Amazon is familiar to many as an online store where consumers can purchase anything from a recent blockbuster movie to dish soap. Recent reporting by The New York Times, however, details how in Baltimore, Amazon’s reach also extends into the fields of home security and housing development.
According to historian Nancy Koehn, part of Amazon’s success stems from its intense expectations of its employees. Many have accused Amazon of mistreating its labor force, and former employees have even claimed that they resorted to urinating in an empty bottle while working to ensure they meet the company’s performance expectations.
Koehn said that Amazon’s treatment of its employees, however, is not a historical outlier, and that the company is taking part in a long tradition of major corporations sacrificing their workers' well-being for efficiency.
“It is all about treating human beings just like they’re any piece of inanimate capital. So, workers are just like machines,” Koehn said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Wednesday. “That is what we are seeing here, scientific management applied to a digital company, and it is terrifying, and it is exhausting.”
Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Her latest book is “Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.”