Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, may not be appearing on Undercover Boss very soon. With so many undercover bosses taking aim it's been very hard not to get drawn into all things Amazon this last couple of weeks. The mainstream bandwagon has rolled on, but any inquiring HR mind will have been looking closely at the reaction to the explosive piece by the New York Times, which described the employee experience at the global company utilizing accounts, anecdotes, and stories from over 100 former and current employees. That was just the start.
We all know that Amazon is a very successful, game-changing, and data-driven company that is obsessed with its customers and with its 14 leadership principles that drive the business forward. With a market value of over $250 billion dollars and over 180,000 people employed as a result of Amazon's growth in the last few years, there is a lot to respect about what it has accomplished in such a short period of time.
Success brings attention and the recent focus has been the life and experience of Amazon employees with wave after wave of article highlighting negative aspects of working life at the retailer followed by articles in response defending the company. In truth, opinion in the public arena is most certainly divided about the employee experience and Amazon hasn't really claimed to be anything other than fully focused on making history from the outset, which inevitably sets the bar high for its staff. With that in mind, the question some have been asking is whether or not there is really a story here at all.
Amazon has a rating of 3.4 out of 5 for its workplace following nearly 5,400 reviews on Glassdoor by its staff (although this is a relatively small sample of the global workforce). In context, others are faring better through that particular evaluation like Google 4.5, which is top and mirroring its best employer status; Bain & Company 4.4, Chevron 4.2, Apple and LinkedIn are both at 4.0,Nike 3.9, and finally The Walt Disney Company comes in at 3.8 to round off thetop 50. Competition for customers is tough, and competition to get ahead of the curve in employee experience terms is getting tougher.
That performance rating will be viewed by some as indicative of where Amazon is at and certainly reflects that there are those who are very happy with the culture at Amazon and those who are not, as the New Yorker points out relating it to the conditions within the new (and not so new) economy. Is this really a surprise in such a massive, widely distributed organisation?
The focus now for most companies is how to move their organisations toward the high-end of the employee experience spectrum and that takes a very different approach and after crunching most of the information available about Amazon you will have your own view on whether they are heading in the right direction or not.
They know it is not a place for everyone to thrive. That’s clear and it is interesting just how up-front and confident Amazon is about their admittedlyintense culture even offering their staff pay-outs to leave if it isn't for them and also offering training in unrelated fields for staff to support changing careers.
One Amazonian and unofficial ambassador (though the 'unofficial' bit may now drop off given his exposure), Nick Ciubotariu thinks they areafter writing a very insightful blog post based on his employee experience. He's not speaking for the entire company, with a good percentage of staff based in its many warehouses around the World; he's speaking as a Head of Infrastructure at corporate HQ and as someone who has worked at the company for around 14 months. His post gave some more depth in relation to the NYT article painting a picture of focus and fun. It was perhaps an impromptu employee-led Amazon version of Laszlo Bock's ‘Work Rules!’ and without question, Amazon isdefinitely getting the employee experience right in Nick’s case.
But are people really that bothered about workplace culture anyway? Yes, and it's a big, big, yes at that. This is the most commented on story ever at the Times, according to the New Yorker. Nick Ciubotariu's post has also received over 1.1 million views. His post before this one received a few thousand views, but a galaxy away from the million mark. Interest in employee experiences is as high as it has ever been (though noted his article was sent directly to all staff at the online retailer) and has, in part, become a main part of the story.
Some have saluted his seemingly heart-felt intervention whilst others derided him and Amazon some more. No company is perfect, but I personally enjoyed his post and hearing more about his experience. Though, as a HR and organisation enthusiast, I was also very interested in the journalistic piece by the NYT. Did we get the full picture through both articles? Perhaps not. As always, it appears that there is truth in both sides of story. The customer experience is a very personal thing and the employee experience is very similar in that regard. It does depend on your particular context, circumstances, and expectations.
I once, a few years ago, asked colleagues to name their favourite and worst brand, whichever came to mind the quickest. Two hands went up. The first colleague shared their best brand. The second colleague shared their worst in quick succession. They looked at each other very confused with a look of shock on their face. Yes, coincidently, they named the same brand. It's great when you get moments of insight like that. Experience and context is important, and you can't always get it right, but striving for the moon is a must on both sides of the employment relationship.
So did Amazon quickly back up one of its own after his in-depth and unauthorized disclosure? Yes. In fact, Jeff Bezos sent an email to all staff and shared both the positive and negative articles and declared that he does not recognize the Amazon described in the NYT article and implored his staff to email him directly if they did. That's quite an action and is indicative of what is happening across the World in respect of the employee experience.
Would you or your colleagues speak up like Nick did for your employer? Here's another angle. Scan your network updates and see how many colleagues are informally promoting, marketing, and selling their organisation in a natural way, which must be a sense of great satisfaction for organisations who invested time, resources and attention in the full employee experience rather than simply disconnected parts of it. Make no mistake; this is a distinct, yet underutilized, business advantage and perhaps another example of the potential need to say Bye, Bye Human Resources?
They are, in fact, created as a result of great workplace experiencesand that strong connection between organisations, their people and their customers. It's that feeling of shared success, but it takes a lot of concentrated work to achieve and is perhaps the reason why so many people are keen to see a more meaningful economy.
Bezos, who has been declared the 'best CEO in the World', according to the top 100 list compiled by Harvard Business Review, has been the driving force behind Amazon’s culture. The World has now had a decent look inside his company with stones and plaudits being thrown towards it, but this is not just about Amazon. It might be the main story for the moment, but not for much longer.
Amazon is simply the icon company reflecting where the World is going. Organisations, and HR Teams in particular, take note and get yourself ready. The golden age of meaningful organisations and sharply in-focus employee experiences is here, and it's not going away.
Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).