HR Management & Compliance

Amazon’s Essential Worker Challenges

Amazon is a massive organization. The online retailer is the largest internet company in the world, by revenue, and one of the world’s most valuable companies. With nearly one million U.S. workers, it’s also the second largest private employer in the United States (after Walmart). With so many employees engaged in such large-scale operations, it’s understandable that the company might experience a few HR hiccups from time to time.

However, a recent New York Times article by Jodi Kantor, Karen Weise, and Grace Ashford exposes human resources and payroll issues far more egregious than occasional errors.

More Issues Emerging

The authors discuss an investigation surrounding a major HR nightmare at the online giant. “For at least a year and a half—including during periods of record profit—Amazon had been shortchanging new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave, according to a confidential report on the findings,” the authors write.

They go on to report that these problems have only recently been corrected in many cases, with employee repaid months after issues surfaced according to company spokesperson Kelly Nantel. And, this appears to be just the tip of the iceberg according to multiple other interviews and internal documents gathered by The New York Times.

“Together, the records and interviews reveal that the issues have been more widespread—affecting the company’s blue-collar and white-collar workers—and more harmful than previously known, amounting to what several company insiders described as one of its gravest human resources problems,” the authors say.

Other issues included employees being terminated when attendance software erroneously counted them as no-shows and other employees forced to effectively take unpaid vacation when internal systems were too backed up to process them when they tried returning to work.

HR Leaders Need to Step Up

Josh Bersin, a global HR analyst, and CEO of the Josh Bersin Company expressed his shock at the revelations. “Those of us in HR know taking care of employees is even more important than taking care of customers, because it’s employees who deliver the products, services, and support that customers need,” he says. 

“The Times’ revelations tell me that Amazon is such a bottom-line focused company it has completely overlooked the importance of creating a fantastic place for employees to work. A company that can trace a package to your doorstep but cannot seem to integrate its core HR systems so employees can file for leave, get appropriate state-level benefits, and deliver a consistent employee service experience through call centers? You’re kidding me. It’s also very disappointing given how, in April Jeff Bezos announced he was going to work on Amazon becoming “the most employee-focused company.””

Given the complexity of the HR function in a company that employees nearly one-million workers in the U.S. alone, a few isolated HR hiccups are certainly understandable. However, Amazon’s woes go far beyond into the realm of systemic failure. As Bersin correctly notes, companies that want to stay on the cutting edge of the business world need to take care of their employees. After all, it’s their workers who keep customers happy and drive revenue and profits.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.