You don’t get a $250 billion market capitalization – the highest valuation of any retail company in the world – without hurting some feelings. Just ask Amazon of Seattle.

Amazon’s reputation took a hit this week after the New York Times published an article on Aug. 16 describing the company’s work culture as “brutal.” The story, which included interviews with current and former employees, said it was common for Amazon employees to cry at their desks, to be chastised for health problems that impede their work output and to backstab co-workers to get ahead.

The article set off a debate within the technology industry about how hard companies push their employees and whether workers should expect much of a work-life balance at top firms.

We spoke with several L.A. tech executives about establishing workplace culture and policies: Adam Miller, chief executive of human resources software company Cornerstone OnDemand of Santa Monica; Courtney Chapman, product manager of culture at automated digital advertising exchange Rubicon Project of Playa Vista; and Allan Jones, chief marketing officer of hiring software platform ZipRecruiter of Santa Monica.

The free lunches, massages and unlimited vacations that many startups offer, do perks like these really make employees more productive?

Chapman: Team members want to feel valued and invested in by their company. Perks such as free lunches only account for a fraction of that investment. If your culture and productivity is defined by your perks, you’re in trouble.

Jones: By implementing perks based on an individual company’s culture, you ultimately drive behavior in the team that helps the company meet their goals. Perks are also great for attracting the kinds of top talent you need to compete and win.

At what point does a company culture become so competitive and unforgiving that it’s counterproductive?

Chapman: It becomes counterproductive when it impacts retention, hinders team collaboration and encourages unethical behavior. When team members are constantly trying to elbow their way to the top, they aren’t working together.

Miller: I learned early on in my career that working harder doesn’t necessarily mean working more hours. We found that giving people the time they need to recuperate when they need it, allows them to dramatically outperform their peers in other companies.

Jones: Building a company, especially one creating alternative, never-traveled-before pathways to success is tough, stressful, exciting, fulfilling, grueling, demanding, fun and disappointing. Anyone who only lists “fun and exciting” on a tech job description is being disingenuous.


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