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Washington Post Staff Challenges Owner Jeff Bezos to “Show That You Value Your Employees.” Will He?

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Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is once again under fire for questionable treatment of his employees. This time, it’s employment practices at Bezos’ newspaper, The Washington Post, that are generating headlines; four-hundred Post staffers recently penned an open letter to Bezos, asking him to raise wages, improve benefits and “show that you value your employees.” Will this jaw-dropping request for improved compensation actually work?

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is the world’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of about $112 billion. According to sources compiled on Wikipedia, Amazon is the largest internet retailer in the world, the fourth most valuable public company in the world (behind only Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft), the largest Internet company by revenue in the world, and after Walmart, the second largest employer in the United States. To put Amazon’s retail dominance into perspective, on Tuesday, July 12, 2016, Amazon’s sales were estimated to be $525 million for the day, and the company sold 636 items … every second.

Along with Amazon and its subsidiary companies – including footwear retailer Zappos and high-end supermarket chain Whole Foods – and numerous other businesses – like the space exploration project Blue Origin – Bezos also owns The Washington Post newspaper, which he bought in 2014.

But the jewel in the crown is certainly Amazon, which is not only a global retail juggernaut, according to LinkedIn it’s also “the best place to work in the world.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Welcome to the Jungle

This recognition may be something of a surprise given Amazon’s reputation for being an organization with a bruising company culture, as detailed in a 2015 New York Times report and numerous other reports, and confirmed by multitudes of present and former employees. As written in the Times, Amazon is, “conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable.”

The report ignited a debate around work/life balance and work-related stress, with some denouncing Bezos’ “abusive workplace environment”, but others defending the practices, including Amazon’s top recruiter Susan Harker, who said, “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.

Bezos himself called into question the accuracy of the article in a letter to Amazon employees: “Hopefully, you don’t recognize the company described. Hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.”

Blast From the Post

Recently, Bezos’ questionable treatment of his employees has again come under the microscope; last week, 400 Washington Post employees sent Bezos an open letter, “asking for…fairness for each and every employee who contributed to this company’s success: fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security.”

The issues listed in the employees’ open letter are:

  • Offering $10 a week in pay increases – or about 0.6 percent of the median salary and less than half the current rate of inflation – is unfair and even shocking from someone who believes democracy dies in darkness.
  • Refusing to improve retirement benefits is unfair, particularly since you froze the traditional pension. The current retirement plans, including a 1 percent match on our 401(k), suggest that you place little value in your employees’ future financial security.
  • Pushing for the right to indiscriminately lay off anyone is unfair – and a recipe for future discrimination against older employees and minorities.
  • Further cutting severance for people who face layoffs or whose job has been outsourced is unfair, particularly since management has already won the right to drastically cut severance for people who are let go for cause.
  • Demanding that laid-off employees waive their legal rights to receive severance payments is an extreme demand and an ominous one – particularly in light of the Post’s mixed record on fair treatment for women, racial minorities and older employees.

The letter ends with a request that Bezos show he values his employees by addressing the noted issues:

The Post is not just any business venture. But even if it were – this would not be the way to show that you value your employees.

Please show the world that you not only can lead the way in creating wealth, but that you also know how to share it with the people who helped you create it.

Now That’s How You Ask for a Raise!

While rounding up your coworkers and penning an open letter to your boss asking for an all-company improvement in compensation grabs a lot of attention, it might not be the best way for everyone to broach the subject of a raise. (In fact, an attempt at changing a company dress code using a similar approach backfired spectacularly for a group of interns not too long ago.)

For most of us, the best way to request an increase in compensation looks something like this (this advice comes from PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide):

The first step is to take PayScale’s free Salary Survey and find out what people doing in your job in your area are being paid. Once you learn the salary range for your position, experience and location, you can figure out if your salary is reasonable.

If, having taken the survey, you believe you’re underpaid, here are some steps you can take to approach negotiations with your manager in a professional manner.

  1. Schedule a meeting to discuss salary. This gives your manager time to mentally prepare for the conversation. Without setting a time to talk in advance, your manager might feel ambushed, or that the conversation is coming out of nowhere. A heads-up also allows your manager to review her or his budget to know if and how much money for a raise is available, and if one is warranted.
  2. Know your value. Prepare for your meeting by completing a free PayScale Salary Survey, which shows you the salary range for other workers doing your job, with your experience, in your geographic area. The completed survey will show you what you should be paid.
  3. Prepare examples of how your work has benefited the company. If you have firm goals, KPIs, OKRs or other measurables, be sure to show how you met or exceed them. Creating a small but professional presentation can remind your manager of your successes and contributions.
  4. Start the conversation knowing it’s a negotiation, and the outcome isn’t assured; just because you believe you should be paid more, even if the data supports you, it might not happen. Make sure you’re mentally prepared for that outcome.
  5. If your request for a raise is denied, hopefully your manager will tell you why. If she doesn’t, ask. It might be performance related—in which case the meeting can help you focus on improving in areas that need attention—but if not, perhaps it’s simply matter of timing. Have patience; even if you’re promised a raise, it might not happen immediately.
  6. Remember, salary isn’t the only aspect of your job that’s negotiable. If more money isn’t in the cards, you can try to counter with more vacation time or improvements to other benefits.

By preparing yourself and your manager for any conversation about salary, and by knowing the outcome may not be exactly what you want, you set yourself up for financial and emotional success. With a little bit of prep and a little luck, you’ll land that big raise.

But maybe avoid the whole ‘all-company mutiny’ thing. At least until we see how it works out for the staff of the Washington Post.


Have you ever asked for a raise in an unconventional way? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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