Amazon’s ‘wellness meetings’ scare me

Amazon’s pioneering worker dystopia continues apace.

Motherboard reported this week that Amazon requires warehouse workers to attend “WorkingWell meetings” in which they regularly watch videos outlining ways to stretch and lift bins safely. Some of the videos also offer nutritional advice, such as cutting carbs and eating more vegetables.

At first glance, Amazon’s program would seem interesting. Encouraging worker safety and health is good practice, especially in work environments involving high physical demands. But the huddles themselves, along with other “wellness” features in Amazon warehouses, draw criticism from employees and seem alienating and scary. In the larger context of Amazon’s harsh workplace exploitative practices, they look more like a diversionary tactic than a serious effort to protect employees.

Amazon is charting new territory in worker alienation.

Safety instructions are a good idea. But the way these welfare groups are conducted is clearly antisocial and reprehensible to many warehouse workers, according to Motherboard and online forums. They are administered through short instructional videos rather than live instructors. Employees cannot ask questions. While Amazon says content is meant to be varied, employees have complained about being forced to watch the same videos over and over. And some said that while the instructions demonstrate solid technique, they’re too basic and repetitive to warrant routine viewing. “By far the most infantilizing experience I have had to endure at work,” said a user on the Reddit forum for Amazon workers.

The wellness gatherings appear to be part of the same initiative that deployed “AmaZen” meditation cabins on warehouse floors. If a worker is stressed, they must enter a tiny port-a-potty-like booth in which a computer offers a suite of “mental health and mindful practices.” The Amazon employee who invented the stand said it was meant to “recharge the internal battery” of employees. What a suitably dehumanizing turn of phrase.

Amazon tending to the physical and mental health of its employees by delegating it to computers that offer superficial instructions on wellness is worrying enough. But in light of the company’s other operating practices, they look more like a denial of worker health than an aid to it.

According to a labor study published last year, Amazon’s workplace injuries are 80% higher than those of its competitors – and the main culprit identified by the study was Amazon’s “obsession with speed”. the company. Amazon is notorious for such a demanding work pace and limited break times that employees said they were afraid to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom and said they were forced to urinate and defecate in toilets. bottles and bags of water during their shifts. Amazon also deploys cutting-edge surveillance technology to monitor worker productivity and even union energy, which it has used brazenly illegal tactics to crush.

In a climate of generalized exploitation, sending workers to stare at computer screens to get a few minutes of training on lifting, eating vegetables and mindful breathing is not the heart of the matter. What it does is give Amazon worker safety talking points to use within the company and when dealing with outside observers – while implicitly blaming employee behavior for injuries. and ignoring the company’s punitive exit requirements.

The impact and cultural influence of Amazon’s practices cannot be overstated.

With these kinds of practices, Amazon is charting new territory in worker alienation. It’s far from the first company to care about employee wellbeing with flashy but superficial wellness initiatives. But as America’s second-largest employer, and arguably the most scrutinized retail company in the world, the impact and cultural influence of its practices cannot be overstated. As Amazon continually invents new ways to monitor and pantomime care for its employees with less effort, it remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring its employees remain as overworked and helpless as ever.

About Keith Johnson

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