Do Amazon employees all cry at their desks?

August 17, 2015, 1:35 PM UTC

If you, like me, were at the beach yesterday, you may have missed the social media cyclone stirred up by the New York Times’ page one epic depicting Amazon (AMZN) as some sort of high-paid, high-tech sweatshop. When you have time, the story is worth a read. But if you don’t have time, the ex-employee quoted just below the banner – a spot normally reserved for headlines about World War III and such – provided the gist: “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Former GE (GE) CEO Jack Welch, who recognized some of his own management tactics in the story, went on Twitter (TWTR) to call it “unrealistic” and “biased,” adding a hashtag: “#meritocracy/winning.” Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreesen said he’s “talked with hundreds of Amazon vets” over the last two decades and “not one didn’t think it’s a good place to work.” Ex-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the story “has ‘taken out of context’ stamped all over it.”

I won’t dispute the Times’ (NYT) reporting. It’s clear why Amazon doesn’t make Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. But in a note to employees yesterday, Amazon chief Bezos made the point that kept going through my mind as I read the story: “The people we hire are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want…Anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay.”

The furor brought to mind a truly great piece of journalism written at the dawn of the tech age – Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of A New Machine – that captured a fundamental truth about humanity. We will make huge sacrifices, endure inconceivable hardships and work unimaginably hard, if we feel we are making an important contribution to a cause we believe in. Nap pods not required.

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