In internal correspondence, company directors warned of “inadequate service levels”, “poor processes” and “delay and error-prone” systems.
The extent of the problem highlights the fact that Amazon employees have consistently taken precedence over customers during the company’s meteoric rise to retail dominance. Amazon has built state-of-the-art parcel processing facilities to meet buyers’ appetites for speedy delivery, far surpassing the competition. But the company hasn’t devoted enough resources and attention to how it served employees, according to many long-tenured workers.
“A lot of times, because we’ve optimized the customer experience, we’ve focused on that,” said Bethany Reyes, who was recently assigned to fix the leave system, in an interview. She stressed that the company is working hard to rebalance these priorities.
The company’s treatment of its huge work force – now over 1.3 million people and rapidly expanding – is under intense scrutiny. Union activists and some lawmakers say the company does not adequately protect the safety of warehouse workers and unfairly punishes internal critics. This year, workers in Alabama, unhappy with the company’s minute-by-minute monitoring of their productivity, staged a serious, but ultimately unsuccessful, union threat against the company.
In June, a Times investigation detailed how the leave process stalled during the pandemic, finding it was one of many job losses during the greatest moment of financial success of the company. Since then, Amazon has focused on its commitment to be “the best employer on earth”. Andy Jassy, who replaced Mr Bezos as chief executive in July, recently pointed to the leave system as a place where he can demonstrate his commitment to improve. The process “didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” he said at an event this month.
Responding to the most recent findings about the problems with its leave program, Amazon explained its efforts to address the “sore spots” and “pay issues” in the system, as Ms. Reyes said in the interview. She called mistaken layoffs “the most serious problem you can have.” The company hires hundreds of employees, streamlines and connects systems, clarifies its communications, and trains human resources staff to be more empathetic.
But many problems persist, causing outages that have proven to be devastating. This spring, a Tennessee warehouse worker abruptly stopped receiving disability benefits, leaving his family to struggle to pay for food, transportation or medical care.