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We’ve heard a lot of debate about whether working at an Amazon warehouse should be considered a good job or a bad job. My colleagues Jodi Kantor, Karen Weise, and Grace Ashford spent months answering another question: How well does Amazon manage all of those people?
What they discovered was that Amazon’s hourly workforce batch management system was stressful and uneven, resulting in high employee turnover. I encourage you to read their in-depth reported investigation, which makes me wonder if Amazon’s handling of arguably the most important asset – about a million employees in the US, mostly hourly jobs – effective or sustainable for the company, let alone the people. .
I spoke with Karen about what she and her colleagues have learned and Amazon’s reputation for supreme efficiency in contrast to the chaos of its employee management.
Shira: You see that Amazon has to replace more than the equivalent of its entire workforce every hour in a year. That was amazing. Are Amazon pushing them out or are they giving up?
Karen: Both. Amazon hires a lot of people, often with no face-to-face interviews and few checks, and it loses a significant number of workers within the first few weeks after they’re hired. We’ve heard of people going out on their lunch break on their first day of orientation. That generates a huge amount of revenue and some chaos in the workplace.
We also wrote about an employee named Dayana Santos, who was praised by managers and then fired on a bad day when, for various reasons, she was not consistently producing. She is someone the company should want to keep. Amazon has since changed its policy that led to her dismissal, but the example shows the company has built systems that can’t always effectively gauge who is a competent employee.
Is the high turnover rate intentional?
David Niekerk, a former Amazon vice president who built warehouse human resources operations, says Jeff Bezos doesn’t want long hours on hourly employees. The company’s data shows that employees become less engaged over time, and Amazon wants those who make the effort to rise above and beyond.
Amazon may not want too many people leaving each year, but that change isn’t a priority either. Amazon employs so many people that I’ve heard many Amazon executives in Seattle describe their fear. persistent that the company would run out of Americans to hire.
What does Amazon say about this?
Amazon told us that worker attrition is just an irrelevant metric without context. The company did not specify. Company officials do not say that 150% revenue in a year is unacceptable.
Be realistic about dollars and cents. Doesn’t Amazon have to spend a lot of money to replace so many people?
That is. And a key factor – possibly the most important – for Amazon’s future growth is not the success of futuristic inventions like delivery drones or home robots. That’s how Amazon efficiently manages the people who pick, pack, and ship all those boxes to our door.
Tech companies talk about “photographing the moon,” or do the seemingly impossible. With Alexa, the company started with a vague idea but brought its best people into the project, set incredibly ambitious goals, and figured it out. Some Amazon executives at the corporate level and those overseeing warehouses are asking why managing more than a million people isn’t such a high-priority image.
Bezos Written in April that he wants Amazon to be “the best employer on Earth and the safest place on Earth to work.” What does he mean? And what actions is Amazon taking?
Amazon talked about the safe part but not much about the rest of Bezos’ statement. Being a great employer isn’t just about paying, though Amazon recently raised hourly wages and is offering bonuses to new hires.
After we asked about company policies, Amazon also changed its use of a productivity measure that some workers said was applied arbitrarily. Someone can no longer be fired on a bad day. (Amazon said it has been reviewing the policy for months.)
Are there any successful companies that manage hourly employees differently than Amazon?
Costco executives testified before Congress that their hourly workers tend to have long tenure. It’s a source of pride for Costco.
Walmart is often criticized for its labor practices and often pays less than Amazon, but the company says more than 75% of managers at its US stores started out as hourly employees. It’s hard to make that jump at Amazon.
Sam’s Club, part of Walmart, trains workers to do multiple jobs in a store. That partly helps people feel fresh at work and learn new skills. Amazon warehouse workers can do the same kind of work in 10-hour shifts a day.
Before we go…
Cyberattacks are at the top of the foreign policy agenda: My colleague David E. Sanger explains why digital hacking is at the top of the agenda for President Biden’s meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Deterrence measures aimed at maintaining an uneasy nuclear peace during the Cold War will not work against digital threats,” David writes.
What happened when Nigeria banned Twitter: After the government suspended people’s access to Twitter this month, BuzzFeed News spoke to Nigerians who feel they’ve lost a way to speak out, connect and organize meetings. protests against inequality and violence.
We are utility guinea pigs: Amazon is experimenting with selling devices to see how people respond to them, such as Alexa eyeglasses and buttons to reorder items like toilet paper. My colleague, Brian X. Chen, writes about the benefits and risks of Amazon conducting research and development for the public. (I wrote last month about the difference between worthy real-world testing of new products and reckless experimentation.)
Esme the cat is an adorable thief. An Oregon woman laid out a clothesline in her yard for neighbors to retrieve gloves, masks, bathing suits and other items Esme had stolen from them.