Thoughts on Amazon Worker who Jumped Off Company Building After E-Mail Note

November 28 2016 was the busiest day of the year for those of us who worked in e-commerce. It was Cyber Monday.

But I couldn’t help checking my news feed and texting my amazon friends throughout the day.

Right after I came to work around 9 AM PST, I heard the news that an Amazon employee jumped from a rooftop about four stories high at the 12-story Apollo building at Ninth Avenue North and Thomas Street, and he fell about 20 feet to a balcony below.

He was taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center with non life-threatening injuries. Soon after, I started getting news feeds from Bloomberg, Business Insider, Geekwire, USA Today, and other media outlets.

My office is only 10 minutes walk from Amazon’s campus in the South Lake Union section of Seattle. I used to work there and I know many current employees.

Many people asked me if Amazon’s work environment is really this bad that employee is jumping off the building to kill himself.

Here is what I shared in my book How to Get a Job at Amazon:

“Amazon’s internal environment is decentralized, in-your-face, and Darwinist. It is not an environment for the faint of heart. During my tenure at Amazon. I worked my tail off. I was running global products and projects that required me working across three time zones. To get things done I had to constantly battle other teams with very little support. It wasn’t easy.

But I truly believe the time I spent at Amazon was the most important time of my career. I learned to be an owner and a driver. I developed thick skin, mental toughness, bias for action, strong sense of urgency, analytical driven approach, and insane customer focus. These skills have become extremely valuable to me as I progress in my career to become an executive. I would not trade my Amazon experience for anything else. The Amazon way really works.”

To summarize, Amazon’s work environment is tough and challenging but you’ll also learn a lot if you can take it.

I have a lot of sympathy for the young man who jumped. From what I heard from my amazon source, this employee worked for a very difficult and unreasonable boss. He was put on Performance Improvement Plan. He had made request to HR that he wanted to transfer to a different team. In general Amazon encourages internal transfers but people on PIP are not allowed to transfer. Apparently Amazon HR has given this employee an exception to explore an internal transfer but he still jumped.

He must be feeling a lot of stress and despair. He also wanted the whole world know how unfairly he was treated because he sent an email to hundred of people at Amazon.

Although I’m sympathetic about what he was going through, I completely disagree with his approach.

His action hurt himself and his family. Although the injury was not life threatening, from what I heard, he spent some time at Harborview Hospital to recover. Later he was sent to another hospital for psychological evaluation. The giant Amazon corporate machinery continues to function the way it has always been.

No matter how frustrated and angry he is, he should have managed his emotion and make the most rational and strategic move to improve his situation. His action hurts only himself and his family.

Don’t be the slave of your emotion. Be the master of your emotion.

If you find yourself stuck with a difficult boss, you can find another job and quit.

If you want to seek revenge and expose the wrongdoings of your boss, get a job first so that you have outside options. You can then talk to HR or executives about how badly you were treated.

If you are unfairly put on a Performance Improvement Plan, there are specific steps you can take to survive and beat it. But, you also need outside options. There is no guarantee that you can survive the PIP. In a lot of cases, the manager just wants to get rid of you. The PIP is a mechanism to document the process so that the company doesn’t get sued.

Jumping off the building doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t help you at all. In fact, it hurts you and your family.

Be wise. Be tough. Be the master of your emotion.

Comments 3

  • […] for being a sweat shop and a difficult place to work. Not to mention one of its employees tried to jump off a building last holiday due to stress at […]

  • My thoughts:
    I agree that the approach this person took was not the best. But sometimes people do not have an option but to do the first thing that comes to mind, that is – ‘how can I end my life, right now?’ In one of the companies I worked, it had a concept of ‘HR Clinic’ where staff could go and ‘vent out’ any issues that was bothering them. It was a very effective ‘red flag’ system if a staff was identified as distressed at work and appropriate steps were taken to sort out the issue. The company had an in-house psychologist to deal with such situations.

    Back to Amazon case. In my experience bigger companies can easily get obsessed with following procedures and protocols rather than the human/people issue. In most cases they totally ignore just talking to staff offline and understanding his/her problem. I have seen smart managers make extra efforts to take preventive measures rather than deal-with-the-problem-when-it-comes. They are very perceptive to their staff’s needs and set performance expectations and goals according to their skills set.

    • Well said. Preventive measures is much more effective than dealing with issues when it’s too late. I also like the idea of the “red flag” system. This is almost like “suicide hotline”. Having an outlet for employees to vent can be helpful.

      Also, I think with the proliferation of social media, it’s extremely easy for employee to make complaints available outside of a company. I think employers will be pressured to cultivate a better work environment but it remains to be seen.

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