In internal correspondence, company administrators warned of “inadequate service levels”, “deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delays and errors”.
The magnitude of the problem is a big relief as Amazon’s employees routinely went after customers during the company’s meteoric rise to retail dominance. Amazon built advanced package handling facilities to satisfy shoppers’ hunger for fast delivery, outperforming its competitors. But the company, according to many longtime employees, did not devote enough resources and attention to the way it serves the employees.
“Often, because we optimized for the customer experience, we focused on that,” Bethany Reyes, who was recently responsible for fixing the leave system, said in an interview. She emphasized that the company was working hard to rebalance those priorities.
The way the company manages its massive workforce – now more than 1.3 million people and growing rapidly – is becoming increasingly critical. Labor activists and some lawmakers say the company is not adequately protecting the safety of warehouse workers and is unfairly punishing internal critics. This year, Alabama workers, angry at the company’s minute-by-minute monitoring of their productivity, staged a serious, but ultimately failed, union threat against the company.
In June, a Times investigation showed how badly the furlough process stalled during the pandemic, finding it to be one of many layoffs during the company’s greatest moment of financial success. Since then, Amazon has emphasized its promise to become “the best employer on earth.” Andy Jassy, who replaced Mr. Bezos as chief executive in July, recently called the leave system a place where it can show its commitment to improvement. The process “didn’t work the way we wanted it to work,” he told a event this month.
In response to more recent findings about the issues in the leave program, Amazon commented on its efforts to solve the system’s “pain points” and “wage problems,” as Ms. Reyes put it in the interview. She called the erroneous terminations “the most dire problem you could have.” The company hires hundreds of employees, streamlines and connects systems, clarifies communication and trains staff to be more empathetic.
But many problems persist and cause failures that have proved devastating. This spring, a warehouse worker in Tennessee abruptly stopped receiving disability benefits, leaving his family struggling to afford food, transportation or medical care.