The New York Times revealed last month that Amazon’s corporate environment was both unrelenting and exhausting, which has rekindled the debate over the correlation of employees’ happiness and mental health to a corporation’s overall productivity and success.

Essentially, there are three camps: The first being that it’s work; suck it up. The second being that "sucking it up" makes for inefficient and costly workplaces. And the third is that work is just a part of life and should not be employees’ lives. While the last argument seems the most sane, it is certainly not in a company's best interest to de-prioritize itself for the sake of its workers, so the argument really boils down to a gray area of best practices that drive employees yet are still good for a business’s bottom line.

The uncomfortable truth is that Americans want to have their cake and eat it too.

The data is rife in either support or denial of American employees’ overall satisfaction at work, but both sides more or less agree that wage stagnation doesn’t help the situation. Moreover, turnover is seen as either a costly byproduct of corporate bad behavior or evidence that people have the opportunity to seek out better employment elsewhere. Ultimately, the work-life balance discussion is over changing economic needs that a hundred years ago applied to low-skill workers, but today creep into the highest offices of major companies (think Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer’s two-week maternity leave plan).

…the debate needs to shift from a data-driven numbers game about employee well-being, to a larger conversation about the relationship of human value to sustainable economic growth.

Before venturing any further into this debate, was anyone truly shocked that an online store that is attempting to offer drone delivery in 30 minutes or less would treat its employees as cogs in the Amazon machine? The uncomfortable truth is that Americans want to have their cake and eat it too. In our digital age of instant gratification, consumers expect faster and better access to goods and services; however, as human beings with personal lives who must also work to buy these goods and services, we desire a work-life balance that won’t drive us off a cliff. Essentially, we’re ensnared in the global economic ouroboros.

Given the rapidity of technological changes that are already happening to jobs (robot valet, anyone?), the debate needs to shift from a data-driven numbers game about employee well-being, to a larger conversation about the relationship of human value to sustainable economic growth. Amazon's culture is a microcosm of the current economy's demanding growth and until that system's ethical ramifications are reflected upon and retooled, more and more companies will emulate its terrifying workplace model. 

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of Families and Work Institute, says the right work-life balance involves an individual, the boss, and the support of the people who are in their life.

Image courtesy of iStock