Let Amazon be Amazon

There are plenty of furiously hard-working strivers who need a hard-driving employer like Amazon

(Image credit: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

I am a writer. I can make my own hours. I can type poolside. I can type naked.

Sounds pretty great, right? Well, my work culture seems awesome because I have no work culture. It's probably better this way. I wouldn't fit in in a corporate office, and I don't think corporate office culture misses having writers like me around. No, better for society to let its writers harmlessly drop out of the rat race.

But that's not true for all kinds of workers. And that's why we should all thank Amazon for its hard-driving, occasionally breakdown-inducing work culture. As mortifying as it may be to see super-smart, Type-A Americans throw their life forces into delivering Elsa dolls from a Tennessee warehouse to a Brooklyn brownstone in the shortest time possible, and as unsettling as you may find it to see a massive retailer actively encourage if not outright demand that they behave this way, the alternative could be even worse. Because if overachievers weren't pouring themselves into these trivial and relatively harmless retail enterprises for a corporate overlord, they might be doing something more damaging.

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There are plenty of reasons to rail against harsh work cultures. Maybe you're outraged by corporations who work us ever harder, squeezing we plebes for everything we're worth so that quarterly earnings reports will be just a smidgeon better. Maybe you think it's crazy that anyone would thirst for greatness so much that they'd seek it out in a workplace as hierarchical and competitive as Amazon's. None of these objections are wrong, per se. But none of them are so strong that we as a society should seek to ban harsh work cultures.

That may sound harsh in itself. But here's the thing: The strivers who make up the Amazon ranks won't become more mellow and happier as their workplace becomes more docile. Instead, they'll create new companies with new teams, clustering even more closely together. Getting rid of workplaces like Amazon's would eventually just lead to the creation of workplaces that are worse than Amazon's. It's the employees that create a workplace culture as much as it is the bosses. A certain sort of person seeks out the insane pace and stress and rewards that you get at Amazon. And if they can't get their fix in such a workplace, many will create their own.

Okay, you say: Well, what if the government just regulates harsh workplaces away? Uncle Sam has done it before, of course. And while we can surely all agree that government mandates to, say, end child labor were positive for everyone, there's also surely some disagreement about how much the government ought to prevent companies from pushing its striver white-collar employees to work their tails off.

And, at the risk of reciting the plot of Atlas Shrugged, what if Ayn Rand turns out to have been right? What if America turns completely against these hard-driving strivers? They might pack up and go to greener pastures — Singapore, Costa Rica, a converted oil platform, wherever. In fact, the more powerful technology gets, the more strategically decentralized our overachievers can get. And in Rand's vision, at least, the flight of these strivers is absolutely disastrous for the rest of us.

Isn't it better to let our fiercest strivers enjoy the weird pleasures of creating and enforcing intense, demanding work cultures? Maybe it's not for you. That's fine. No one is forcing you to work at a place like this. While many employers work their employees hard, very few reach Amazon-levels of insanity. Just because Amazonians work like this, that doesn't mean you have to. You have options. But make no mistake: Many strivers actively prefer working for "scary" corporations, or making "ordinary" companies extraordinary. And we shouldn't deny them that option.

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