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How Amazon wants to establish itself as a responsible employer

Last year again, it did not fail. After the Black Friday curtain raiser, which heated credit cards around the world, the Christmas holidays caused a boom in e-commerce. For Amazon France, this means hiring more than 12,000 temporary workers, almost as many as the 14,000 permanent employees. A big commercial operation, therefore, but also a highlight for the company’s social policy: many of these temporary assignments can be transformed into permanent contracts.

This was for example the case for Frédéric, integrated into the unit of Boves (Somme) in 2018. Tossed between social plans and odd jobs, at the age of 50, he admits to having entered Amazon “backwards”. However, it quickly became a key element of the supply chain, by intervening everywhere there the flow seizes: a badly closed box, a barcode bug, poor storage…

Meeting delivery deadlines: with security, this is where all the attention of the personnel is focused, who unload, classify, pack and finally deliver, under the control of a powerful system of algorithms. In Boves, Frédéric found these forklifts that he has always loved and virtuoso colleagues, “pickers” of goods secured by harnesses several meters above the ground. But, here, the traditional industry postcard has been revamped and corrected. We speak English, women occupy one out of two positions and, assures Frédéric, the working conditions are much better than anything he has known.

Frédéric, proud to be an Amazonian. Vincent Gerbet for Management

Routine is combated by frequent task changes, which avoid the deleterious effects of the automatic gesture. Better, Frédéric, who battles with a genetic disease affecting the joints, claims to have found attentive ears on the subject of disability at work. The theme is regularly addressed through videos shown in the rest areas. At the Brétigny-sur-Orge warehouse, in Essonne, Souhaila Bouddou, a young logistics engineer, points out: “Disability is a magnifying mirror of management issues.” Moreover, “Jeff” as we call here Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of the group, did he not commit to making Amazon the “best employer in the world”?

However, this enthusiasm is not unanimous. In 2018, the CHSCT of the Montélimar unit denounced a deterioration in the health of employees. And, on the Internet, some comments from former employees are far from being kind on working conditions. To “restore the truth” and explain “why everything is going so fast here”, Amazon has deployed a visit program in 46 of its warehouses around the world. But the “refractory” Frenchman is not easy to convince, even if the “associates” (at Amazon, everyone owns shares) show a “high satisfaction” rate of 85%.

While the Amazonians take turns day and night, weekends included, to ensure a continuous service, the legal teams go through labor laws, always looking for the best compromise between profitability and local regulations. And Amazon uses software called TOT, “Task off time”, to follow the path of the products and, in passing, to count the time during which the operator remains inactive…

It is that, as the first part of the house slogan hammers home, here, you have to work hard (“work hard”). With, at the end of the day, this promise as old as the industry: social integration. In fact, the group puts forward its constant concern to invest in disaster areas, to hire the most precarious people, sometimes close to illiteracy. In the warehouses, in parallel with the algorithms that punctuate the work of the operators, very graphic communication disseminates the essentials of what must be understood: the safety instructions, the specific color of the vest for each status, the grade (“instructor », «manager», «helper») and the house pins, linked to festive events or key dates in the individual career… A microlanguage that the Amazonian uses every day, corresponding to a very inclusive vision of recruitment, at the beyond the diploma, the gender or the particularities of each one.

Real-time digital monitoring of all operations takes on the appearance of a control tower. Vincent Gerbet for Management

Sylvie Lo, for example, felt blocked in her statistical analysis business in Toulouse. Her BTS commerce had given her the desire, but not the means… She decided to train in Web development. Without knowing anything about logistics, she managed to join an Amazon warehouse to finance her transition: “I failed the test, but I was still able to prove that I had a logical mind and this culture that pleases so much here: the taste for entrepreneurship, solving problems, suggesting improvements…”

Happy to have joined the last “A” of Gafa, she quickly joined the club of these “house leaders”, capable of lightening the working atmosphere and cementing the small teams that managers form over the course of activities, hooked atoms and the performance of each. Having recently become an “IT helper”, Sylvie Lo has taken a new step in her retraining, getting closer to the internal networks of “techies” that she meets every day on the “floor” (the workspace in the warehouse). Smiling, she now considers that she has significantly broadened her career prospects.

Same enthusiasm with his colleague Elise Beuriot, recruited in 2007, at a time when it was still necessary to spell the name of Amazon to booksellers when they were offered to integrate the marketplace. “From the start, we had to train, supervise new teams, everything went very quickly,” recalls the young woman, to whom her business school friends asked why she had chosen this strange box…

After going through all the sales and marketing positions, she is now the patron of a program called “Future Engineer”, which develops a taste for algorithms among children, girls in particular. Amazon, she says, is “practical: an efficient system, committed employees, exemplary growth”. From now on, her friends listen to her attentively when she talks to them about it…

Efficiency, Stéphane Taillée is delighted with it every day. This 47-year-old engineer, who came from the automotive industry, now runs the Brétigny-sur-Orge warehouse, which delivers up to 600,000 parcels a day during peak activity. His pride ? Make the 5,000 people and 3,000 robots who walk the aisles of the warehouses and prepare the goods work in good intelligence. With, on arrival, less hardship for operators and almost 50% of storage space gained.

The headquarters of Amazon, in Clichy, near Paris. Vincent Gerbet for Management

In the brand new offices of Amazon’s headquarters in Clichy, near Paris, the same management principles govern progress and internal development. At 36, Edouard Van Wynsberghe is almost a veteran within the company: he joined the Parisian teams just after completing his business school in 2008. Manager of products and data, he recently joined the group’s advertising, probably the most profitable service of the moment.

Happy to sell advertising space around the Ligue 1 football championship, he was not however specially prepared for this management work. His transition lasted almost three months. “I was well supported, he says, and I trained on my side on subjects that seemed important to me.” In fact, nearly one out of two positions is filled internally, which contributes to the attractiveness of the company.

To move forward, not to stagnate, to be recognized by its hierarchy: Amazon has supported these values ​​since its creation in 1995. “Each meeting begins around a document written by the person defending a project”, specifies Elise Beuriot. These very constructed work supports allow everyone to be on the same level and to objectify the discussion. Who knows, maybe it was during such a meeting that the idea of ​​internalizing the company’s IT platform was put forward.

The developers complained about the slowness of the updates, the costs incurred, the quality risks. Gradually, the project to take over the service internally, and even better, to sell this enormous know-how to others… If you know how to control and store goods, you can also manage an industrial cloud, right? That was in 2006 and this evolution led to the creation of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which today generates nearly 10% of the group’s turnover, ensuring it one of its main sources of profit. . Everything is therefore possible… All you have to do is soak up all the terms of the precept displayed on the walls of warehouses: “Work hard, have fun and make history.”

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