Management and Shop Floor Practices at Amazon

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Introduction

Amazon is the most prominent American e-commerce company which is known by people all over the world. The business was originally famous for selling books; however, as time passed, Amazon built up a shopping empire that currently satisfies the needs and desires of millions of individuals worldwide (Schein, 2020). According to the Amazon website, the company has more than 175 warehouses, where employees pack and ship a variety of products to the customers worldwide. The business states that there is nothing more vital than the satisfaction, health, and safety of its workers (Schein, 2020). In addition, the warehouses are referred to as fulfillment centres, meaning that individuals have an opportunity to grow and achieve their professional goals while working in Amazon.

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On the other hand, it is believed that the real conditions of work in the warehouses of Amazon are much worse than it is portrayed on the website. Employees of Amazon continuously report that they often have to complete their job requirements under pressure and with disrespect from the management (Sainato, 2020). Moreover, some individuals state that injuries happen all the time, and even though these situations complicate the work process, people are still expected to fulfill their hourly rate (Sainato, 2020). Due to the fact that there is an inconsistency between the statements of the company and some of its employees, it is essential to analyse the working environment in more detail. Therefore, the following case study will use scientific management, human relations, and contingency theories to investigate management and shop floor practices at Amazon’s warehouses.

Scientific Management

In the contemporary business environment, the scientific management theory is largely used to analyse and harmonise organisations’ and individuals’ activities. As mentioned by Waring (2016), once the philosophy of scientific management was developed, it proved to be attractive to business people and intellectuals outside of the industry. Such interest was primarily caused by the ideas and objectives of the theory. The primary purpose of scientific management is to advance the results of the company’s operations by experimenting with work and manufacture and improving labour productivity (Waring, 2016). For this reason, it is believed that due to the problems in the current social situation, specialists need to implement the scientific management method immediately. If used effectively, the theory can positively influence the overall performance of a company by changing the conditions for workers and enhancing their productivity. Thus, scientific management can be an essential tool in analysing the advantages and disadvantages of Amazon’s working conditions.

Frederick Taylor and Scientific Management

Even though the scientific management theory is highly popular nowadays, it first appeared in the 20th century, and the person that is mostly associated with this approach is Frederick Taylor. The main idea of this theorist’s philosophy was that making employees work hard is not an effective way of organising operating within a company (Holmes, 2016). He believed that a worker’s productivity should increase significantly as a result of simplifying and optimising their jobs (Holmes, 2016). In addition, he suggested that instead of just conducting tasks, specialists have to collaborate with each other to achieve positive results (Holmes, 2016). Therefore, in order to attain these goals, Frederick Taylor developed four principles of scientific management that are now applied to different organisations for the purpose of analysis.

Before investigating management and shop floor practices in Amazon’s warehouses with the use of the first principle, it is necessary to explain what it represents. The first principle of scientific management stands for creating a science of work. As explained by Morden (2017, p. 5), the first rule requires management to “develop a systematic and consistent approach for each operational activity.” This strategy should aim at replacing the “rule of thumb,” which is common sense and habit, with the most efficient ways of performing particular tasks (Morden, 2017). Thus, in case the first principle is implemented successfully in a company, workers have an opportunity to use advanced techniques and make their work simpler, more enjoyable, and less time-consuming. Moreover, this principle allows any business to positively influence its work outcomes by moving away from routine and old methods of conducting operations.

It can be stated that Amazon succeeds in implementing this principle by using new techniques and digitalising its operations. As Hänninen, Smedlund, and Mitronen (2018) mentioned, advanced machines and systems allowed Amazon and many other businesses to increase productivity and adapt to the continually changing needs of suppliers and customers. With the help of digitalisation, the company was able to systemise the procedure of picking, packing, and delivering various products to the clients (Hänninen, Smedlund, and Mitronen, 2018). As a result, the highly automated process allows the workers to complete specific tasks quickly and effectively as well as provides customers with a possibility to receive access to “faster deliveries and value-adding services” (Hänninen, Smedlund, and Mitronen, 2018, p. 158). Nevertheless, since the digitalisation also gives management a chance to control the workers and time their movements, it has a negative effect on their mental well-being and job satisfaction. Hence, while the company proves to be successful in creating a consistent and efficient way of completing operational tasks, the advanced methods increase the psychological pressure that workers receive.

