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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: A Prime time for better conditions at Amazon

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an extensive piece detailing the white-collar working conditions of Amazon.

For many, Amazon represents the cutting edge of efficiency and customer satisfaction, providing consumers with millions of products at unmatched speeds and quantities. Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld of The New York Times, however, reveal some disconcerting systems of the mega corporation and force the reader to confront the hidden costs of Amazon’s business model.

The general message of the article is that working for Amazon is intense, stressful and competitive. Based on interviews with over 100 workers, the exposé details the ways in which white-collared employees are responsible for returning messages around the clock, encouraged to anonymously report coworkers who waste time and often pushed to the point of tears during their tenure.

Turnover rates are extremely high and employees are scrutinized by complex technological systems designed to monitor efficiency and production output.

The article ends with a quote from a recent recruitment video: “You either fit here or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.”

The New York Times article, through its pervasive exploration of the white-collar working conditions at Amazon, highlights two problematic trends in worker treatment and its subsequent coverage by the press.

Although conversations about white-collar working environments are important and worthy of concern, it’s frustrating to see these issues overshadow and replace conversations around blue-collar working conditions, especially at a company such as Amazon.

In 2011, reports surfaced that an Amazon warehouse kept ambulances parked outside for workers who collapsed in the non-air-conditioned room. In the middle of summer, temperatures easily surpassed 100 degrees.

Warehouse workers are some of the most exploited and mistreated in the country. Often, companies hire these workers as temp positions, enabling the companies to refuse to offer benefits, paid sick leave or maternity leave, according to an article in The Huffington Post.

Corporations may also hire undocumented persons with the threat of deportation wielded in order to foster higher productivity. 

While abysmal working conditions for white-collar workers is a topic that needs to be addressed, the systemic and more widespread mistreatment of certain blue-collar industries is something that must accompany these conversations.

As students, many of whom aspire to work in white-collar occupations, the article about Amazon should give us pause for other reasons. The Amazon model, in which employees are expendable commodities and everything is geared toward efficiency regardless of personal well being, could become popular within other companies.

If this type of workplace environment becomes the new norm, then students at younger ages will be forced to partake in this dangerous and damaging system. Not only can this style of management have consequences for the workers, but it also fails to produce the ends that could justify these means.

According to Professor Alison Gabriel of the Eller College of Management, “In today’s organizations, it is becoming the norm to work longer and longer hours that creep into personal time. Part of this could just be individuals’ beliefs, but the work environment can also support these ideas — if everyone else is staying late, you will naturally feel the pressure to stay late, too.”

Gabriel went on to describe her research and methods to avoid overworking.

“In research my colleagues and I are conducting, taking short mental breaks during the day and detaching from work in the evening promotes important outcomes like vigor and motivation and reduces feelings of fatigue,” she said. “People need separation from their work in order to recharge their batteries. Without that separation and time-off, people are going to burnout and turnover, which inevitably costs organizations time and money.”

The beginning of the semester is the ideal time to create a schedule that has built in relaxation and leisure. It’s easy to feel a need to do more and take on more intense workloads, but the reality is that this style of work will only lead to fatigue, exhaustion and poor results overall.

The Amazon article is an excellent piece of journalism that can propel us into conversations about the type of environment we want as employees, the necessity of improving working conditions for all types of workers and the importance of self-care in today’s stressful world.

Follow Jacob Winkelman on Twitter.

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