Is Jeff Bezos' stance on automation ignorant to key HR issues?

    Is Jeff Bezos' stance on automation ignorant to key HR issues?

    What makes Amazon so successful? Aside from the fact it offers limitless products, convenience and low prices, it’s the mindset of Jeff Bezos that transformed the bookseller into the retail behemoth it is today.

    Brad Stone, a biographer of Jeff Bezos, says the organisations’ success can be partly attributed to Bezos’ stance on automation – one which other business leaders are still grappling with.

    “He has a mindset that people shouldn’t do jobs that software and technology can do,” Stone wrote. “That mindset has led to Amazon’s amazing success, creating an incredibly efficient organisation that displaces other businesses.

    "But when it comes to jobs, it has a drawback that perhaps we don’t yet fully understand.”

    Whilst this model has enabled Amazon to amass significant wealth and power, the internet megalith’s rise to power has troubled Britain’s high street and other traditional retailers.

    But, this vast wealth and stance on automation has come at, what many are reporting is, an ethical cost. With technology’s impact on the workplace often praised for its ability to ‘free’ up time, in order for humans to focus on more valuable tasks, it’s also a huge threat to employment.

    Recently, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could destroy thousands of British jobs. This could leave thousands of UK workers potentially facing unemployment in years to come.

    On top of the threat of unemployment, Amazon hasn’t exactly been a prime example on how to use technology to improve their employee experience. 

    According to an investigation by The Mirror, Amazon warehouse workers have just nine seconds to process packages and are constantly reminded by technology - that’s meant to be helping them becoming more productive - that they're being supervised.

    James Bloodworth, who went undercover at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire and authored a book on his experiences, found that UK Amazon warehouse workers ‘peed in bottles’ over fear of punishment for taking toilet breaks due to unreasonable pressures.

    “When I worked at an Amazon warehouse in Britain in 2016, I was even given a disciplinary for taking a day off sick. Along with other workers, I was also accused of 'idling' if I ever took a toilet break,” he said.

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    The expose also found that one worker had to be taken to hospital after collapsing on the job, whilst others have suffered from panic attacks.

    Last month, thousands of Amazon workers at European warehouses went on strike over poor working conditions.

    However, Amazon have denied mistreating staff. In a statement last year, they said: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We are proud to have created thousands of permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres in recent years.

    “We offer great jobs and a positive environment with opportunities for growth. As with most companies, we expect a certain level of performance.”

    Whilst Bezos’ stance on automation might well be good for business, many are saying it shouldn’t come at a human cost. Rather, businesses need to utilise the opportunities of technology within their organisations and focus on upskilling to ensure their manpower can benefit.

    Image courtesy of Flickr User Steve Jurvetson

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