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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Dismisses Claims In 'New York Times' Article

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Over the weekend, The New York Times Magazine published a brutal profile of the company Amazon, describing it as having a punishing white-collar sweatshop-like environment. Quoting mostly former employees, it depicts demands to answer emails at 3 a.m., a demoralizing evaluation system and staff having to endure penalties for having children or medical emergencies. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports that the piece prompted the company's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, to issue a rare response.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The Times interviewed over a hundred current and former employees and devoted nearly 6,000 words to describing the underside of Amazon's success. The article says new hires inculcated with an obsession with solving customer problems, and coworkers are encouraged to critique one another in a way that leaves grown men weeping at their desks. In one incident, a woman suffered a miscarriage and was ordered to go on a work trip the next day.

It's not the first account to personify the company's culture and its leader as intimidating and exacting. Bezos rarely grants interviews, but yesterday, he circulated a response to the article in the form of a letter to employees. In it, he describes the anecdotes as shockingly callous. It reads, quote, "the article doesn't describe the Amazon I know." He added, "anyone would be crazy to stay at such a company." Amazon declined additional comment.

The account touched off a storm of response from current and former employees, shoppers, management experts and family-leave policy experts. By Monday afternoon, the article garnered more than 4,000 reader comments. Ellen Bravo is director of Family Values @ Work, a coalition of advocates for family-friendly work policies. She says the pride Amazon seems to take in its hard-driving culture may be rare.

ELLEN BRAVO: But I don't think the long hours, the expectation of total commitment and devotion is nearly as extreme.

NOGUCHI: She knows high-tech companies are moving toward offering more generous leave, but the changes are meaningless if the culture and the management doesn't encourage workers to take advantage of it.

BRAVO: But there's a good answer to it, which is, is there a system in place to hold managers accountable?

NOGUCHI: Samuel Culbert agrees Amazon appears to have a culture problem. Culbert is a management professor at UCLA and says he sees it often in high-pressure environments.

SAMUEL CULBERT: A lot of well-intentioned managers being pressured in ways that cause them to engage in bad behavior and to be able to justify their bad behavior on the grounds that what they're doing is good for the company. It's not good for the company.

NOGUCHI: Culbert, who has written a book called "Get Rid Of The Performance Review!," finds Amazon's peer review system that allows workers to leave anonymous assessments especially disturbing. He says it leads to backstabbing and promotes unhealthy office politics.

CULBERT: And a good management mentality has nothing to do with performance reviews. It has nothing to do with spying. It's based on a view of humanity where people are given the latitudes they need to be their very best.

NOGUCHI: He says based on many of the comments to the article, it's clear that many people feel they, too, do not work under such ideal conditions. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.