At first, this NY Times article about the long hours and miserable conditions at Amazon for white collar workers simply seemed to reinforce the notion that CEOs and upper-level managers are often assholes. But there’s something else going on as well.
An apocryphal story about a maitre d’ at a swanky restaurant hints at the problem. The maitre d’ tells a customer, “I’m taking my first vacation in 21 years.” The customer asks, “Why didn’t you take one before?” The maitre d’ leans over and whispers, “Because I didn’t want them to realize they could do without me.”
When I look at the jobs most of the people who left had, these don’t appear to be extremely high skill jobs. No, you can’t just bring in five guys off the street to do the work: some business-related and professional skills are required. But these don’t seem to be the people who invent a new algorithm or possess a body of knowledge that is very hard to come by (‘domain expertise’). Their skills seem to be rather general (managing and service). In other words, many (or perhaps enough) college-educated people could do these jobs.
When there’s a lot of competition and you don’t have a concrete advantage (i.e., skills or specialized knowledge), the only way to stay ahead of your competitors–or at least not fall behind them–is to work really long hours while sniping at your competitors.
In a sense, while people think of the white collar jobs in the tech industry as requiring specialized skills such as coding, at Amazon, it appears they’re just the same middle management that U.S. industry has always had, just squeezed harder.