A warehouse worker from Amazon asked Jeff Bezos for help with her salary. Here’s how Amazon reacted

I think it’s important for a boss to be available.

Let me give you an example. Do you know how to send an email to Jeff Bezos? As I explain in my free e-book, Jeff Bezos has no regrets, you can contact him directly at jeff@amazon.com.

Is there a guarantee that he will respond? Of course not. Still, I know myself that the address works, so try to remember to send a note to it with a link to every article I write about Bezos (including this one), just to see if he might have further comments.

I’ve heard exactly once – and from an assistant, not from Bezos himself, mind you – but I took it as a decent proof that it’s live.

But if you want better evidence, take the experience of Tara Jones, who worked at an Amazon warehouse in Oklahoma, who sent an email to Bezos directly regarding a problem with her salary, and who changed the lives of many others. Amazon employees as a result.

Let’s summarize the story if you did not see this.

Jones was a new mother, on leave at Amazon last year after giving birth, and she noticed a recurring deficit in her salary: about $ 90 dollars out of $ 540.

According to Amazon, she contacted Bezos and sent a message to the jeff@amazon.com email address.

“I’m behind with bills, all because the payroll team has messed up,” she wrote, as reported by New York Times. “I’m crying as I write this email.”

Here’s what happened next.

  • First, Jones solved his personal pay problems.
  • Second, her message to Bezos prompted Amazon to launch an internal investigation. The company found out that Jones had not only been underpaid, but that many other employees had also gotten on as many as 179 other department stores.

Ms. Jones was far from alone. For at least a year and a half – including during periods of record profits – Amazon had exposed new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave, according to a confidential report on the results. Some of the payroll calculations at her facility had been incorrect since it opened its doors over a year before.

Now I come here neither to praise Amazon nor to bury it.

On the one hand: it would clearly be unacceptable for a company of Amazon’s scope to mess with employee pay in this way.

On the other hand, it is admirable for any large organization to have a way for employees, customers – really everyone – to go around the normal bureaucratic hierarchy and let someone at the top know that something is very wrong.

In fact, I’ve written before about the “question mark method” that Bezos pioneered at Amazon. Bezos apparently forwards problem emails like the one he received from Jones to others on Amazon – topped with a single character added at the top: “?”.

“It’s shorthand,” he once explained. “Can you take a closer look at this?” “Why is this happening?”

I admit: I love the idea of ​​someone on the payroll at the Amazon Warehouse in Oklahoma getting a warning on their phone and seeing a message with a few “FWD:” remarks in the subject line – and realizing that in the end it is from Bezos, asking about Jones’ salary.

Amazon could not confirm that this is the case Exactly how things went, question marks and all.

Either way, the company was eager for me to understand when I asked for a comment that “[a] A big part of our culture is that ideas (and therefore concerns) can come from anyone, “and that anyone at Amazon can find the address of any Amazon director through a published directory or mechanism that Amazon calls” Phone Tools. “

Ultimately, however, our concern here is not really about whether Amazon has solved these problems, or whether it has a chance to live up to the goal that Bezos formulated when he was preparing to hand over the position of CEO to Andy. Jassy earlier this year. : “Strive to be ‘The Best Employer on Earth’.”

Instead, our concern is what lessons you can learn and apply as a business leader, from the examples of large public companies like Amazon. And I see three important takeaways:

  • First, if you are the leader, it is important to have a way for stakeholders to reach you directly when needed. Maybe it’s an email address. Maybe it’s sharing your phone number. Maybe it’s about letting people know that you will always be available at your office on Tuesday morning (or anytime) and that everyone can come and see you without an appointment.
  • Second: Do something that the recently resigned Secretary of State and General Colin Powell advised: “Check out little things.” Small things mean something, and they add up to big things. Shorting a warehouse employee $ 90, as Jones reported, is a perfect example.
  • Finally, remember that leadership is not always about preventing problems – or even, in fact, about solving problems. Rather, a big part of effective leadership is about creating culture and thinking about how the people you lead will feel about the way you handle things.

A simple example: It would have been nothing for Bezos just to tell an assistant: Send Ms. Jones a check for $ 5,000. That’s a lot less money than Bezos earned in the time it took me to write this sentence.

But how would that make her feel? What would that tell others about Amazon’s values? What is the lasting feeling that everyone involved would take away?

Correcting the deficiency is key, but leaving stakeholders with positive emotional reactions like this is probably just as important. As an effective leader, it’s all part of your job.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.coms.

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