T said:
    Met a Michelin Starred restaurant chef this weekend who had nothing to do at peak lockdown. Thought it would be interesting to work at an Amazon warehouse (?!). Vicious Eastern European managers and a completely toxic environment.

    Amazon needs to be completely automated.

    1
    January 24, 2022
  2. Fred Stein said:
    From Glassdoor:
    Apple/Amazon:
    Recommend to friend: 82/71
    Approve of CEO: 92/80
    Overall Stars: 4.2/3.8

    Happy to own Apple.

    4
    January 24, 2022

Leave a Reply