Straight to the top
What to do if your pay comes up, say, $90 short. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
About a year ago, a woman named Tara Jones was on paid leave from her job at an Amazon warehouse in Oklahoma. She was a single mom, just gave birth—and she noticed a recurring shortfall in her pay: about $90 dollars out of $540.
Actually, I think “noticed” is among my biggest understatements in the history of this newsletter. She wasn’t one to idly notice. She was counting on the money and she raised heck.
When her boss couldn’t help her—and her boss’s boss and maybe her boss’s boss’s boss—she went straight to the top. She emailed Jeff Bezos directly (he was still CEO at the time, and he can be reached at email@example.com).
"I'm behind on bills, all because the pay team messed up," she wrote to Bezos, as reported by the New York Times. "I'm crying as I write this email."
Here's what happened next.
First, Jones got her personal pay issues resolved.
Second, her message to Bezos prompted Amazon to launch an internal investigation. The company found that not only had Jones been underpaid, but many other employees had as well, at as many as 179 other warehouses.
As the Times put it:
Ms. Jones was far from alone. For at least a year and a half — including during periods of record profit — Amazon had been shortchanging new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave, according to a confidential report on the findings.
Some of the pay calculations at her facility had been wrong 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 up employee pay like this.
On the other hand: It's admirable for any big organization to have in place a way that employees, customers—anyone, really—can go around the normal bureaucratic hierarchy and let someone at the top know that something is very wrong.
I also love the idea of someone in payroll at Amazon getting an alert on his or her phone, and seeing a message with a couple of "FWD:" annotations in the subject line—and realizing that it's ultimately from Bezos, asking about Jones's pay.
The Times says Amazon "finished identifying and repaying workers who had been shortchanged while on leave" earlier this year. And that’s great. But I noted this story for the lessons:
First, if you’re in charge of anything, make sure there’s some way people can reach you. Maybe it's an email address. (You guys know mine, right? It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Second: Do something that the recently departed Secretary of State and General Colin Powell advised: "Check small things." Shorting a warehouse employee $90 is a perfect example, since it likely is a symptom of a bigger problem.
Finally, leadership is about creating culture, and thinking about how the people you lead will feel about the way you handle things.
It would have been nothing for Bezos simply to tell an assistant: Send Ms. Jones a check for $5,000. That's much less money than Bezos made in the time it took me to write this sentence.
But, how would that make her feel? What's the lasting feeling that everyone involved would take away?
And, as long as we’re talking about lessons, let’s give some accolades to Tara Jones.
When something stupid happens to you—when you have a real problem that you need taken care of—don’t be afraid to go right to the top.
Call for comments: Got a good story about either (a) finding that a small problem was a symptom of a really big one, or else (b) running into trouble on something and going right to the top to get it fixed? Let us know in the comments.
7 other things worth your time
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A top State Department official, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, made a “quiet” trip to Venezuela, where he visited six detained Americans and conducted the first U.S. “wellness check” on them in several years. The men worked for CITGO, and were tricked into traveling to the country, then charged with corruption and jailed. (CNN)
Tesla is apparently letting drivers play video games while the car is in motion. (Futurism)
A college paper graded by Elon Musk back when he was a University of Pennsylvania teaching assistant (in 1995) sold for $7,753 in an auction Thursday. (Daily Mail)
Sweden’s tourist board is trying to reclaim famous place names from IKEA. (CNN)
An English museum decked out its robot T rex in an enormous ugly Christmas sweater. "It's probably the biggest thing we've made,” says the son of the owner of the company that made it. (BBC)