Business has been good for Amazon amid the COVID-19 crisis, with net profits soaring to US$21.33bn last year. But when it comes to steering workforce policies, "there's plenty we can keep working on," said newly elevated CEO Andy Jassy.
Such gaps have prompted the successor of Jeff Bezos to vouch for better worker treatment, especially in light of the pandemic. In October 2020, for instance, Amazon went on record that 20,000 of its frontline staff had tested positive for COVID. The abnormally high volume of employees affected by the health crisis purportedly strained existing systems for handling employee concerns.
"We don't pretend that we're perfect," Jassy said on stage at the GeekWire Summit this week. "There's plenty we can keep working on and that we will be working on."
Some provisions, like the company's automated HR system which manages leave requests, reportedly became overwhelmed and incorrectly served the wrong information to staff members.
A number of employees who needed to go on leave to recover or self-isolate allegedly received termination notices or had their leave requests declined automatically.
The New York Times, meanwhile, reported how an Amazon worker had been barraged by notifications about his return to work despite being critically ill.
The system "didn't work the way we wanted it to work," Jassy said.
"During the pandemic in our fulfilment centres, we had a system and a process around people being able to request short- and long-term leave – and the process just didn't scale," he said.
There are indeed struggles when managing a workforce of 1.2 million, but the CEO maintains some "exaggerations and anecdotal references" didn't paint an accurate picture of life at Amazon.
While the ecommerce group is touted as one of the most profitable businesses in the pandemic, Jassy said the company "never anticipated having a pandemic" or seeing a high demand for certain provisions.
"I think if you have a large group of people like we do – we have 1.2 million employees – it's almost like a small country," he said. "There are lots of things you could do better."