The second principle of scientific management highlights the importance of assigning employees with jobs according to their capabilities, experience, and motivation. The main idea of this principle lies behind the idea that if a company desires to achieve positive results and increase productivity, it has to give every employee one specific task instead of requiring them to do a variety of jobs at the same time. Frederick Taylor stated that this goal could be achieved through systematic mentorship and professional selection of workers based on the results of careful examination and assessment (Hill and Van Duren, 2018). By implementing this strategy, a business allows its employees to become efficient and successful in completing their part of the project (Hill and Van Duren, 2018). Consequently, it can be concluded that effective use of the second principle of scientific management contributes to the organisation of the working process by assigning employees with certain tasks based on their professional abilities and preferences.

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It is believed that Amazon implements the principle of defining and delegating jobs and training its workers to a great extent. The company states that is has developed countless opportunities for specialists to enhance their skills, advance their careers, and receive professional mentoring and support (Scott, 2019). In order to achieve the mentioned goals, the company created special career choice programs for everyone who desires to work or already works in the business (Scott, 2019). These programs also help the management understand what specific individuals are capable of in terms of productivity and effectiveness and, eventually, give them a chance to distribute tasks successfully (Scott, 2019). Therefore, the implementation of Taylor’s second principle makes Amazon a beneficial place for work since all people are prescribed with tasks based on their abilities as well as receive constant training and help.

On the other hand, the use of the discussed principle puts the workers under constant pressure from the management. While the mentoring programs are designed to examine the workers’ productivity and abilities, Amazon uses them to control their operations and give fines (Lecher, 2019). It was discovered that people are working under terrible conditions: “workers are pressed to make rate, with some packing hundreds of boxes per hour, and losing their job if they do not move fast enough” (Lecher, 2019, para. 2). It is also claimed that individuals are treated like robots because instead of receiving guidance from humans they are monitored by a fully automated system (Lecher, 2019). Thus, while the second principle is advantageous employees’ mentorship, Amazon uses guidance to pressure workers.

According to the third principle of scientific management developed by Frederick Taylor, organisations have to be able to create a structure that would allow managers and workers to collaborate and develop strong professional relationships. One of the most obvious benefits of workplace collaboration is the fact that it creates a positive atmosphere for everyone in the company and encourages them to perform effectively (Morden, 2017). In addition, constant interaction between staff members and the ability of management teams to provide support in complicated situations makes the workers feel valued and respected in the company (Morden, 2017). However, when there is no collaboration and employees feel disconnected from each other and from their bosses, job satisfaction decreases significantly, individuals no longer feel safe, and desire to change their workplace for the better by taking collective action which cause significant disadvantages for the management.

Even though the described principle proves to be important, practically no collaboration exists between managers and warehouse employees at Amazon. What is more, the absence of support, help, and constant interaction lead to resistance from the workers that is generally portrayed by quitting or striking. It is reported that specialists working at Amazon warehouses have to be provided with more safety, transparency, and an uncensored place for communication and collaboration (Ghaffary, 2020). Recently, company management prohibited an event that was organised by employees in order to discuss the working conditions in the company (Ghaffary, 2020). Angry workers reported that managers simply deleted the event invitation due to the fear of growing collaboration in the business (Ghaffary, 2020). Hence, it becomes clear that no collaboration and support exist between management and employees, leading to high levels of job dissatisfaction and resistance.

Another example when Amazon management refused to collaborate with the workers and showed irresponsibility is when the staff of a number of logistics centres in Germany tested positive for COVID-19. The company did not provide any information about the problem to its workers, “endangering the health of employees in favour of corporate profit” (Shead, 2020, para. 4). The denial of the problem and failure to fulfil basic obligations caused staff to be completely dissatisfied with the management (Shead, 2020). As a result, Amazon warehouse employees organized strikes that took place at six different locations in the country (Shead, 2020). Consequently, collaboration and support are absent at the Amazon company. This issue is especially evident during the pandemic since managers refuse to make serious decisions and care about the employees.

