The Amazon Experiment: The Implications of Achieving Perfection

How-to-Attract-Passive-Candidates-Yoh-Blog-Post-compressedLike the shot heard around the world, it’s hard to ignore the momentum snowballing behind the stories of widespread worker mistreatment at Amazon.  There’s no doubt that the popularity of this global online retailer combined with our digital world has quickly escalated this HR issue into the mainstream. What’s being described as tyrant management styles, I can’t help but wonder how many managers out there are saying to themselves, “So what?”

Employees on call 24/7 and bound to their mobile, unrealistic and at times, dangerous working conditions and more episodes of bathroom crying than tissues in my Amazon Grocer account, the stories are coming out by the dozens, and they are bad.  At a company whose former human resources director describes as having a “purposeful Darwinism” culture, it’s hard to not look away from Amazon right now.

On a personal level, I’m not sure whether this story fascinates me (or frankly any one of Amazon’s 270 million customers worldwide) because I am a die-hard Amazon Prime user; although I am seriously reconsidering my moral stance on further using the company. Or because it details the story of a not yet fallen, but badly bruised super hero.

So what gives -- how could an organization at the forefront of innovation and customer- centricity be at the center of such a public HR debacle? Some might argue that to be the best, it takes the best people, processes and technologies. And, following this notion, not everyone fits the mold of what makes a great Amazonion, a phrase Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos uses to describe his employees. Amazon’s top recruiter, Susan Harker, summarizes it best, stating, “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”

In my opinion, there is no denying that Bezo’s vision is likely what catapulted the company into tech stardom. Maybe when you work for a behemoth like Amazon, you have the attitude people will line up in troves to work for you at any cost.

For me, there are two things about this story that should make you sit up a little taller and pay attention to what is happening within your own organizations. First, it’s relatable on so many levels. While bolstered salaries and lavish job perks might be enough to silence the top C-suite or upper management type of employee, that’s not solely who we are talking about here.  The bulk of Amazon’s workforce is comprised of middle-class workers.  At an organization that prides itself on customer service, it’s sad to think upper management and senior leaders didn’t have the employees best interest who directly service their customers. 

Either looking historically or in the future, it would be interesting to explore Amazon’s employee retention rate to see how much new hiring and training costs amount to. The savvy Amazon customer can only wonder how much, if any of these costs were passed off to the consumer.

Finally, I recently read a story of a company that was found guilty of literally working its employee to death. Which brings me to my second and last point; whichever way the wind blows on this one, it will be a major indicator of just how far management can go in the pursuit of perfection. If Amazon is found guilty, which the evidence is yet to be fully proven, and only gets a slap on the wrist, then how many other companies will push the boundaries of what’s humane.

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