Rather than, you know, actually providing healthy employment conditions.
Amazon warehouse workers need a break. They just cleared a holiday season that set new sales records for the company — but was marred by the deaths of the people who actually fulfilled all those orders. But instead of lowering the absurd expectations placed on these workers, or extending additional care and support to them, or paying them more, Amazon has figured out the dumbest, most ineffectual solution available: “wellness huddles.”
According to a report from Vice, workers in Amazon’s fulfillment centers are having their work days interrupted by group exercises. At some point during the workday, per workers Vice spoke to, employees are called over to a TV or laptop where they are asked to watch an animated video that shows different stretches they can do. Workers are encouraged to follow along with the instructional video and perform the stretches that help to strengthen their core muscles to help preserve their bodies so they can continue to be exploited. Once the several-minute-long video ends, the workers are sent back to their stations.
The videos are just one part of Amazon’s WorkingWell program, which the company implemented last year. According to Amazon’s description of the initiative, it is designed to provide employees with “physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthy eating support.” Oddly, it doesn’t seem like that program expanded health care coverage, offered pay raises to help employees afford healthier food options, provided more paid time off or paid sick leave, offered a gym membership reimbursement, or did anything else that might actually help to improve a person’s overall health.
According to Vice, the “wellness huddles” occur about once a month, which seems like it reflects roughly how often Amazon’s corporate office actually thinks about the wellbeing of its employees.
The reason for Amazon’s little guided videos reminding people to stretch or eat well is probably because the company’s warehouses are notoriously dangerous places to work. According to data published by Reveal News in 2020, Amazon workers experience injuries with considerably higher frequency than other workhouse workers. The Washington Post found warehouse workers suffer serious injuries — ones that caused them to miss work — at about twice the rate of other warehouse jobs. Amazon has tried to cover this up, but given that effort failed, now it’s running a PR campaign disguised as a wellness program. One warehouse worker told Vice they felt the huddles were for Amazon “to cover their asses [in case someone gets hurt] ... so they can say ‘we taught them how to stretch, we taught them this. It’s not like they didn’t know how to do it properly.’”
The wellness huddles are pretty off-brand for Amazon. The company that surveils and monitors its employees with such intensity that workers have reported being afraid to take bathroom breaks for fear of getting punished for being off-task for too long, but now it’s wasting its employees’ time with stretching videos in the name of improving its public image instead of actually improving working conditions. It’s telling that warehouse workers, who are overworked, would rather not attend the wellness huddles because they’re so silly — even though, at least, they provide a break from work.