Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently said warehouse workers enjoy working for his company so much that "94% say they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work." But some of its own employees don't buy that statistic.
The 94 percent number comes from an employee survey program at Amazon called Connections, which asks Amazon employees to answer a single question each day before they can start working on their company computer or their warehouse workstation. Bezos cited the stat in mid-April in his last letter to shareholders as CEO of Amazon.
But in interviews with Recode over the past two weeks, half a dozen Amazon employees and managers, two of whom are familiar with the inner workings of the Connections program, said many Amazon employees have widespread concerns about the Connections program. and the accuracy of its data and insights.
These employees told Recode that many Amazon employees don't answer Connections questions honestly because they fear their answers will not be truly anonymous, and they fear retaliation if they provide negative feedback. Others told Recode that some managers, both in warehouses and head offices, are pressuring their staff to answer questions positively. A warehouse manager and employee also said that often employees simply choose the best answer to get on with their day faster.
Such skepticism is notable not only because Amazon relies on Connections survey results for public statements and announcements, but also because the program was developed by Amazon's human resources department and informs how the country's second largest employer rates employee job satisfaction. .
While Bezos defended the company's way of dealing with frontline workers in the shareholder letter, which came out shortly after a historic union vote failed in an Alabama warehouse, he also seemed to acknowledge critics when he wrote that Amazon was "a better one". need. vision for the way we create value for employees & # 39; & # 39; and that its new goal is for Amazon to become "the best employer on the planet and the safest workplace on the planet". is becoming. On Wednesday, LinkedIn named Amazon the No. 1 workplace "to grow your career."
Amazon spokesperson Adam Sedo sent Recode a statement about the Connections program saying, “ To become the best employer on the planet and the safest place to work, we must, among other things, listen to feedback from our employees as often as we do to feedback from our customers. We do this through Connections, a question that our employees answer confidentially on a daily basis. Rather than waiting for the results of an annual employee survey, Amazon executives access and use daily feedback from their teams to continuously improve the employee experience. This approach helps managers take quick action and address issues immediately. "
According to several sources, the research program is a & # 39; pet project & # 39; from Amazon's human resources leader Beth Galetti, a former logistics executive at FedEx who first joined the technology giant in 2013 as vice president of human resources. She is now one of about two dozen executives at Amazon on Jeff Bezos' exclusive senior management team or S team, and one of only four women.
Connection questions can include anything from asking an employee what he thinks of his manager to questions about the cleanliness of the staff's restroom. According to a source who worked on the Connections team, the program was one of the first large-scale experiments by a company conducting a daily employee survey. But this employee said some colleagues in the early days of the program believed that the daily rate of asking questions was a fundamental mistake that was less effective in accurately assessing an employee's experience than a quarterly or monthly survey.
Sedo, the spokesman, said the company strongly disagrees with the idea that the daily cadence is a mistake. He added that Amazon repeatedly asks different questions over time so that trends are detectable. Managers can review the data collected on their staff's responses on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
Regardless, one of the biggest problems with the survey program, according to all six employees who spoke to Recode, is that Amazon employees are concerned that their responses will not remain anonymous.
“It is an ongoing concern that responses are not confidential / anonymous,” says a current Amazon Warehouse Area Manager, a job that typically involves managing dozens of front-line warehouse workers who perform a specific task, such as taking items off the shelves, sending them , or packing boxes.
Sedo, the company's spokesperson, said all answers are confidential and employees can choose not to answer a question.
Two sources said warehouse workers often choose the best answer, which often seems like the most positive choice, just to get on with their day. Others, in small teams, fear that even if their name is not linked to their survey responses, managers will be able to make an informed estimate of who reacted negatively based on previous interactions and one or more other way to retaliate. Managers of teams of more than four employees can view the collected survey results from their staff, but those who lead smaller teams cannot, the Amazon spokesperson said.
"Depending on the size of the team, people could find out who was saying what," said a former Amazon employee familiar with the inner workings of the program. "So after a while, some employees decide," I'm not going to be fair. ""
Aside from all this, several sources, in both corporate and warehouse environments, say they know managers who coach employees in answering questions in an effort to stay ahead of the survey results that may not reflect the manager well. Sedo, Amazon's spokesperson, said the company prohibits executives from telling their staff how to answer questions or asking them how they responded.
Despite these concerns, some sources said Connections results could be helpful if there is, in fact, trust between a manager and his staff.
“My experience with my team at the FC has been that it was pretty accurate, but I also encouraged my team to be open and honest so that I could use the scores as intended to address their barriers and concerns,” he said. Amazon Warehouse Area Manager. "It allows me to easily understand what kinds of things make the team unhappy and / or where my chances lie as a manager."
The source said the Connections website also provides tips on how to tackle low employee scores.
But the same manager said there are "sure managers out there who will coach their teams on how to respond, because it's a performance metric referenced during assessments."
That fact, plus concerns about anonymity and retaliation, casts enough doubt on the accuracy of the survey results that they should be viewed with skepticism, according to all sources who spoke to Recode, either for internal use or in Jeff Bezos' latest annual letter. to Amazon. shareholders.