To say that Walmart and McDonald’s have been “called out” because of alleged contempt for their employees would be an understatement. The world’s largest fast-food chain and the world’s largest retailer have been downright embarrassed by recent — and well-publicized — stories that suggest working for either company is not only a miserable experience, but occasionally humiliating.
Still, neither MCD nor WMT is the absolute most evil corporation on the face of the planet. The lack of concern for their workers is simply evident because of the public nature of their businesses.
As it turns out, Jeff Bezos might have crafted beloved online retailer AMZN into an even worse company to work for.
Oh No They Didn’t!
Were it just an occasional employee-centered gaffe, it might be dismissible as inevitable employee griping; some workers are just never going to be happy no matter what. However, Walmart and McDonald’s have both left behind a long string of such gaffes, and as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
For MCD, that string of missteps includes the July unveiling of a budget-planning guide for employees … that included a blank line for income from a second job, but failed to account for the fact that employees might actually need to pay a heat bill. In November, a “McResource” worker referred an employee to a food pantry, and explained how the worker may qualify for food stamps. Later in November, the company suggested employees could eat smaller pieces of food to stretch their food dollars.
Walmart isn’t any better. Its labor-union woes are now more than a decade old, and while we saw glimmers of a positive change in employee policies a few years ago, it appears WMT has slipped back into its old habits.
While the career-information part of the company’s website intended to tout the fact that roughly half of its hourly store employees earn more than $25,000 per year, that message indirectly acknowledged that around half of them make less than $25,000 per year. It’s technically above the poverty line, but it’s not a living wage. That’s one of the reasons an Ohio Walmart opted to hold a food drive last month — for its own employees.
And What About AMZN?
So how are Amazon.com and CEO Jeff Bezos even worse than McDonald’s or Walmart when it comes to a being oblivious regarding their people?
Here are the top three ways, but be warned, they might make you cringe:
1. At Amazon, any a particular employee’s promotion isn’t his or her boss’s decision, but rather, depends on whether that boss can convince his or her peers that an employee is promotion-worthy. In other words, not only does an AMZN worker need to suck up to his or her supervisor, but it would behoove them to suck up to every other boss in the building. This can make office politics very tricky — as well as cut-throat — in that it allows someone to keep a better employee (i.e. competition) ineligible for any kind of advancement where they might become a threat.
2. The average warehouse worker, which is a huge segment of the AMZN employee base, earns an average annual paycheck of $23,582. That’s on par with Walmart’s lousy pay. In some of those warehouses, Amazon employees were forced to raise a serious stink before air conditioners were installed.
3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jeff Bezos has created a culture at AMZN where any customer complaint is presumed to mean an employee has made a mistake, or an employee is ultimately somehow at fault. Example: Any emailed customer complaint that Jeff Bezos receives — and apparently that’s a great number of them — are simply forwarded to the appropriate individual with nothing more than a question mark added by the CEO. A resolution and a plan of action to prevent the problem from arising again is expected within hours; there’s no one at AMZN who doesn’t know what the lone “?” actually means.
It’s effective in that the practice constantly keeps workers (mostly upper-level folks are in this stressful situation) thinking about how to prevent proverbial fires from starting instead of putting them out once they pop up, as too may question-mark emails can be a career killer. It’s ultimately destructive, however, in that the incessant, defensive-thinking staves off the creative, initiative thinking that makes good companies great.
And make no mistake — Jeff Bezos isn’t simply being efficient by adding a sole question mark to complaint e-mails. He uses plenty of words when he feels it’s merited. He has been credited with saying the words “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “You’re a total idiot, but do it anyway” plenty of times.
There are better ways to get someone’s attention, and it might be less humiliating to simply fire an employee who’s truly an idiot, incompetent or lazy. Under the right circumstances, harsh words like that can lead someone to commit suicide.
Unfortunately, Jeff Bezos doesn’t seem to have any other way of making his point.
All of a sudden, comparatively, McDonald’s and Walmart almost look like compassionate employers.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.