Every morning, Amazon employees start their day by answering a question that pops up on their computer screens.
The questions are typically work-related, with topics ranging from thoughts about their managers to the length of meetings, or the number of times they've received positive feedback in the past week. In some cases, it asks less sensitive questions like how crowded bathrooms get, and even throws follow-up questions when needed.
The daily Q&A program, called Connections, rolled out across the company in April of last year after small pilots beginning in 2014. It's one of the most ambitious HR programs Amazon has launched in the past year to better understand its sprawling workforce, which is now estimated to be the second largest in the U.S. at over 566,000.
CNBC talked to more than a dozen current and former employees to get a sense of how this and other HR programs are working. Some expressed skepticism about Connections, saying they weren't convinced the answers were truly anonymous, while managers weren't always sure how to use the data.
Employees were much more positive about a revamped employee review program called Forte, introduced last year to simplify the reviews process and focus on employee strengths instead of weaknesses. The employees declined to be named because they were not authorized by Amazon to talk to press.
These programs are important as Amazon works towards shedding its image as an exceptionally demanding workplace, exposed most starkly in a 2015 New York Times article that portrayed people crying at their desks amid a lack of work-life balance.
Workplace culture has improved since then, as suggested by positive ratings on Glassdoor, an anonymous workplace-reviews site. In March, LinkedIn said its data showed that Amazon was the most desirable employer in the U.S. In conversations today, current and recent employees generally describe it as a demanding place to work, but praise its leadership and express pride in working for one of the top tech companies in the world.
Amazon told CNBC, "We launched Forte and Connections several years ago and have gotten positive feedback from employees – they tell us that these are useful tools for them and their teams. It's great to see that this also comes through in surveys done by third-parties like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, which reflect these and the many other programs we've built for employees over the past 23 years."