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Amazon gives workers new wellness program, but not extra time to participate

Mashable logo Mashable 5/17/2021 Rachel Kraus
a man standing in front of a store: Amazon gives workers new wellness program, but not extra time to participate © Provided by Mashable Amazon gives workers new wellness program, but not extra time to participate

Amazon wants warehouse workers to take action to improve their health — but they won’t get extra time to do it.

On Monday, Amazon announced wellness initiatives aimed at operations employees, with a focus on health education, mindfulness, and stretching.

When Mashable reached the company via email to ask how employees would be empowered to engage in these activities during their highly regimented and surveilled days, the company said it's not giving employees extra break time. And when asked about reducing productivity requirements, it responded with a comment on how worker performance was judged on several factors.

Amazon has been piloting components of the new program, called WorkingWell, since 2019. The company aims to roll it out to all operations centers — which include the fulfillment centers where Amazon workers prepare packages for shipment — by the end of 2021.

WorkingWell is part of a $300 million investment to improve worker safety, with the goal of cutting reportable injury rates in half by the year's end. Data from 2020 obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting show consistently rising injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers that are higher than the industry average. 

WorkingWell aims to bring interactions with health and wellness principles directly to the warehouse floor. For example, videos in "Wellness Zones" will guide employees through stretching exercises. New "AmaZen" kiosks will let employees "watch short videos featuring easy-to-follow wellbeing activities, including guided meditations, positive affirmations, calming scenes with sounds, and more." Workers will get "hourly prompts" at their workstations, called "Mind & Body Moments," reminding workers to breathe, stretch, and do "mental reflections." 

Many Amazon workers have complained about rigid productivity quotas, with some saying they have to skip bathroom breaks to meet them.

Documents obtained by The Verge in 2020 showed how Amazon automatically tracks employee productivity and downtime, and fires around 10 percent of its workforce annually for not meeting productivity standards. Amazon recently quelled a union drive by employees advocating for better working conditions through what experts described as union-busting tactics. 

Stretching, mindfulness, and meditation can have physical and mental health benefits. But they don't address the underlying cause of Amazon workers' stress and injuries, which is the threat of being fired if they don't handle packages quickly enough.

While employees won't get additional time to do these activities, they will get rewarded for participating in them. Amazon said via email that one of the factors it will take into account when assessing an employee's performance is their participation in WorkingWell. That could encourage employees to use the resources available to them — or it could put another burden on their break time to make sure that, too, is productive.

Amazon will solicit employee feedback on the program through "Connect & Comment Kiosks." Other components of WorkingWell include "EatWell," which involves placing healthier snacks in break rooms, and signage about healthy eating choices. "Health & Safety Huddles" will bring employees together for interactive videos and exercises. A new dedicated first aid area, called "Wellness Centers" — extremely different from "Wellness Zones" — will also bring "injury prevention experts" to the workplace. 

Outside of the workplace, Amazon announced it has partnered with a clinic called Crossover Health to provide primary care for employees. Amazon already offers healthcare plans for employees, which differ depending on an employee's status (e.g., whether they are full- or part-time, and permanent or seasonal). Amazon describes the Crossover Health partnership as an "affordable" option that focuses on preventative medicine, among other things.

There will eventually be a WorkingWell app that will allow employees to access the wellness activities outside of the workplace. 

Providing new opportunities and access to healthcare for employees is a step in the right direction for Amazon. But ultimately, it's a bandaid, not a cure.

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