Thursday, December 08, 2016 by Ethan Huff
An employee at major online retailer Amazon recently attempted to commit suicide by jumping from a 12-story building at the company’s Seattle-based headquarters complex, only to survive and presumably see his story published in the national news. Reports indicate that the man became disgruntled after Amazon’s handling of a transfer request, once again illustrating what many suspect are horrific worker conditions at the popular consumer goods middleman.
Authorities have dubbed the incident a failed suicide attempt, which took place at Amazon’s “Apollo” building around 8:45 a.m. on November 28. The man, who wished not to be publicly identified, survived the incredible plunge and was quickly taken to a nearby Seattle hospital for treatment, though his condition is mostly unknown. According to reports, the man had requested to be moved to a new department at the company, after which he was placed on an “employee improvement plan.”
The man was apparently punished for his initial request, as Amazon’s employee improvement plan is essentially a performance review that, if it isn’t passed in accordance with company guidelines, can lead to termination. In an email, the man expressed discontent with Amazon’s handling of his request, at the same time hinting that he might attempt to harm himself due to distress over it.
Amazon responded to the incident by issuing its condolences to the man, while also aiming to convey an image of compassion and hospitality towards its workers. The company has come under fire in recent years for alleged slave-labor conditions at its various facilities, which currently employ more than 20,000 people.
“Our thoughts are with our colleague as he continues to recover,” the Amazon company said in a statement. “He’s receiving some of the best care possible and we will be there to support him throughout the recovery process.”
But conditions at Amazon appear to be such that many employees unprepared for the company’s “peculiar” way of doing business might be driven to dire straits, including potential suicide. A New York Times (NYT) article from 2015 noted that things move at such an “unrelenting pace” at Amazon that many employees “hit the wall,” a consequence of what NYT writer Jodi Kantor described as Amazon’s “bruising workplace.”
“At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high,’” she writes.
“The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: ‘I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.’)”
Amazon is also known for its practice of engaging in “personal Darwinism,” or the culling of those considered to be “losers” from the employee ranks. These so-called losers apparently include people who develop serious health conditions like cancer, women who experience miscarriages, and those who suffer personal crises like a death in the family, all of whom are basically pushed out of the company rather than be given time to properly recover.
“You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” one former worker explained to the NYT about how meetings typically go at Amazon’s headquarters. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” he added, highlighting the cutthroat nature of the Amazon empire, and what it can do to employee morale.