Jeff Bezos Urges Amazon Staff Focus In Final Shareholder Letter

Amazon should focus its attention on tackling challenges for its staff, according to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos reportedly made the comments in his last ever letter to Amazon shareholders as he prepares to step down from the CEO position he has occupied since he founded the firm back in 1995.

Bezos had announced in early February that after 27 years in charge, he would be replaced by Amazon veteran Andy Jassy, who currently heads Amazon’s cloud computing business (AWS). Bezos will become executive chairman of the board.

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos

Shareholder letter

In his letter to Amazon shareholders, Bezos said that Amazon needs to do a better job for its 1.3 million employees around the world.

Last year Amazon hired 500,000 staff alone to help it cope with strong demand during Coronavirus lockdowns globally.

In the letter, Bezos said Amazon, a company famous for focusing relentlessly on the consumer, will now extend same the level of care for its employees.

Bezos pointed out in his letter the relationship Amazon has with its staff and discussed the recent historic vote about whether to allow a trade union to operate in its fulfilment warehouse in Bessemer (Alabama).

Amazon roundly defeated the high-profile effort to unionise, after a months-long campaign against the organisation drive. Staff at the Bessemer, Alabama facility voted 1,798 to 738 against the project.

“Our interactions with employees are many, and they’re fine-grained,” he wrote. “It’s not just about the pay and the benefits. It’s about all the other detailed aspects of the relationship too.”

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer?,” he was quoted by CNBC as writing. “No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”

Image credit: Amazon

“If you read some of the news reports, you might think we have no care for employees,” he wrote. “In those reports, our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots. That’s not accurate. They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work. When we survey fulfillment center employees, 94 percent say they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work.”

“Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance,” Bezos insisted. “These informal work breaks are in addition to the 30-minute lunch and 30-minute break built into their normal schedule.”

He also stated that Amazon does not set unreasonable performance goals, but rather achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data.

Want to know more? Read Silicon UK’s Tales in Tech History, about how Amazon transformed itself from an online retailer of books into a global e-commerce powerhouse.

“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” he added. “We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Staff focus

In his new role as executive chairman, Bezos said he plans to focus on how to make Amazon’s warehouses safer. Roughly 40 percent of work-related injuries are sprains or strains mostly due to repeating the same motions and are common among new employees, he added.

Image credit: Amazon

To help reduce these types of injuries, Amazon is developing automated staffing schedules that rotate employees through different jobs that use other muscle-tendon groups.

The company expects to begin deploying the technology later this year.

Bezos also took steps to ease shareholders’ fears about what a reimagined focus for the company might mean for Amazon’s future.

“I want to especially thank Andy Jassy for agreeing to take on the CEO role,” Bezos concluded. “It’s a hard job with a lot of responsibility. Andy is brilliant and has the highest of high standards. I guarantee you that Andy won’t let the universe make us typical.”

Bezos repeated that for Amazon, it remains day one.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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