When friends come to visit, I take them to the San Francisco Bay Area’s must-see spots: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the beaches and mountains—and, more recently, Googleplex, Google’s sprawling 26-acre campus.

Home to 3.1 million square feet of office space and about 20,000 employees, Google’s headquarters has become a tourist destination almost as famous as the company itself. It epitomizes the employee-friendly workplace, with functional benefits like Wi-Fi-enabled shuttles, gourmet meals, and onsite health care, in addition to fun perks like slides and fireman poles, lectures by famous speakers, and funky art installations.

Google’s once-profligate approach to wooing and retaining workers has become a new norm in Silicon Valley. Other big companies like Facebook and Twitter compete for tech’s best talent through ever-increasing incentives. Earlier this month, Netflix took this to a new level when the company announced it would provide unlimited paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

And then there’s the Amazon way, recently documented in a scathing exposé by The New York Times. The report, one of The Timesmost commented-upon articles ever, paints an appalling picture of a brutal work environment: “At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’ ”

Since the article was published, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and current Amazon employees have quickly decried its claims as inaccurate, outdated, ...

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