In addition to collaborative work and fulfillment of responsibilities, there has to be a defined separation between the job responsibilities of employees and their bosses. As noted by Morden (2017, p. 5), “management has to take away all the responsibility from workers, except that of actual job performance.” The philosopher believed that this strategy would contribute to the positive results of operations and provide a fair balance of requirements between bosses and employees (Morden, 2017). However, it should also be pointed out that Taylor’s opinions regarding this matter were distinct from other theorists’ views, who claimed that workers should be encouraged to participate in the management process (Morden, 2017). In general, the fourth principle divides work equally and prescribes every individual with a specific task in order to ensure the efficiency of a company’s operations.

It can be stated that there is no clear division of work responsibilities at Amazon. Instead of providing employees with one specific task that has to be performed, Amazon management requires warehouse staff to do multiple jobs at the same time (Hamilton and Cain, 2019). For instance, people are pressured to work longer hours for the same payment and engage in a considerable amount of physical activity, are not allowed to take the time off or go for a break, and have to perform perfectly no matter what their physical condition is (Hamilton and Cain, 2019). Moreover, some former Amazon employees reported that humans are treated like bodies that complete the work, which is even not valued (Rittenhouse, 2017). Employees have to fit the unrealistic expectations of the management and complete difficult physical jobs that are not listed in their official responsibilities (Rittenhouse, 2017). Therefore, it can be concluded that Amazon staff is not treated with respect since managers use human beings as robots that have to be quick and productive.

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The Importance of Other Theories

Even though the scientific management theory and its principles analyse management and shop floor practices at Amazon’s warehouses in detail, other theories should also be used to gain more understanding about the strength and weaknesses of this company. The provided discussion proves that Amazon is a controversial business that is famous for high productivity and effectiveness of operations as well as disrespect towards the workers and their exploitation (Kantor and Streitfeld, 2015). Furthermore, while the company has high ratings worldwide, its workers feel mistreated and disrespected by their management (Kantor and Streitfeld, 2015). Thus, more research and theories should be used in order to evaluate the practices of Amazon as fairly as possible.

Human Relations Principles

In comparison to the scientific management theory that focuses on productivity and efficiency, the human relations approach highlights the importance of a company as a social system where people communicate and establish relationships. As mentioned by Dubin (2017), the theory supports the idea that people are motivated to be a part of a highly supportive team that contributes to personal development and professional growth. While Frederick Taylor saw employees as machines that have to be assigned with a specific task and guided by the management, Mayo believed that workers are human beings that need to receive satisfaction from work through active social life and strong interpersonal connections (Dubin, 2017). Consequently, the human relations theory developed by Mayo is essential since it indicates that individuals’ social needs have to be satisfied even at work.

As it was mentioned earlier in the paper, Amazon warehouse staff does not feel any support or care from the side of the management. People working in the so-called fulfilment centres are constantly disrespected, devalued, and required to work longer shifts than indicated in their contracts. What is more, some Amazon employees from the Australian warehouses disclosed that they are not allowed to talk to each other during the working hours (Burin, 2019). In case the staff does not complete a specific requirement of the management, randomly goes to the toilet, or exchanges a few words with another employee, they are sent back home immediately without being paid for the day (Burin, 2019). This phenomenon contradicts one of the main principles of the human relations theory that states that satisfaction, recognition, and belonging to a social group is vital for the productivity of individuals (Dubin, 2017). Thus, it can be concluded that Amazon fails to recognize the importance of human relations at work.

In addition, while the human relations theory states that collaboration in any company should be encouraged and supported, Amazon restricts any activities that contribute to the growth of relationships between its employees. As it was already mentioned, Amazon management prohibited the virtual event that workers from several warehouses attempted to organise in order to discuss the current working conditions in the company. The dissatisfaction of staff led to a number of strikes in different countries but instead of trying to manage the problem, Amazon representatives denied the gossips and commented that the information is false (Sonnemaker, 2020). These actions of the company also contradict another principle of the theory, which says that in case workers complain, there is a fundamental issue that cannot be ignored (Dubin, 2017). Consequently, according to the principles of the human relations theory, Amazon does not satisfy the needs and desires of its employees.

