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Consternation in Seattle as Amazon lays off a few staff

amazon hq

Slabs+Sphere 2, Amazon HQ via Flickr © JoeInSouthernCA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Several hundred staff are to go in Seattle and hundreds more elsewhere in the global retail operation
  • Amazon says it’s just an adjustment to recent accelerated growth
  • Vigorous hiring continues in the other parts, including AWS

Around 500 redundancies might sound like a lot, but not when you’re measuring it against Amazon’s stunning current worldwide total of 566,000 employees. Nevertheless the company’s ‘headcount adjustment’ has raised eyebrows. Taking on staff by the thousand is business as usual, laying them off, even if only by the hundred, is just not a very Amazonian thing to do.

According to the Seattle Times it’s all part of a slight sanity-adjustment in response to the accelerated growth experienced by Amazon over the past few years. For instance, the company’s Seattle headcount has ballooned from a paltry 5,000 in 2010 to a massive 40,000 people now.  That sort of accelerated hiring is enough to make any CEO slightly uncomfortable. For Bezos, doubly so since frugality is a key part of his management philosophy.

Dib dib dib...

While most of the Amazon Leadership Principles trot out the usual boy scoutish stuff (Customer Obsession; Learn and Be Curious, Invent and Simplify etc) a slightly jarring note is struck by one of Amazon’s laws of the jungle: “Frugality. Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.”

It’s that frugality bit that’s been overlooked recently according to observers, with some units over budget and staff members under-employed. Perhaps just to demonstrate that, like shares employee numbers can go down as well as up, Bezos was apparently keen to show that frugality in onboarding staff should remain a high principle.

There is plenty of Amazon hiring still going on though beyond Amazon’s warehouses and distribution centres and any staff cut in one place are often found new roles in expanding areas of the company. Then there’s the small matter of staffing up Amazon’s second HQ (location as yet undecided) which is expected to require an extra  50,000 workers.

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