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Organizational Justice, Workplace Behavior, and Stress in Amazon’s Organizational Culture

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Organizational Justice, Workplace Behavior, and Stress in Amazon’s Organizational Culture

Andrew Sanchez

University of Texas at San Antonio

MGT 3023-004

Professor Thorton-Lugo















        

Amazon has become a leader in global retail.  This giant has transformed from a small start up that only sold books, to the top online store in the United States.  Jeff Bezos has lead the way by embodying the “cult of the customer” (Head, 2018, para 7) culture, which everyone in his company has to follow.  This culture has been Bezos’s vision since he started the company back in 1994, and he has maintained it through indoctrinating his employees, both executive and temporary, with his rigid principles and guidelines.  Although this culture of achievement, speed, and innovation has made Amazon very successful, the downside has been the negative effect it has on its employees. Amazon’s culture has affected its organizational justice, workplace behavior, and employee stress.

        Organizational justice, or, fairness in the workplace, deals with how employees see and feel the managers and decision makers treat them (Robbins & Judge, 2019, p.235).  Amazon seems to think it is fair in the way they treat employees.  They give them work and pay them for their time.  Amazon offers health insurance and educational benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, for its full time employees.  However, “fairness is often subjective” (Robbins & Judge, 2019, p.239).  Amazon may see themselves as fair in what they expect, what they offer as incentives, and how they treat their Amazonians, but a majority of the employees, especially lower level warehouse ones do not.  It seems that Amazon has two distinct cultures.  The one Jeff Bezos sees and lives, with his “one best way”, and principles for achieving that (Head, 2014, para 3) .  Then there is the subculture of injustice for the employee, where there is lack of fairness and care, and a mistrust between coworkers and subordinates.

Jeff Bezos’s strong company culture of principles and competition has affected its distributive justice for the lower level employees. This is the perceived fairness of the amount and allocation of rewards among individuals (Robbins & Judge, 2019, p.236). For starters, the pickers and sorters at the fulfillment centers “are required to be on their feet all day, and receive scant time for bathroom breaks or lunch” (What Amazon Does to Poor Cities).  “They’re also allowed very little time off, and written up if they go over a certain amount of time off” (Semuels, 2018, para. 12).  Aside for the paycheck, there is little reward for them to express Organizational Citizenship Behavior, which would encourage them to go above and beyond their duties for the benefit of the company.  For example, workers are already required to work longer than ten hour shifts, and a reward for a “Power Hour” of extra hussle could be one cookie or a gift card  It is not fair or equitable to push a worker beyond expected duties for a small or trivial reward.  Other retail business similar to Amazon do a better job of taking care of their employees.  Stater Brothers, a grocery chain in California, has a culture of taking care of its employees where “workers...are unionized and get full medical benefits, pensions, and retiree medical benefits” (Semuels, 2018, para.6).  At the executive level, Amazon “links their performance to the success of their assigned projects” (Kantor & Streitfeldaug, 2015, para. 40), which seems fair, but does not allow for mistakes.  This type of evaluation system often punishes employees “[b]ecause team members are ranked, and those at the bottom [are]eliminated every year” (Kantor & Streitfeldaug, 2015, para. 64).  

The injustice does not stop at the type of rewards and evaluations distributed.  Amazon’s company culture, with its shared values of “performance that can be measured and an ability to defy limits…” (Kantor & Streitfeldaug, 2015, para. 23) is difficult to be considered reasonable and fair.  Amazonians experience surprise changes in their required output regularly.  Their hourly quotas can increase by hundreds of units without any warning. Not only can the quotas change, but the rate at which their staff is required to work is subject to also.  Amazon is always monitoring the speed at which their packers and sorters operate, and they are known for shaving down the amount of time expected to complete such tasks, with no detailed explanation provided.  This leaves the employees with a constant fear of not performing which would lead to write ups and eventual termination of employment.  This informational injustice can be restored by having managers provide detailed and explicit information.  Employees should also be allowed to present their opinions to decision makers without fear or flat out inaction.  This brings about procedural justice.  “Employees also perceive that procedures are fairer when decision makers follow several rules, including...using accurate information, considering the groups or people that their decisions affect, acting ethically, and remaining open to appeals or correction” (Robbins & Judge, 2019, p.236).  

Amazon’s organizational culture has allowed these injustices to occur and persist.  Jeff Bezos’s organizational values have been ritualialized and passed on even in the language used by executives and warehouse management.  “Research suggests that violation of justice norms is gendered” (Robbins & Judge, 2019, p.239), and perhaps it is for this reason that Mr. Bezos’s and his leadership team, which are all men, are excused to treat their employees this way and show little concern.  Amazon will do great service to itself to redress this since its current “competition-and-elimination system” (Kantor & Streitfeldaug, 2015, para.79) is not sustainable in the long run.  A cultural shift to include the care of the employee as well as the customer will lead to higher task performance, more helpful citizenship behavior, and more loyalty to the company.  It will help Amazon to continue to outperform its competitors for more years to come.

Workplace behaviors

Employees at Amazon have been directly affected by the forced culture that Amazon has created to support their “cult of the customer” motto the company lives by. Amazon promises their customers same day shipping and prices most other retail companies cannot compete with. They achieve this through many different ways that put extreme stress and pressure on employees to perform at their best 100% of the time. Amazon expects employees to operate at their maximum level of effort when they work. Instead, it would be better to optimize their typical performance, then they can work at their maximum potential when it is required.

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