Amazon Tries to Improve Work Conditions, and You Can, Too

Amazon Misery

Living smart with your tech begins with making your living. Choosing where and how you work is critical to a balanced life. This topic has been gnawing at me for a long time, and this seems like an appropriate time to post it.

Last summer, the New York Times reported on some unflattering work conditions at Amazon. Punitive performance reviews for employees who missed work due to serious health issues or tending to grave family matters were just a couple of the cited examples. To be fair, Amazon is far from the only organization with such a corporate culture.

But Bloomberg recently reported that Amazon is working on it. And in a fairly innovative way. The company is soliciting employee feedback on a daily basis, aggregating the responses, and reporting on perceptions. This sort of daily barometer should help managers understand the atmosphere they are fostering, compare it to stated goals, and make adjustments as needed.

Many of us find ourselves in work environments that are less than optimal. If you’re miserable, you need to understand what made the environment the way it is and then realize your options.

Your Drive

Professional Life

You probably want to do good work, be recognized for it in meaningful ways, and be provided opportunities to advance and receive more take-home pay. These desires drive us and encourage us to get up and go to work each day.

Your Bosses

The person to whom you report used to have these basic desires, but now he or she has additional responsibilities. In many places, bosses are expected to manage you (not just your work) to meet organizational goals. Some of those goals aren’t supposed to be shared with you, so your boss walks a fine line sometimes. Your boss is expected to make things happen on the front lines that conform to those organizational goals … and every now and then a goal might actually compete with others.

Their Bosses

Your boss’s bosses answer to a wider group of organizational stakeholders: Executives, board members, shareholders, etc. They truly earn their pay at this level because they likely never stop working. Evenings and weekends chained to their work-issued smartphones aware of each and every incoming email message. The organizational goals can be difficult to manage. Some goals are fleeting and some are long-term. All are probably communicated as “critical”.

The Result

The scatter-brained response to answering to disjointed demands can result in a organization run by fear of not meeting all these overwhelming goals. And this fear trickles down to you.

The Unexpected: You’re Human

For your direct boss, this is all difficult to manage. He or she needs all available resources to meet objectives. You are one of those resources. When you’re not available, your boss might consider you the problem.

You’re human, and sooner or later you’re going to have demands outside of work. If you’re out of the office a day or two here and there, that’s manageable. When you have a serious illness or condition that takes you out of commission for weeks, that’s not manageable. And corporate fear could result in your manager perceiving you as a liability.

Your boss and your boss’s bosses aren’t evil. They don’t hate you, per se, when you can’t perform as expected. They fear how their bosses will react when objectives aren’t met.

This fear can impact you in surprising ways. Like when your boss tells you that your cancer is affecting your work.

The Solution: Examine What’s Important Before You Make a Change

When you’re in this kind of environment, you can seek to work somewhere else. Also, you should really examine how you measure your success. Do you want to make yourself comfortable? Or do you want to keep up with the Joneses? Either answer is acceptable as long as it’s honest.

Personally, I used to want a large custom home, all the latest gadgets, and a nice automobile. These things are high-cost items. But I’ve learned there is a high cost of earning a high living. No family time. No uninterrupted time off. Living to juggle the next email message … and the one after that. Some people can manage this lifestyle in stride, so their cost of earning that living might be acceptable. For others, this lifestyle is miserable.

If having time for yourself and family are also important, you’ll have to decide where your balance is for you and for them. Perhaps, a track home or apartment is comfortable. Perhaps a Chevy is as good as a Cadillac. Perhaps the 2-year-old smartphone and 3-year-old laptop still work well. And quality downtime with your family and friends can be realized.

I’m not going to expand into philosophical or religious aspects that might influence your decisions. All of that is up to you.

I’m also not going to discuss at length the whole notion of finding work you like. But there is something to the old saying “find work you like, and never work another day”. That’s cute, but there’s always a reason they call it “work” and not “fun”.

Personal Life

But there are jobs out there that allow you to balance your professional and personal life. Organizations that actually support you if you need to tend to health and family matters. But jobs like these might not make you rich.

But in other ways, these jobs might make you richer.