Cultural Management in Amazon – The Management of Cultural Diversity

An organisation’s culture evolves with its key personnel belonging to varied backgrounds. Typically, when different cultures interact, heterogeneity initially exists with the desired endpoint to have a homogenising effect (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014).

As culture impacts the organisation positively and negatively, it is pertinent to manage the impact caused due to cultural changes and cultural interactions. This will ensure smooth functioning within a multicultural environment. Therefore, the emerging organisational culture depends on how varied the interacting cultures in the organisation are, how they interact, and how the interaction is managed. This is discussed in relation to cultural management theories proposed by Berry and Simons and the adapted Hofstede Model.

Amazon has been in the news for being referred to as ‘Marvel and Monster’ for its distinct work culture (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015).

Heterogeneous cultures characterise Amazon’s organisational culture as it has a global employee and customer base, which is, however, outperformed by a well-defined corporate culture. However, the retailer has issues managing this, which is reflected in the high turnover rate of the employees.

Acculturation Theory

Berry (1980; 1997) defines acculturation as the interaction between groups and individuals of dissimilar cultural backgrounds within a given setting and the subsequent adaptation from such interaction. Such diversity incorporates similarities and differences in procedures and behaviour at work in the context of multicultural and cross-cultural dynamics (Gelfand, Erez, & Aycan, 2007).

It has been reported recently that Amazon, Inc. employs a blend of inventive but somewhat punitive measures for its employees (Ryssdal, 2015). As individuals, employees have a work culture that has been developed over some time through the education system and experience in the field. They employ certain unique values and techniques in their exertions, which are expected to integrate with established values in their organisation.

The company has built a reputation for having a hardworking employee base. This has partly been instigated by strict incorporation and adherence to a strict company culture. Some people have embraced these high standards and expectations, while others deem them too high-handed. One of the main reasons behind the latter stance is the belief that it strangles personal values and work ethics in favour of those set forth by the company.

According to an investigation by Kantor (2015), fresh Amazon recruits are introduced to strict measures at orientation, which are used to integrate them into a singular way of working in the company. Recruits are encouraged to overlook “poor habits” cultured into them in their previous work. They are further warned that they will hit a snag due to the unrelenting speed at the workplace, a wall that they are expected to “climb over” rather than stall.

To be proper ‘Amazonians’, employees are provided with 14 rules (leadership principles) inscribed on laminated cards that they are expected to abide by  (Amazon, 2016). Individuals who acclimate to ideal proportions are given virtual awards, decreeing that they are ‘peculiar’, a phrase Amazon uses to represent a turnover in workplace conventions.

This harsh working environment and culture are not meant to demoralise new employees in the company. Rather, it acts as a filter mechanism for the management to discern between the ideal and non-ideal employees by the organisation’s culture. Employees are expected to be innovative, hardworking, responsible, and ready to meet company goals, irrespective of how tough they are.

This culture has enabled the company to grow on a massive scale, increase turnover, and attract a large customer base in the market, to the disadvantage of its competitors. Additionally, it has enabled Amazon to build a reputation that attracts only the best in the job market, a feat that few companies can match. Despite these facts, many problems have arisen, chief among which is the high pressure on employees to perform and adjust to strict guidelines. This has caused many employees to leave the company, searching for better working conditions.

Acculturation theory can mitigate this problem by using procedures to integrate individual beliefs and ethics with company culture. This will encourage diversity in the company and enable it to conquer new frontiers that could not be reached through a singular approach.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory’s Application to Amazon

Organisational culture has been defined by Hofstede (2011) as how different individuals of an organisation relate to each other and the external environment in contrast to other organisations. This is with regard to their respective beliefs, ideologies, and procedures. The Hofstede model comprises five major elements- power distance, masculinity/ feminity, uncertainty avoidance index, individualism, and long-term orientation- that influence organisational culture and employee behaviour.

Power distance deals primarily with the level of power delegated to individual employees with regard to their job description. Amazon employees are divided into teams and tasked with specified roles in sales, procurement, finance, shipping, etc. These are further divided into individual roles and roles, with each team having a manager to oversee operations. Team members are answerable to their respective managers, whilst managers at different levels are accountable to the CEO. Nevertheless, individual employees are delegated considerable freedom in administrating their work and responsibilities of a higher magnitude than most organisations.

Masculinity/ feminity encompasses the disparity between male and female tenets concerning the organisation’s culture. A 2014 report by Amazon showed that its global employee base of approximately 88,400 comprises 61% Males and 39% females. Yet, managerial positions had a 76% (male) and 24% (female) gap.

This disparity shows that the company better suits men to steer it towards its preset goals. This is particularly true, especially when considering the stringent measures employees can achieve. Women are considered more vulnerable to the stresses of work than men, especially those with families. Considering that Amazon requires its employees to go the extra mile in achieving set targets, it is not surprising that the proportion of women is lower than that of men.

