How can Amazon fulfill its new mission to become the world's best employer? A logistics expert and author--who also spent more than a year as a frontline Amazon employee--says the company needs to do better on training, and properly value and understand its warehouse employees. Every business owner can learn from her insights.
Few people have interacted with Amazon as many different ways as Gisela Hausmann has. She's a self-published author who's benefited personally from Amazon's publishing platform and deeply admires the company and its founder Jeff Bezos. She also has lots of experience in logistics, having worked for years at FedEx and for an ocean shipping company. So when an Amazon distribution center opened in her town, it seemed like a perfect fit. She signed on, and worked there for about 15 months, hoping to climb the corporate ladder as she had done at FedEx. Instead, she learned some big lessons about the company and how its famous principles work--and don't work--in the real world. And, in an interview with GeekWire, she offered five detailed suggestions for how Amazon really could turn into the world's best employer. Here are my three favorites:
1. Focus on employees with long-term potential.
There are multiple accounts of warehouse workers facing such stringent quotas that they couldn't take bathroom breaks for fear of falling behind. Hausmann didn't experience this herself. She told GeekWire that after learning her job stowing packages, she was able to exceed Amazon's quotas. "At age 58, I was one of their best stowers," she says in an interview on her website. "Distribution centers aren't brutal environments because, in contrast to fulfillment centers, they operate on six-hour shifts."
But she did see a company that wasn't applying its principles in its own warehouses, was ignoring suggestions and feedback from well-meaning employees, and had what she describes as an "awful" training program. And, she says, the company made things worse by focusing its attention on recruiting fresh college graduates (who probably wouldn't stay for more than a couple of years) rather than developing and promoting people who wanted long-term careers with Amazon. She herself had hoped to climb the ladder as she had at FedEx, but the lack of good training or attention to committed employees frustrated her. She left when she saw the company failing to keep people as safe as it could have during the pandemic.
2. Create principles that make sense to frontline workers.
"Work hard, have fun, make history" might make a lot of sense to a developer working in one of Amazon's offices, but not so much to someone sorting packages, Hausmann told GeekWire. Instead, she says, the company needs to create some principles and slogans that apply in the warehouse world. She found little evidence of Amazon's famous "It's always day one" philosophy as a warehouse employee.
"To me, it looked like Amazon's leadership principles, which are presented on the warehouses' lunchroom walls, are merely letters on these walls," she says in her website interview.
3. Turn warehouse employees into goodwill ambassadors.
Hausmann makes a breathtakingly simple suggestion: Give warehouse workers free Prime accounts. It seems logical that the people who work so hard to get packages to the rest of us should be able to receive those packages without paying for the privilege. At $119 per year, it would be one of the most inexpensive perks the company could offer, and likely to make an outsize impact.
Beyond that, Hausmann says Amazon missed the opportunity to hold up its warehouse employees as heroes in the early days of the pandemic when they were literally saving lives by keeping people out of stores. The company would have generated enormous goodwill and turned those employees into advocates and recruiters. It's still not too late to generate that kind of goodwill, she told GeekWire.
She says she's "100 percent sure" that Amazon really can become the world's best employer: "I would hope that they live up to what they say about themselves and what they can do."