Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Feed your better nature.
BETTER NATURE

Whole Foods is pivoting to employee happiness

By Alison Griswold

Late December is a time for New Year’s resolutions, and Whole Foods Market has a big one: Be nicer to workers.

Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey said in a video to employees last month that he would work to address employee concerns, improve communication, and strengthen career-development opportunities in 2019, as the grocery chain enters its second year under Amazon ownership, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall).

“At the beginning of the second year of this merger, we are going to pivot back to team member growth and happiness,” Mackey said, according to the Journal.

Whole Foods is key to Amazon’s transition from a giant of online sales to a company that dominates both online and offline shopping. Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in July 2017, gaining a bougie grocery brand and a chain of more than 400 physical stores.

In October 2017, Amazon chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky identified “a lot of opportunity” for Amazon to work with Whole Foods. Since then, many of the plans—for instance, adding Amazon lockers for customers to receive and return online orders, and building out Amazon’s on-demand Prime Now service—have come to fruition.

But the transition hasn’t always gone smoothly for workers at Whole Foods. In early 2018, Business Insider reported that Whole Foods employees were being graded with new scorecards and on-the-spot quizzes that had many terrified of losing their jobs. Supermarket News reported that a new system for managing grocery inventory was leading to empty shelves in stores.

Disillusioned by Amazon’s leadership, Whole Foods employees moved to unionize earlier this year. Organizers called for a $15 minimum wage and better health care, and expressed concern about future layoffs as Amazon automated grocery stores.

Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all US employees in October, but that didn’t reassure workers at Whole Foods, whose employer spent 20 years on Fortune’s list of best places to work until it was purchased by Amazon.

Maybe in 2019 Mackey will turn it all around.