From warehouse to cubicle farm: Exploring Amazon’s employee feedback system

Evidence that Amazon is starting to treat its white-collar workers the same as the laborers in its distribution warehouses continues to mount. A new report shows that the company, which has been criticized in the past for how it treats workers, started expanding an employee feedback program in recent months. Will that be enough to change the perception of the company’s labor practices?
Amazon says the expansion of its program, dubbed Amazon Connections, is unrelated to a New York Times report about the culture in its corporate offices. The report described a company where new mothers are expected to work more than eight hours a day, where it was common to see people crying at their desks, and where employees are hired quickly then worked harder than ever before.
At the time, I wrote that anyone surprised that Amazon treats its technical workers the same way it treats its non-technical staff was engaging in classism. Amazon didn’t suddenly begin to treat its workers poorly — it was built on the backs of workers who are always pushed to do more for the retailer’s empire, which makes no distinction based on the color of a worker’s metaphorical collar.
Amazon Connections shows this. The system, which collects feedback from employees which is processed by dedicated teams in Seattle and Prague before it’s anonymized, was introduced in Amazon’s warehouses. The company says the system has been used by its operations network for over a year; it made the jump to its corporate offices some time this summer, and continues to expand.
Soon perhaps every one of Amazon’s employees will be queried like this. (Try not to think about it as Big Brother keeping an eye on the populace. I’m sure Amazon would prefer a metaphor involving close friends who can tell each other anything, even if one friend has the power to threaten the other’s livelihood.) Will that help chief executive Jeff Bezos recognize the company he has built?
Some think it could. Here’s what Dan Finnigan, the chief executive of recruiting software-maker Jobvite, said when I asked about Amazon’s program:

At Jobvite we certainly listen to feedback like this. I can draw direct correlations between an uptick in happiness levels and a big sales quarter or a good run on our product development roadmap. Likewise, you might be able to note a downturn in happiness if you haven’t been having enough all-hands meetings, or if a popular employee leaves the company for a ‘better offer’ elsewhere. If you track all this valuable data, you’ll learn what makes your employees tick, what puts them at risk for departing, and what you as a leader can do to bolster morale and keep your employees performing at their peak.

Scott Dobroski, the community expert at Glassdoor, agrees with that sentiment:

We know that companies of all sizes, big and small, also leverage internal surveys as added data points to help them engage employees and better understand what’s working well, and what needs improvement in the eyes of employees. Google is perhaps most famous for doing this as they are constantly surveying their employees, analyzing feedback, and making improvements to meet the needs of their global workforce. Companies that pay attention to feedback, whether from internal surveys or from public sites such as Glassdoor, have the edge when it comes to recruiting the best talent because it shows they care about their employees, how they feel about where they work, and want to improve as an employer. When this happens, people typically want to work for a company that embraces employee feedback and practices transparency.

Of course, it’s up to Amazon to respond to anything it hears from its employees. That’s where the connection between technical and non-technical workers could break down: Many of the people hired to work in Amazon’s warehouses are hired through another company, and are often employed on a seasonal basis. (Gotta make sure all those boxes are placed underneath the Christmas trees.)
It isn’t hard to imagine that the complaints of people working from Amazon’s office in Seattle might be given a little more weight than complaints from temp workers in a distribution center all the way across the country. Amazon has done a lot to show that it doesn’t distinguish between different types of employees — usually in a bad way. Now that it has the chance to do some good, it will be interesting to see if that collar blindness remains, or if it’ll suddenly disappear.