Problem Solving Application Case

Problem-Solving Application Case

Workers at Amazon Are Not Feeling Motivated 442

Across the globe at over 175 fulfillment centers, more than 125,000 workers frantically “ pick, pack, and ship millions of customer orders to the tune of millions of items per year. 105 

Amazon’s innovations, like free 2-day shipping for Prime members, dash buttons, and in-home delivery, have made the retail giant a standout in customer service. The company has consistently received award-winning customer satisfaction ratings.106 

Amazon became the most valuable public company and second largest e-commerce company in the world in 2019 by being hyper-focused on customer experiences. 107

But many of Amazon’s fulfillment center workers are unhappy with what they are required to do to assure these esteemed customer experiences. 108 

The result has been public outcry, boycotts, poor attitudes and health, and extremely high turnover rates among workers. What’s making employees so miserable inside Amazon fulfillment centers?


 Amazon designs its fulfillment center jobs for efficiency, with managers constantly monitoring and tracking employees in three primary areas. First, workers are monitored for productivity as they race to fill as many orders as possible to meet or exceed daily quotas. Those who don’t meet their quotas are written up, and excessive write-ups can lead to termination.109 

A recent undercover investigation revealed that some employees are so fearful of missing their quotas that they forego taking necessary bathroom breaks and instead urinate in bottles and trash cans inside the warehouses.110

 The company is so dedicated to its productivity goals that workers reportedly don’t speak to one another during their shifts, saying that managers

strongly discourage any kind of camaraderie. 111 

Second, management monitors fulfillment center workers for security purposes. One employee described the environment as resembling a prison, noting time-consuming scans for contraband (e.g., sunglasses, phones, hoodies) and stolen items at the beginning and end of shifts.112 

There’s also a custom of publicly shaming employees who steal from the company on flat-screen TVs and bulletin boards around the


Third, fulfillment center managers track employee attendance. Workers can be fired for excessive missed work days, or, as Amazon calls it, going into negative unpaid time off (UPT). Employees have reported being so terrified of missing work that they show up even when they are too sick or injured to work safely, in spite of the extremely

physically demanding nature of the job. 114



How is it that news of a new Amazon fulfillment center is still seen as cause for celebration, given what has been reported about working conditions? Employment opportunities are one key explanation. The company tends to locate fulfillment centers on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, often in regions that have yet to recover from the recent economic recession and are desperate for increased jobs.115 

In other words, if Amazon opens a fulfillment center in your town, chances are your

employment prospects will be better than those you’ve got right now. Even so, many Amazon fulfillment center employees feel the compensation they receive is not commensurate with the extreme working conditions and job demands. Worker retention thus seems to be a function of a lack of viable alternatives rather than positive employee attitudes toward the company. As one worker stated, “that’s

what makes people not want to quit–the pay” “you can treat me any type of way since this is the best money we can get out here.»116   

Amazon does provide some additional incentives to increase productivity at its fulfillment centers. For example, managers often hold competitions that reward employees with “swag bucks”_-tokens to spend inside the warehouse on things like t- shirts, water bottles, or cafeteria meals.117 

Other rewards reportedly include small gift cards and even cookies. Said one employee, “I don’t want a cookie or a gift card. I’ll take it, but I’d rather a living wage. Or not being timed when you’re sitting on the toilet.”118 

Another worker found these incentives insulting, saying that “around this

time of year the managers, if their targets are met or exceeded, they get a bonus.”119 

Amazon implemented a policy guaranteeing a minimum wage of $15 per hour after receiving such negative attention in the press. This resulted in raises as small as 25 cents per hour, which many viewed as “damage control. 120

 For some tenured workers, the new policy meant their wages became compressed and they lost important benefits they previously received, such as stock options and bonus



Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said, “There’s this way in which Amazon’s warehouses are perceived to be a good thing for a community, but that’s only because the context in which they are being proposed and built is so devoid of better opportunities.” Said a current employee, “They’re walking a fine line in the community-everybody knows someone who’s worked there, and no one says it’s a good place to work.”122

Some Amazon workers have attempted to generate interest in union representation but have been unable to gain the momentum necessary for an organizing campaign.

This is likely due to two main causes. First, the fact that Amazon has one of the highest turnover rates in the United States means that employees aren’t around long enough for a movement to take shape. Second, workers have expressed they are afraid to speak up and participate in organizing campaigns for fear of retaliation from the company.123

It’s unlikely we’ll see any sweeping changes to the way Amazon manages its fulfillment center workers in the near future. This is because Amazon already loses money on e-commerce and subsidizes the losses with other segments of its business. Any changes to the current state of affairs could mean a loss of our coveted cheap wares and free two-day shipping.124


STEP 1: Define the problem.

Look first at the Outcome box of the Organizing Framework in 12 Figure 5.11 to help identify the important problem(s) in this case. Remember that a problem is a gap between a desired and a current state. State your problem as a gap and be sure to consider problems at all three levels. If more than one desired outcome is not being accomplished, decide which one is most important and focus on it for steps 2 and 3.

B. Cases have protagonists (key players), and problems are generally viewed from a particular protagonist’s perspective. Identify the perspective from which you’re defining the problem-is it the perspective of Amazon or its workers?

C. . Use details in the case to identify the key problem. Don’t assume, infer, or create problems that are not included in the case.

D. To refine your choice, ask yourself, Why is this a problem? Explaining why helps refine and focus your thinking. Focus on topics in the current chapter, because we generally select cases that illustrate concepts in the current chapter.

STEP 2: Identify causes of the problem by using material from this chapter, summarized in the Organizing Framework shown in Figure 5.11. Causes will appear in either the Inputs box or the Processes box.

A. Start by looking at [2 Figure 5.11 to identify which person factors, if any, are most likely causes to the defined problem. For each cause, ask, Why is this a cause of the problem? Asking why multiple times is more likely to lead you to root causes of the problem.

B. Follow the same process for the situation factors.

C. Now consider the Processes box in 4 Figure 5.11. Consider concepts listed at all three levels. For any concept that might be a cause, ask yourself, Why is this a cause? Again, do this for several iterations to arrive at root causes.

D. To check the accuracy or appropriateness of the causes, be sure to map them onto the defined problems.

STEP 3: Make recommendations for solving the problem. Consider Whether you want to resolve it, solve it, or dissolve it (see Section 1.5). 

Which recommendation is desirable and feasible?

A. Given the causes identified in Step 2, what are your best recommendations? Use the content in © Chapter 5 or oneof the earlier chapters to propose a solution.

B. You may find potential solutions in the OB in Action boxes and Applying OB boxes within this chapter. These features provide insights into what other individuals or companies are doing in relationship to the topic at hand.

C. Create an action plan for implementing your recommendations.

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