Yes, you've heard about it: Amazon, "the most valuable retailer in the country," has been accused of unfair (and unhappy) working conditions.
A recent New York Times article, "Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace," painted a compelling collage of the relentless working conditions that have fueled the thriving company culture behind Amazon.
While some consumers are naturally repulsed, others are asking questions: If Amazon, the "big kahuna" of modern business, is accused of such excruciating working conditions, what techniques are employed in other companies? And, if this type of culture is more common than we know, is this the future of workforce treatment in the tech industry?
What Are the Implications?
It will likely come as no surprise that Amazon did not make Fortune's 2015 edition of 100 Best Companies to Work For. But on further review, neither did Apple--the first U.S. company with a market valuation of above $700 billion.
However, this doesn't necessarily indicate that the working conditions at either company are deplorable or degrading. Instead, it raises yet another question: Should big industry leaders like Amazon and Apple be held to higher standards?
The answer? Perhaps! At the very least, a deeper inquiry may be necessary into Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, and also into the 150,000-plus team members who make up the Amazon workforce.
Regardless, the reports about Amazon's working conditions have opened up a larger issue about working conditions across the tech industry as a whole. While companies like Amazon and Apple might enjoy top-tier reputations, working for them might be less than stellar--it's up to industry leaders to change this reality, or at least clarify misguided perceptions.
Business is not about being cutthroat anymore; it's time for the tech industry to re-evaluate the perks being offered (or not) to workers to attract and retain them, and to reshape company cultures.
Cultivating a New Tech Culture
So, how can leaders go about making such a critical cultural change in the highly innovative tech industry? Here are three strategies that can lead businesses in the right direction:
1. Be accountable. In response to the Times article, Bezos released a statement to all Amazon staff members, encouraging them to contact HR (or even him directly!) if they've experienced anything like the horror stories included in that report. He ends by saying: "I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company."
The immediacy of his statement doesn't correct the situation, but it does set the tone for the culture of the company while also denouncing unreasonable expectations and intolerable working conditions. Bezos has made it clear he's responsible and that he'll listen to input from his employees and respond quickly and effectively. In the end, it's something to admire: He's taking the claims as a personal mission to right the situation, as opposed to hoping that it all just blows over. Like Bezos, other industry leaders should learn to accept feedback and use it to hold themselves accountable.
2. Analyze what attracts top-tier employees. As Dan Pink outlines in his book "Drive," companies need to consider what is most important concerning attracting and retaining top performers.
While this entails money and benefits, it also includes intrinsic rewards, too. When companies honor humane values like respect and flexibility, and address key issues like maternal or paternal leave policies and flex time, they are more likely to retain best-of-breed employees.
3. Act on the results. Far too often, we see leaders become distracted before they implement big, promised changes. Tech industry leaders must understand that an improved workforce culture is also an innovation that needs to be prioritized in this day and age.
It's a simple equation: Great innovation only happens when bold ideas are executed.
Although we might not know or understand all of the practices behind an individual company's success, it's important to hold every organization accountable. And, judging by what was insinuated about Amazon, it seems the tech industry on the whole needs to do just that.