I think a fair few of us have seen the news about how Amazon treats its employees, after a New York Times exposé revealed frankly shocking levels of alleged employee monitoring and extreme corporate management techniques.

It’s not just their alleged monitoring of employees through the opinions of other employees, something that could certainly undermine any team-building efforts, but the expectation that employees should deal with seemingly unreasonable levels of pressure to ensure that Amazon are continually moving forward – often leading to situations like crying at desks, and a thyroid cancer sufferer being given a low performance rating simply for not being in the office when her peers were accomplishing a great deal.

What is the problem here? Is it Amazon, or modern HR processes? It would certainly seem that some might decide to blame the processes that employers follow. This being the response of a writer on the Next Web

HR departments now are Orwellian horror shows, experimenting on the depressed populations of ailing corporates. They are the policy bots who decide that HP employees in R&D need to suddenly wear suits and ties, they’re the ‘thinkers’ who’ve tricked us into believing that free food and ‘unlimited’ holiday aren’t just golden bars for the cage.

But what they’re missing here is, tarring all of Human Resources across the world with the same brush is not exactly sensible. And for small businesses it can be a real help, both for employer and employee.

This certainly doesn’t dismiss the supposed actions of Amazon, which beggar belief, but blaming HR is certainly not the solution. And of course, for smaller businesses like the ones we work with, offering them a structure that helps to maintain and strengthen a functioning business – rather than simply bowing to the whims of specific, or even under-performing, employees is a benefit to both employee and employer.

So how does HR help a business and its employees?

Well, first, there’s the obvious. Ensuring that employees are fairly treated, whether by their bosses or their colleagues, is something that goes hand-in-hand with HR policies. Bullying, harassment and other issues that can make employees’ life a living hell are all dealt with by HR departments. This isn’t just something that benefits the employee either; an employer of course wants a cohesive team rather than a squabbling bunch of workers. What is beneficial to the employee, is generally of benefit to the business. After all any company, and especially small business, relies on employees to be as happy and productive as possible.

Of course, trying out initiatives like dress codes and other such policies can also be the prerogative of any HR department – but I’d hardly say that this could be a cause for crying at a desk. Unless employees were forced to wear something particularly unfashionable perhaps…

Obviously trends like Unlimited Holiday and free food could be seen as initiatives that ‘trick’ employees into feeling good about their jobs – we’ve even reviewed trends like unlimited leave recently – but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Employees’ know when they’re being fooled, and employers who know anything about how HR should really work will understand this;

HR departments are there to protect business owners from falling foul of employment law as their primary function, but secondly and just as important they  help them to understand and improve how their staff are performing (including motivation levels)  and ensure fairness across the board.

What can employers learn from this?

Employee monitoring, and HR, when managed reasonably can be of real benefit to employer and employee. .

For example, clocking-in systems aren’t just there to make sure employers know they’re getting their money’s worth. Systems like these can help companies to understand and identify when staff are working excessively, and when they might need TOIL (Time Off In Lieu) – therefore looking after employees’ welfare more effectively.

Furthermore, the monitoring of absence levels – whether managed through very basic spreadsheets or more comprehensive HR software like ours – means employers can identify patterns in the health of an employee. This encourages employers to address problems, and gives them the knowledge to suggest that an employee should seek medical advice; before considering whether they are in fact ill!

So, in conclusion, HR practices are not to blame for supposed Amazon’s poor treatment of their employees. They are there to provide both employer and employee with a groundwork from which to work more effectively and fairly, rather than giving employers an opportunity to trick and exploit their staff.

Much of what has been reported about Amazon relates to their US operations, so whilst we can all be shocked by what is reported in the media, we should also consider that the US employment climate and legislative structure is very different to that of the UK.

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