The uncertainty avoidance index incorporates a culture where employees can tolerate unforeseen circumstances or unintended outcomes in their line of work. Amazon has established a culture that is pegged on innovation and hard work. With this come huge risks and uncertainties that employees are required to tackle appropriately. Amazon employees are thus needed to tolerate both comfortable and uncomfortable situations, even when facing strict circumstances and meet all set goals. This culture is embedded in them from the moment they begin working at the company.

Individualism encompasses employees working as a single unit or in teams to tackle particular tasks. Employees at Amazon are divided into teams, where they are given both team and individual goals. Each team member is expected to satisfy their individual goals within the stipulated time whilst also meeting team targets. Still, employees must challenge each other and compete whilst incorporating long and late working hours to beat predisposed objectives. All this should align with set guidelines and leadership principles within the organisation. Still, evaluation is done individually, where employees are either rewarded or refuted based on their singular performance.

Finally, long-term orientation encompasses the duration of the relationship between employees and the organisation. This could be short-term or long-term. Amazon strives to maintain a long-term relationship with employees it deems ideal. Ideal employees, in this instance, are comprised of hardworking, innovative, smart, and dedicated individuals who can operate comfortably in stressful and strenuous circumstances. This harsh environment is nevertheless a primary reason for employees to leave in search of better opportunities, whilst others who fail to meet set criteria are fired at some point in time. Duties are offered regarding short-term targets that aim at much larger objectives in the long run.

This model has revealed a very stringent culture at Amazon that only favours a certain calibre of employees. This is pegged on meeting ideals set by the management that may seem high-handed to many people. Nevertheless, individuals who are able to meet them are rewarded by the company and maintain a long-term relationship that seeks to get the best out of them. This can, however, be improved if the company considers establishing gender balance in the managerial posts. This will prove helpful in establishing policies that would create a proper working environment for individuals of both genders whilst establishing a culture of success, hard work, and innovation.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This paper has looked into the organisational culture of, Inc., focusing on three theories: acculturation theory, Schein’s model of organizational culture (onion model), and Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory. One of the significant findings is that Amazon has created a unique and much more stringent culture than other organisations. This stance is based on the company’s belief that it can achieve its goals and ambitions only if it gets the best out of its employees. Still, it believes that having hardworking, smart and innovative employees is vital to establishing a culture geared towards success.

Employees are nurtured into this culture from the moment they are oriented into the organisation, where they are encouraged to do away with their past experiences in other organisations. Despondently, not everyone is able to withstand the pressures of working at Amazon and is either fired or quit. Nevertheless, debates have arisen in recent years criticising the organisation’s culture, with some accusing it of being abusive and high-handed.

Former employees have complained of strict work ethics imposed on individuals to meet goals, some of which limit their life outside work. This has led many individuals to ailments such as depression, whilst others have been forced to leave for failing to meet the demands of their job description. In this regard, Amazon should attempt to reconsider its approach toward its relationship with employees. Most new recruits are required to do away with values and ethics that have been nurtured in them over the years once they join Amazon. This can be daunting, considering people have diverse backgrounds in their personal and professional lives.

The company should instead consider a system that integrates individual employee and organisation values towards set goals. This will not only allow employees to function comfortably and achieve goals but also maintain a long-term healthy relationship with the company. Nevertheless, it should be appreciated that the current system has propelled the company to the heights it has achieved today. The recommendation provided above is geared towards improving the system rather than doing away with it.


Amazon. (2016 b). “Available at Amazon” Logo Usage Guidelines. Retrieved from

Amazon. (2016). Leadership Principles. Retrieved from

Berry, J. (1980). Acculturation as varieties of adaptation. In A. Padilla, Acculturation: Theory, models, and some new findings (pp. 9-25). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Berry, J. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 5–34.

Gelfand, M., Erez, M., & Aycan, Z. (2007). Cross-Cultural Organizational Behavior. Annu. Rev. Psychology, 479-514.

Kantor, J., & Streitfeld, D. (2015, August 15). Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. Retrieved March 8, 2016, from The New York Times:

Kantor, J., & Streitfield, D. (2015, August 15). Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. Retrieved from The New York Times:

McFarlin, D., & Sweeney, P. (2014). International Management: Strategic Opportunities & Cultural Challenges. Routledge.

Ryssdal, K. (2015). Amazon’s company culture: innovative or punishing? Marketplace.

Schein, E. (1984). Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture. Sloan Management Review, 3.

Schein, E. (2010). Organisational Culture and Leadership. Jossey-Bass.

Show More

Raj Maurya

Raj Maurya is the founder of Digital Gyan. He is a technical content writer on Fiverr and When not working, he plays Valorant.

Leave a Reply

Back to top button