Fake reviews have been long regarded as a divisive tool for retailers to deceive consumers into thinking they’re buying something great. We’ve seen countless articles explaining the impacts of these reviews, and instead of fighting it, they learned how to make the purchase journey a better one for consumers.
The same can be said with Amazon – but this time, it’s not about product reviews; it’s about the treatment of staff.
We’ve shared a few times that Amazon has been held under the microscope regarding their treatment of warehouse staff, their bullish anti-union rhetoric and the lack of protection they offered during the height of the pandemic.
Now, they’re trying to cover their tracks.
Amazon’s Ambassador Progam
Amazon has quietly ended its controversial program that paid its warehouse staff to write positive things about the company online.
A report from the Financial Times explained that all traces of Amazon’s ‘Ambassador’ program was wiped in late 2021. Why is that? According to an Amazon representative, executives were ‘unhappy with the scheme’s poor reach’.
Launched in 2018, it was originally intended to offset any and all negative press the retailer received. These criticisms have been prominent in the last few years regarding the treatment of its workers. Ultimately, the program was initiated to promote the positives of working for Amazon.
According to the report, ‘handpicked’ staff were chosen to participate in the program. There, they would be tasked to refute negative press claims on Twitter, whether it be from other staff members, influencers, consumers, politicians and ‘media questioning the Fulfilment Centre associate experience’.
They were also told to be ‘blunt’ but ‘polite’ with their responses.
The Twitter responses that these Ambassadors parroted were laughable, to say the least. “As an Amazon employee, I can tell you that I would never feel resentful about Mr. Bezos,” wrote one Ambassador. “I feel proud to work for Amazon — they’ve taken good care of me. Much better than some of my previous employers,” wrote another.
When questioned about the authenticity of these responses, another Ambassador wrote: “We are totally normal and not bots and we are working for an amazing company.”
Amazon hasn’t built itself the best reputation for the treatment of its staff. The retailer has infamously been embroiled in controversies as the business rapidly expanded. As the popularity of e-commerce skyrocketed, so did Amazon. Every year, the retailer has hired hundreds of thousands of new staff members, and they’re not slowing down. In fact, in 2021, they hired more than 300,000 staff members worldwide.
There are currently 1.4 million employees working for Amazon. That’s larger than the population of Estonia.
Hiring staff is one thing, but keeping them is another. You can’t assure people that everyone at Amazon is happy and cheerful when 74 percent of Amazon staff say they’re afraid to use the toilet during their shift because they might miss their KPIs and get the sack.
What about the lack of sick days allocated for staff members? Or the $500,000 fine they received from California for failing to ‘adequately notify’ their staff about positive COVID cases in the warehouses?
“As the company enjoyed booming and historic sales with its stock price doubling, Amazon failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of COVID case numbers, often leaving them unable to effectively track the spread of the virus,” said Rob Bonta, California Attorney General. “This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones.”
Key words here: terrified and powerless. That is not how an employee should feel.
There have also been accusations of tracking and monitoring staff minute-by-minute. Plus, an investigation was launched by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding a collapsed Amazon warehouse in Illinois, which sadly killed six employees in December last year.
Even a simple search for ‘Amazon’ on the OSHA website will come back with a flurry of results, citing hazardous working conditions and fatalities – not just recently, either.
Amazon released its first-ever Safety Report on Monday this week. While the time taken off due to an injury dropped 43 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, its warehouses remain obviously dangerous and need to be addressed.
There have been so many horror stories reported by warehouse staff that it’s almost impossible to list them all here.
We haven’t even touched on the historic anti-unionisation of Amazon in the last 12 months. As a reminder, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, were pushing to unionise one of the major warehouses in the state. This came after some employees reported harsh working conditions in the heat with two breaks (but according to the employees, the time it takes to get to the bathroom based on the size of the warehouse takes up half of the designated break time) after being on their feet all day.
According to the retailer, this is okay because employees are paid more than double the minimum wage. Furthermore, while it’s illegal to forbid workers from forming a union, the company shared a campaign, including disparaging posters in bathrooms to showcase the company’s strengths.
At the time, Amazon disputed that they were trying to convince workers to avoid unionising and said that workers, in fact, heard ‘far more’ anti-Amazon messages. What’s more, when asked about it, former CEO Jeff Bezos said: “We need to do a better job for our employees.”
Sorry Jeff, but this isn’t better.
Big Words, Little Action
“The ‘ambassador’ programme was always a laughable attempt to minimise the abuses unfolding inside Amazon warehouses,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, Founding Co-Executive Director of the non-profit Warehouse Worker Resource Centre to the Financial Times. “The fact that Amazon is now trying to hide that the programme ever existed shows that the company is taking yet another page out of the authoritarian playbook to guide its management.”
It seems like common sense that the way to get a better reaction from your staff isn’t to bribe them (shocker, I know), but to give them a better working experience.
How do they do that, you may ask?
Start by allowing your staff to use the bathroom, even if it might impact their KPIs. Better yet, set realistic and achievable goals that encourage and inspire staff to work hard, not feel scared to perform basic bodily functions or pass out in the blazing heat.
Allow staff to share their experiences and encourage an active discussion about ways the retailer can improve. If you can encourage reviews from shoppers to improve product recommendations, site advancements and delivery enhancements, you can do it for staff, too.
Another idea: Make sure all pandemic requirements are filled and make staff feel secure enough that they won’t risk losing their jobs if they get sick or need to take care of their family in times of need.
It’s basic stuff, really.
And here’s the thing – Amazon shot themselves in the foot by encouraging faster shipping and record-speed fulfilment. The big guys at the top of the food chain listened to what customers wanted and didn’t even consider the hard work that comes with it, let alone prepare staff for increased workloads.
Retailers go above and beyond to make sure their customers get a great deal and excellent shopping experiences, all in the hopes of them coming back over and over. So why is it any different for a retailer to take care of their staff?
At the end of the day, having happy and safe employees doesn’t just improve morale, it improves productivity, increases engagement, enhances a sense of community and reduces stress levels. If your staff are happy, you don’t have to pay them extra to prove it to the world.
If Amazon really wants to ‘do better’, make some real changes, and treat your staff like human beings, not ants with an advertisement on their backs.
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