Contingency Theory

According to the contingency theory, there is no optimal way to lead a business and produce positive outcomes of operations. Instead, leaders have to be adaptable and change their practices and methods of guidance based on the circumstances and the environment (Otley, 2016). In order for a person to change their behavior according to the situation, they should possess enough skills and be able to examine each situation in detail and without any bias (Otley, 2016). In addition, leaders need to use different management techniques with different teams depending on their size, experiences, abilities, and responsibilities (Otley, 2016). Overall, it can be stated that contingency theory is one of the most vital determinants of operational success, and professionals need to gain more knowledge about it and its implementation in the workplace environment.

Even though it is believed that the Amazon company implements a large number of effective leadership principles, the dissatisfaction of workers indicates that the methods might not be as effective as it sounds. As mentioned by Golding (2016), there 14 management principles used by the company constantly lead it to success. Some of the methods are the ownership of actions and mistakes, mentorship and guidance of the workers, and trust (Goldin, 2016). Thus, it may seem that Amazon is an amazing place for personal and career development. However, all the previously mentioned examples indicate that there are some problems in the leadership and guidance of Amazon employees. Individuals are expected to do more work than they physically can complete, some workers are threatened by the management because they ask for a day off or a sick leave, and people are not provided with heath and financial benefits that the company can give (Wingard, 2020). Hence, it can be stated that leaders are not using the contingency theory – they are not able to understand the needs and desires of their employees which creates a negative environment for the staff’s health and job satisfaction.

Conclusion

To summarize, Amazon is definitely a controversial company due to the inconsistency between the statements of employees and the management. While the business believes that it provides the best working conditions for different professionals, people report that they experience terrible treatment and their work is devalued. For this reason, it is important to analyse the Amazon company by using various theories that help understand the main methods of management implemented in the business. By analysing the culture of Amazon in detail, these principles also help to highlight the most effective ways of increasing productivity and influencing job satisfaction. Therefore, the presented case study discussed management and shop floor practices at the warehouses of Amazon by utilising scientific management, human relations, and contingency theories.

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Reference List

Burin, M. (2019) ‘They resent the fact I’m not a robot’, ABC. Web.

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Holmes, L. (2016) Re-Tayloring management: scientific management a century on. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kantor, J. and Streitfeld, D. (2015) ‘Inside Amazon: wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace’, The New York Times. Web.

Lecher, K. (2019) ‘How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for “productivity”’, The Verge. Web.

Morden, T. (2017) Principles of management. 2nd edn. Abingdon: Routledge.

Otley, D. (2016) ‘The contingency theory of management accounting and control: 1980–2014’, Management accounting research, 31, pp. 45-62.

Sainato, M. (2020) ‘”I am not a robot”: Amazon workers condemn unsafe, gruelling conditions at warehouse’, The Guardian. Web.

Rittenhouse, L. (2017) ‘Amazon warehouse employees’ message to Jeff Bezos – we are not robots’, TheStreet. Web.

Schein, A. (2020) ‘Organisational ambidexterity, hard power management and smart power management at Amazon, a case study’, Global Business and Economics Review, 22(1-2), pp. 27-40.

Scott, A. (2019) ‘From the warehouse to IT: Amazon offering 100,000 workers tech training’, NPR. Web.

Shead, S. (2020) ‘Amazon warehouse workers go on strike in Germany over coronavirus infections’, CNBC. Web.

Sonnemaker, T. (2020) ‘Amazon is facing multiple inquiries from labor regulators into whether it unlawfully retaliated against workers who spoke out about its coronavirus response’, Business Insider. Web.

Waring, S.P. (2016) Taylorism transformed: scientific management theory since 1945. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books.

Wingard, J. (2020) ‘Employee activism is the new normal. So why is Amazon leadership freaking out?’, Forbes. Web.

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