Insider continues to investigate Amazon's workplace.
The e-commerce and cloud giant has a complex performance-review system some employees say is unfair.
Injury rates at Amazon warehouses are also higher than industry averages, Insider previously reported.
Amazon is the second-largest US employer and still one of the fastest-growing in the country. It offers income and benefits to well over 1 million people, and it's been a source of jobs and shopping convenience during the pandemic.
With that level of influence, Amazon's operations have come under intense scrutiny, which has prompted a nationwide unionization effort. The effort to unionize proved successful at a Staten Island warehouse as other warehouses throughout the country continue to organize. The following covers everything you need to know about what it's like to work at the company.
How Amazon culls its workforce
Insider is investigating Amazon's system for improving, or ousting, employees deemed underperformers. Once managers label workers as struggling, they are put on a "Focus" coaching plan. If they fail there, the workers are moved to another program called "Pivot," and then finally to an internal company jury that decides their fate at the company.
The system has been criticized by some current and former employees, who say it is unfairly stacked against them and can encourage managers to give bad reviews to good staff. Amazon says it gives managers tools to help employees improve and advance in their careers. "This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching. If an employee believes they are not receiving a fair assessment of their performance, they have multiple channels where they can raise this," a company spokesperson said.
Amazon has a goal to get rid of a certain number of employees each year, which is called unregretted attrition. Some managers at the company told Insider they felt so much pressure to meet the target that they hire people who they intend to fire within a year.
The company has faced high attrition, with former employees citing Amazon's cutthroat culture and comparatively low pay. Last year, 50 vice presidents left the company, and some divisions have reported a whopping 35% turnover rate. Amazon has responded by increasing base compensation and employee stock grants.
The company has been hit with allegations of bias
There's been a rash of lawsuits filed against Amazon alleging gender and racial bias. Last May, five current and former female employees sued the company, claiming "abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers."
Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, also filed a suit last year alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Another high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she saw as a "harassment culture," Insider reported.
"We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement at the time. "We immediately investigated Ms. Newman's sexual harassment claim and fired her harasser."
The investigation resulted in "corrective action and additional training requirements for those in her reporting line," the spokesperson added. "We also reviewed Ms. Newman's interview process, leveling and onboarding, and determined that she was properly placed in her role at the company. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in the lawsuit."
Amazon's warehouses churn through workers
The company's fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don't stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.
Amazon warehouses are partly automated, using robots that zip around the shop floor fetching pallets of merchandise and bringing them to employees who pick the correct items and pack them for shipping. The company hires thousands of extra temporary workers each year to support a surge in orders during the holiday shopping period.
During the pandemic, a jump in online orders prompted a hiring spree but caused tension with workers concerned about entering warehouses. Cases of COVID-19 ballooned at warehouses, according to The Markup, and workers at fulfillment centers in New York and Alabama have responded by organizing unions.
The first successful campaign was at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, where Amazon workers voted to form a union in April. The labor-organizing milestone was a major blow to Amazon's efforts to keep unions out of its facilities and is likely to propel a cascade of organizing at other Amazon warehouses and retailers. However, a union vote at another warehouse in Staten Island, also organized by the Amazon Labor Union, was defeated on Monday.
Amazon's delivery network relies on thousands of drivers
The company partners with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, but it also operates a massive fleet of in-house delivery vehicles. These vans are driven by a combination of employees, third-party courier services, and contract workers.
Amazon is known for imposing strict time constraints on drivers and tracking how many times they stop and how fast they drive. While the company factors in break times — a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks — some drivers say they either can't or don't want to take them.
Last year, Amazon denied that workers had to pee in bottles after lawmakers scolded the company about it. But multiple drivers confirmed it was part of the job. Amazon later apologized and said drivers have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic and being on rural routes, adding that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.
How to get a job at Amazon
Amazon remains an important employer that is growing quickly. Unlike some of its Big Tech rivals, the company offers a range of positions, from highly technical roles to blue-collar jobs. It's recruiting methods range from massive job fairs to tough one-on-one interviews.
The company ranks among the top employers among technical students. In a survey published in 2020, Amazon came 10th in a survey of engineering students, beating out Intel and IBM but trailing Tesla and SpaceX.
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