THIS year, Forbes rated Amazon.com as the world’s eighth most innovative company. The online retailer has a market cap of $175.1 billion. CNN Money also reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now the fourth wealthiest person in the world. From its original presence as an electronic bookstore in 1994, Amazon.com has ventured into online retail shopping services, virtual advertising, and co-branded credit card agreements and has become the world’s largest online retailer.
This would not have been possible without its 154,100 employees. Globalization begets tough competition and rapid changes in technology heighten rivalry in the marketplace. As a result, some companies use people as a means to their ends. I was flabbergasted with what I learned about the skeletons in Amazon.com’s closet. I wondered whether working there is like being lost in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest?
A silent reality is happening in Brazil’s Amazon. Its magnificent broad-leafed rainforest can surely deliver tranquility. However, can you survive the dreadful jungle when the very large trees that you first appreciated blanket your surroundings with abysmal darkness? While lost in the wilderness, hungry and exhausted, you find yourself in solitude. Then, you discover that you are not, in fact, alone. Petrified, you keep your eyes open for predators. How do you preserve your mental state in such a place? How do you survive in the Amazon?
Now let’s go back to Amazon.com’s workplace environment. The Glassdoor website cited a New York Times investigative news story on Amazon.com that an employee had squealed, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” In another blog, Hamilton Nolan said that Amazon has an “exploitive workplace culture!” One of the insiders he interviewed called Amazon “the soulless machine that looks down on employee work-life balance as ‘weak’ and ‘uncommitted to the customer’ even when they put the customer first … it comes at the expense of the employees, their health and their families … everyone is so tired, all the time. Dark eye circles, muttering under yawns, all. There could never be ‘lifers’ here … ’’
However, Amazon.com asserted that it is a great workplace. In fact, ‘Working at Amazon’ claimed that their fulfillment centers were 30 percent higher than that of people working in traditional retail stores. In addition to competitive wages, employees reportedly received comprehensive benefits, including health coverage.
People’s well-being is important. Companies should consider both the physical and emotional cost of the work given to employees. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky said that “deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.” Higher wages for doing the same job that others do in the same industry are not justified if health and family relationships are negatively affected. However, many businesses treat people like machines. For them, profit seems more important than people. However, if employees are taken away from organizations, businesses will not survive.
Management guru and social ecologist Peter Drucker once said: “Efficiency is doing things right while effectiveness is doing the right things.” By doing the right things we promote job satisfaction and a meaningful life for employees, which is important to people’s perpetual survival. This is what humanistic sustainability is all about. This is what doing the right things can bring.
Ana Liza Asis-Castro is a Doctor of Business Administration student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where she also teaches Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance, and Management in the graduate and undergraduate levels. She is also a real estate professional with more than 26 years of experience. The views expressed above are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.