As we shelter-in-place at home, Amazon deliveries give us a lifeline. We depend on receiving those packages so we can practice social distancing, stay healthy and safe as the coronavirus pandemic rages around the world.
Once we hit “place order,” real people move into action at Amazon fulfillment centers and at Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery stores. They work 24 hours a day to meet our demand.
What we have learned this week is that Amazon employees from New York to Illinois to Michigan and Kentucky report that Amazon fails to provide the most basic protections for their health and safety.
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday called for a National Labor Relations Board investigation into the firing of Chris Smalls, an Amazon employee who was fired after organizing a protest over poor working conditions. Amazon said in a statement that Smalls was fired for violating social distancing rules.
This isn’t okay. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Jeff Bezos, Learn from Compassionate CEOs
I work with CEOs around the world who keep the well-being of their employees front-and-center in normal times. During this global emergency, these CEOs have doubled down on that care and concern.
Even leaders of public companies who are accountable to shareholders tell me they are not focused solely on profit maximization.
Gerrard Schmid, for example, is CEO of the world’s largest ATM company Diebold Nixdorf. ATMs play a critical role in access to cash without human contact during the COVID-19 crisis so Diebold Nixdorf must deploy technicians to repair and maintain machines at banks, grocery stores and other essential businesses.
“Regardless of what other CEOs may do, I am deeply committed to being a CEO that does not lead that way,” Schmid told me. Instead, he says he wants to be “one that leads with my heart.” Schmid has taken great care to ensure that his technicians have necessary personal protection — masks, gloves, and disinfectant. All nonessential employees work from home.
Value Customers and Employees
Amazon has long claimed the leadership principle of “customer obsession.” That principle created a lot of company wealth historically and Amazon’s shares are rising amid this crisis too (AMZN). The idea that value creation for the market must come at the expense of the people who create that value is not only false but also far out of step with the compassion that the market now expects business leaders to demonstrate.
On Tuesday, Terrell Worm who works at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse told National Public Radio: “I touch over 2,000 different items every day I work there. I have to grab products out of the shelf and put them in the bins. … And I’m not wearing any protection.”
Contrast that with another CEO of a large retailer who told me his management team’s motto during the crisis is “Keep your head cold and your heart warm.” It means the executives operate with fact-based analysis and rational decision-making while also remaining kind and personal – in his words “to stay human.”
Start With the People Who Work For You
Diebold Nixdorf serves many of the top-tier grocery stores in Europe. Those grocery stores need services urgently to ensure stores are operational and running effectively at points of sale and self-checkout. Like Amazon or arguably more, they have a huge obligation to the public.
As he works to ensure the stability of the company, Schmid says he’s guided by two other principles: protect the health and safety of employees and protect the economic interests of employees.
As one example of steps he’s taken to ensure economic health, the company has set aside an Employee Crisis Reserve fund to keep service technicians and other employees whole if they need to miss work for COVID-19-related reasons such as mandatory quarantine, particularly in countries that lack an adequate safety net.
Mr. Bezos, please take note: Truly great leaders are exemplary at running their businesses and at showing respect, concern and compassion for people who work for them. Amazon is sorely behind the curve. Covid-19 means you need to take bold action right now to make things right.