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Amazon is in the news, and this time, for all the right reasons. The company’s India CEO Amit Agarwal has written to employees to encourage a healthy work culture by taking time off for themselves and their families. They have also been told to stop active work by 6 pm and refrain from taking decisions and answering official mails after working hours. Agarwal’s prescription for a happy workforce includes telling employees not to form negative perceptions of co-workers who were “availing of flexible working hours or work-from-home.”
These employee-friendly overtures have surprised many. On the international circuit, Amazon has a reputation of ‘slave-driving’ and beating down attempts to unionise. The Guardian, UK, said ambulances were summoned to British Amazon warehouses 600 times in the last three years to attend to injured or sick employees; the daily also mentions James Bloodworth, a writer who went undercover at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire, England, found workers routinely urinating in water bottles to avoid being punished for taking breaks from work.
Another writer, Vanessa Veselka, who sought temporary employment at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in the US, has documented how employees were forced to work in robotic, fast-paced conditions. Amazon warehouse workers recently also told Business Insider how employees fighting to keep pace were using trash bins to go to the bathroom. The picture that emerges from these reports is a toxic atmosphere in the workplace centred around fear of missing productivity targets.
Jeff Bezos’ $140 billion giant company’s misdoings catch the eye because of Amazon’s sheer size; but look around you and the Bad Company – those with a culture that pushes employees to the brink – is there in every nook and corner. USA Today recently published a list of 20 such “worst companies to work for in the US” based on a tracker called ‘Glassdoor’ that invites employee ratings. The list included the processed food company Kraft Heinz employing 39,000 employees and well known car rental group, Hertz.
Sample what some of the surveys revealed: In the case of the Kraft Heinz Company, the most common complaint by staff is that the company has a poor work-life balance, with one employee having posted “11-hour days have become the norm.” Dozens of employees of a tech company, DXC Technology, posted that the one of the most negative aspects of working at the company “is the lack of pay raises and bonuses.”
For India, NaukriHub.com has brought out a list of worst-paying companies where employee dissatisfaction is high; it shows up start-ups, e-commerce companies and big brands.
Tech company Syntel of Pune had an employee on record saying the salary earned by him was much less than what a gas station worker received. Moreover, the organisation’s employment policies clearly smacked of nepotism and favouritism, and the working atmosphere was also not conducive for career growth. Jindal Steel Works had scores of employees claiming they could only move up the career chain if they greased the palms of manager. Myntra.com, a popular online clothes seller, was skewered by employees for firing personnel at will and not paying full wages for months.
HIGH MORALE, BETTER WORK
It is a shame that most of these companies pretend not to be mom-and-pop sweat shops but examples of ‘benevolent capitalism’. Three of the most common violations seen in these companies are: Poor salaries and bonuses that don’t match the profits of the company and that can’t buy a decent living standard. Long and harsh working conditions that don’t allow a conducive work-life balance; and third, a toxic work environment or oppression that does not allow career advancement.
Discussing the flip side, what makes for employees satisfaction, Scott Dobroski, a Glassdoor community expert, told researchers, “The three top drivers of long-term employee satisfaction are: company culture, career opportunities and trust in senior leadership.”
The prevailing capitalist logic is to build the company’s bottom line on low wages and squeezing out more by making employees work longer and harder hours. Perhaps, more companies should work on what HR research and the International Labour Organisation has been saying all along: better working conditions, a living wage, and rewards for good performance to induce higher productivity. Higher employee morale leads to better talent retention and therefore, better customer relations. End result: a more profitable company.
Maybe, we can start with Amazon Seattle emulating the good practices prescribed by Amazon India head Amit Agarwal.