Why there’s no such thing as a free lunch for Amazon workers

Amazon’s new corporate headquarters will be an Elysian utopia where nobody ever grows old or feels sadness.
Amazon’s new corporate headquarters will be an Elysian utopia where nobody ever grows old or feels sadness.
Image: NBBJ
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Amazon is a unique company in many ways.  It does not seem to care about profits, for example. And, unlike just about every other giant technology company, it does not pamper its employees with free lunches or other lavish perks such as massages.

In a rare interview this week with Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos argued that he offers employees a much more valuable perk: a well-located downtown office. The e-commerce giant’s gleaming campus (in the process of being extended and upgraded) is located in the heart of Seattle, unlike most other tech companies, which are headquartered in suburbia. (One other prominent exception to this is Twitter, in downtown San Francisco.)

Bezos said the urban campus is a “spectacular benefit” to Amazon’s employees at its headquarters, allowing 15% of them to live in the same zip code as their office, and 20% to walk to work. Contrast that with Google and Facebook who operate private buses to transport staff from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

Bezos (a personal investor in Business Insider) offered this as an explanation of the no-free-lunches policy: If Amazon did provide its employees’ lunches, he said, it would stifle the thriving independent food scene that has emerged in the Seattle neighborhood where it is located. “We have an unbelievable food truck scene around our headquarters,” he said. “It’s out of control, actually.”

Lack of perks aside, Amazon has also been criticized for not paying warehouse workers enough. One employee even claimed it was better to be homeless than work for the company. The company also has a surprisingly stingy policy on cash salaries for executives, which are limited to $160,000, tilting total compensation toward stock.

Still, Bezos rejects suggestions he does not look after his staff. For example, Amazon staff are allowed to open their own windows! “People, it turns out, really like fresh air,” he said.

Staff are also allowed to bring their own dogs to work. That may be the ultimate office perk.