Reputation from the inside out

By Cathy Byrne

The scathing portrayal of the workplace culture of Amazon, in the New York Times this week shows the powerful connection between internal and external reputation.

The lengthy piece made for grim reading for Jeff Bezos, Co-Founder of the company. There were numerous claims, including that employees are forced to work excessively long hours with little work life/balance and a combative culture is actively encouraged. One former Human Resources Director reportedly used the term ‘Purposeful Darwinism’ to describe the hiring and firing culture. The most shocking allegations centered on management’s response to employees facing personal issues or serious illnesses. Some Amazonians made accusations that this led to performance management reviews to ‘edge them out’ of the business.

Bezos put up a strong defence of his company in a memo to all staff: “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.  I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the New York Times would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company”.

In addition, Jay Carney, the former White House Press Secretary who joined Amazon five months ago, took to the airwaves to challenge the criticisms levelled at the business. He made the case that Amazon competes with some of the best companies in the world for talent and over the last five years has grown its employee base from 28,000 to 183,000 because “they like it so much, because of the spirit of innovation”.

The piece sparked a frenzy of over 5,000 responses on the New York Times website. Current and former Amazon employees waded into the debate to criticise the company or jump to its defence. It also kick started commentary in other media and the Twittersphere on what life is really like inside the world’s largest retailer.  Is Amazon a place where some would argue Jeremy Clarkson will fit right in with his post Top Gear venture on AmazonPrime, or is Bezos to be believed? If Amazon employees could work anywhere, why would they put up with such a grueling company culture?

Whatever the truth, what’s clear is the inextricable link between what employees think, feel and say about the organisation they work for and how that influences its overall reputation.

At ReputationInc we believe that reputation is the result of everything you do, everything you say and everything your stakeholders say about you. Unfortunately some companies often overlook crucial internal stakeholders – their employees. This oversight has a damaging impact on their reputation.

There’s been a wealth of research that shows that employees are some of the most trusted sources of information about a company so businesses ignore them at their peril. The best companies understand that employees should be, and can be, their most powerful ambassadors. In managing reputation, the key lesson is to start from the inside out.

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