Jeff Bezos’ remarks came just days after Amazon warehouse employees in Alabama voted by more than a 2-to-1 margin against establishing a union, a significant victory for the retailer, which has fought unionization for decades.
“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees,” Bezos, the world’s richest man, wrote in the letter.
“I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”
Some of the 800,000 workers have complained about the company’s harsh working practices. Amazon is America’s second-largest private employer.
In his letter, Bezos responded to the criticism, claiming that the company’s employees were handled “like robots” were false.
In his current position as executive chairman, Bezos, who will step down as CEO of the company he created in 1994 later this year, said he plans to focus on ways to make Amazon’s workhouses safer.
“His (Bezos’) admission won’t change anything, workers need a union – not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos felt “compelled” to leave readers with a last piece of advice: Keep your “distinctiveness.”
“We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable,” Bezos wrote. “We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”
To illustrate his point, Bezos included a passage from the non-fiction book “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” by Richard Dawkins.
The “extraordinary book [that’s] about a basic fact of biology” is part of the “one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach,” Bezos wrote, adding the following excerpt:
“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself – and that is what it is when it dies – the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment … Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates, they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die the work stops…. …[I]f living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings.”
While the passage “is not intended as a metaphor,” Bezos notes, “it’s nevertheless a fantastic one, and very relevant to Amazon. I would argue that it’s relevant to all companies and all institutions and to each of our individual lives too.”
Although it takes “continuous hard work” to “maintain our distinctiveness,” he wrote, “it’s worth it.”
“The fairy tale version of [the advice] ‘be yourself’ is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free,” Bezos wrote.
Connecting this advice with Amazon, Bezos added that “the world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.”
Bezos announced in February that he will step down as Amazon CEO and transition to the executive chair of the company’s board. He named Andy Jassy, who built Amazon Web Services, or AWS, into a multibillion-dollar business, as his successor.
“I guarantee you that Andy won’t let the universe make us typical,” Bezos wrote.