Amazon has taken over Whole Foods. There is the lack of transparency in Amazon, and it is deliberate. Let’s first note that it is unethical (not to mention illegal) to restrict the free speech of employees when they are not on the clock. Of course, the media has to respect the firm in question and admit that what an employee tells them is not official communication from someone designated to speak for the organization. According to some articles on Amazon, even low-level employees sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement. Amazon generated $136 billion in revenue in 2016; it isn’t like they’re protecting the recipe for Coca Cola. While public image is everything, a few former employees bad mouthing Amazon is unlikely to cause much damage.
Amazon must think they’re above the law, as in their unethical communication rules, as observed in another article on Amazon: “Some states, like California, also have laws that protect employees from being disciplined for the things they do or say off the clock. There are narrow exceptions if the conduct directly affects the company; but it has to be a pretty big deal that causes actual damage to the company. So if someone tweets that the boss is a douche bag, they generally can’t be fired if it was on their personal account while off-duty”. The employees from Amazon who spoke to the media were anonymous, and obviously fearful, which is a bad sign in itself. Transparency should be the rule, with exceptions of financial conditions or marketing programs that could damage the organization. Amazon’s only legal exception that I am aware of would be if the employee caused some sort of damage to the organization.
Amazon’s policy of the annual “cullings of the staff” eliminates potentially valuable employees means releasing employees who are performing below standards when what Amazon should be doing is trying to improve their performance. How could you possibly know if a new hire is going to perform better, or even as well, as the employee you are firing? Attempting to fill positions where the former employee was deliberately “eliminated” would be an awkward question from a potential employee. Perhaps Amazon uses the universally used and quite despised “they didn’t work out.” If the interviewer makes that claim, run, don’t walk to the nearest exit.
When an environment such as Amazon’s is created, the unethical behavior that is likely to result is that there is a lot of lying, disparagement of fellow employees, backstabbing, and taking credit for the work of other people if it can be convincingly passed along. Amazon’s environment appears to be encouraging employees to say things behind people’s backs, while attempting to torpedo the careers of fellow employees and the management seems to be going along with this wholeheartedly, or possibly they are unhappy but sworn to secrecy.
At Amazon, a policy of treating everyone fairly is undermined by the comments encouraged by management, and unethical behavior creates more unethical behavior. Ethically, what you say behind someone’s back should be what you are willing to say to their face, but that is not the policy at Amazon. Amazon’s “Anytime Feedback Tool” allows employees to praise or scorn their fellow employees and the ranking system that Amazon uses can mean being “eliminated” at your evaluation. Bear in mind that under the Anytime Feedback Tool system, as explained in the article that I read, the other employees could simply send consistently bad comments on an outstanding employee and seal their fate to be “eliminated.” Amazon is basing evaluation of performance on office politics and putting peoples’ careers in jeopardy on what is nothing more than hearsay. In order to fire someone, (ethically and legally) the organization must have solid unchallengeable evidence of poor performance, and a collection of disparaging statements from fellow employees is hardly an ethically sound justification.
Many employees of Amazon have workweeks of sixty hour plus, and that would seem to generate a lot of burnout. The intense competition and unrestrained criticism that is encouraged at Amazon could cause people to take credit for the ideas of other people and severely criticize the ideas of other employees to the point that ideas that could increase productivity could be so severely criticized that it is dropped before implemented. Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of being painful, before lining up behind a decision, as one article I read stated.
Another tactic is to summarily reject a good idea and wait until the person who quits and then suggest the idea as your own, a policy I have witnessed. Stealing of ideas is a common problem in ultra-competitive environments like that of Amazon.
Unethical behavior such as lying or misrepresenting a fellow employee who is making other employees look bad can be drummed out of Amazon by using the Anytime Feedback Tool. Similarly, underperforming employees can be unduly praised and held in high regard because of unearned and unmerited praise by the same Anytime Feedback Tool. According to the articles I have reviewed, resources are hoarded, and rightfully so, given the competitive atmosphere. The ideas that are so prized and encouraged by Amazon might never make it to discussion because of the harsh and unbridled criticism that is encouraged. Encouraging employees to suggest improvements and then allowing unbridled criticism of suggested improvements seems contradictory on its face for an organization.
The stack ranking, or also known as “rank and yank” rating system that Amazon uses has been abandoned by General Electric, Microsoft and Accenture Consulting because it forces managers to dispose of valuable talent only because the numbers insist that a certain number be eliminated, no matter how good their performance. As stated before, and this question has never been answered, in what instance has the potential talent of a prospective employee measurably exceeded the talent of those already employed by the company?
The lawyers around Seattle where Amazon is located have received many calls from former Amazon employees seeking legal redress. The Human Resource people of Amazon blithely claim to have no knowledge of any of the instances where people are seeking legal compensation; that is because if they admitted awareness of the abuse that would immediately validate the claims of the former employees.
Employees leave managers, not companies. The manager is the focal point, good or bad, for all employees. For the most part, not always, but most of the time, bad managers have high turnover, while good managers have low turnover. There are exceptions to this rule, and the biggest being the good manager who nurtures mediocre employees into exceptional employees who are then poached by other managers from the good manager’s staff for higher positions. The best of managers have to remember that holding people down because they do a good job for him/her is selfish and bad for both the good employees as well as the organization. It is unethical to restrain the career of an employee simply because they do a great job for you.
Transparency, loyalty to subordinates, fairness of treatment, and development of talent are all behaviors that demonstrate ethical treatment. The ethical treatment of employees is the fair treatment and equal opportunities for all employees (if they wish to do so) to move ahead in the organization. Ethics start with the managers, who need to consider how they treat their subordinates. From the looks of the articles about Amazon that is not the environment that they are creating.
Ethical managers foster and encourage ethical employees. Managers who are letting employees cheat and lie about each other (via the Anytime Feedback Tool) are fostering an unethical environment. A super-competitive environment with long hours, daily evaluations of performance and harsh criticism of the ideas and suggestions of employees is almost begging employees to be unethical.
It is not that a competitive environment encourages unethical behavior, it is when a competitive environment does not recognize honest effort and encourages employees who are willing to do anything to get ahead, including being unethical. Honest criticism is one thing, whereas severely criticizing a coworker in order to promote one’s own agenda is quite another, as well as unethical, not to mention detrimental to the organization.