It took just three days of working full time at an Amazon “fulfillment center” outside of Louisville, Kentucky, for Emily Guendelsberger’s body to break down.
She’d been warned by her supervisors that it would be physically demanding. She’d be on her feet for 12-hour shifts, walking a total of 15 to 20 miles through a 25-acre warehouse — as long as seven New York blocks — looking for merchandise to fulfill online orders.
One Amazon training video included a testimonial from an employee who claimed she’d lost 20 pounds from all the walking, “posing it as a benefit,” says Guendelsberger.
She expected to be tired as an “Amazonian” — the official name for full-time employees — particularly as she’d joined the company in November 2015, just before the Christmas season. But this was a whole other level of pain.
“It feels like I’ve been hit by a garbage truck,” she writes of the experience in her new book, “On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane” (Little, Brown), out Tuesday.
The book documents her experiences over two years, between 2015 and 2017, taking on service-industry jobs not just at Amazon, but also Convergys, a customer service call center in Hickory, North Carolina, and a McDonald’s franchise in downtown San Francisco.
Her goal wasn’t just to report on what she saw, but to “get an idea of what the modern experience of low-wage work feels like.”
Guendelsberger, 35, only decided to join the blue-collar workforce after losing her job as a senior staff writer at the (now defunct) Philadelphia City Paper. It was part necessity — she needed an income — and part curiosity.
Other than a few service jobs in her teens and early 20s, she’d never held employment that didn’t involve sitting at a desk. What Guendelsberger learned, she writes, is that she’s “embarrassingly unprepared for what ‘normal’ means outside the white-collar world, and I’ve grossly misjudged what $10.50 an hour is worth to a lot of people.”
Her biggest surprise, she tells The Post, is not just how much abuse her co-workers were willing to endure, but how they remained optimistic and grateful despite often staggeringly brutal conditions.
When Guendelsberger hit her pain threshold at Amazon and ran out of the Advil she’d been popping like candy, she sought out one of the company-supplied medicine vending machines “stocked with single-dose foil packets of pills.”
With the swipe of her ID badge, the pain could go away for at least a little while. But when the vending machine didn’t recognize her badge, a female co-worker (Guendelsberger never learned her name) offered to help.
“Let me guess, it’s your first week,” the woman said, with pity in her Kentucky drawl.
After helping Guendelsberger get pills and warning her about building a tolerance — the co-worker claimed she needed at least four pain meds just to get through the day — she assured Guendelsberger, “It gets easier. It really does.”
But Guendelsberger found no evidence that this was the case.
The work in factories and minimum-wage facilities hasn’t exactly got harder in recent decades, Guendelsberger says. It’s that the jobs have become unreasonably more stressful, mostly due to advanced monitoring technology that meticulously tracks every second of every day for many employees.
The reason, weirdly enough, is that their productivity is being compared to robots.
Because of automation, human workers increasingly have to compete with computers and algorithms, Guendelsberger writes. But robots are still lacking when it comes to fine motor control and empathy. So many industries want a workforce that can “think, talk, feel and pick stuff up like humans — but with as few needs outside of work as robots.”
These so-called “cyborg jobs” demand that low-wage laborers “crush those unuseful human parts of themselves down to atomic size.” And this type of employment is becoming increasingly common, with Oxford University estimating in 2013 that cyborg jobs could account for 47 percent of the US workforce.
At Convergys, Guendelsberger was “lectured about how using the bathroom too often is the same thing as stealing from the company.” Every bathroom visit was clocked from the moment she left her cubicle, and a daily report of her bathroom time was sent to a supervisor for approval.
Amazon workers carry around a scan gun, similar to what you might see at a grocery-store checkout, with an LCD screen listing tasks and a timer counting down exactly how many seconds remain to complete each one, according to the book.
“It also tracks your location by GPS — and you take it everywhere with you, even the bathroom,” writes Guendelsberger. “Failure to stay ahead of the countdown was grounds for termination.”
At fast-food franchises like McDonald’s, employees are often pushed to work at such dizzying speeds — “like a Benny Hill video on fast forward”— that injuries are inevitable, Guendelsberger explains.
Brittney Berry, who worked at a McDonald’s location in Chicago, told Guendelsberger that while trying to keep up with the pace, she slipped on a wet floor and severely burned her forearm on a grill to the point of nerve damage. “The managers told me to put mustard on it,” Berry told Guendelsberger.
(The Post reached out to Amazon, Convergys and McDonald’s for comment on Guendelsberger’s claims but did not hear back from the last two of press time. An Amazon spokesperson responded: “For someone who only worked at Amazon for approximately 11 days, Emily Guendelsberger’s statements are not an accurate portrayal of working in our buildings. We are proud of our safe workplaces and her allegations are demeaning to our passionate employees, whose pride and commitment are what make the Amazon customer experience great.”)
Data on the emotional state of modern workers is, at best, confusing.
On the one hand, engagement seems to be up. According to a Gallup poll from last year, it’s at an 18-year high, with 34 percent of American workers claiming they’re enthusiastic about and committed to their jobs.
But that conflicts with a recent Workplace Democracy Association/Zogby Interactive survey, in which 25 percent of US workers compare their workplace to a dictatorship.
The message seems to be this: Workers have never been more committed to their jobs while at the same time recognizing that work today is more punishing than ever.
‘It’s become so normalized to be treated like garbage at work and clamp down on your self-respect and dignity’
The workers that Guendelsberger met exemplified these conflicting traits. They described Amazon as an “existential s–thole” but also “accepted that this was just the way things were. They knew they weren’t being treated right, but they tried to look on the bright side.”
She met women like Akasha, Blair and Hailey — Amazon employees determined to see the positive in their working conditions. (Some but not all of the names were changed to protect their identities.)
“I felt like someone was always watching in case I screwed up,” Guendelsberger writes. “They felt like someone’s taking note of the good work they do.”
Blair, a young working mom, was especially determined to see how far she could push herself during the randomly announced “Power Hours.” This special incentive challenged workers to fulfill 100 orders in just an hour, with the reward of “a dollar coupon for some — but not all — of the vending machines in the building,” writes Guendelsberger.
“I’m mainly doing it for the thrill of the hunt,” Blair told her. “I want to know if I can win; I want to know I can conquer. And I want to be noticed, hopefully, by management.”
Blair’s belief that people who work the hardest and prove their potential will rise to the top “is an idea that’s deep in the American psyche,” Guendelsberger says. “Many of them believe they deserve it because if they’d just been better and worked harder, they’d be rewarded.”
It’s a grim reality that most workers have just learned to live with. “They don’t have an expectation of being treated like human beings,” Guendelsberger says. “It’s become so normalized to be treated like garbage at work and clamp down on your self-respect and dignity.”
In each job, she learned how to get “harder and more pragmatic, like my co-workers. Like a robot.”
Guendelsberger believes that change is not only coming to the workplace but is also inevitable.
The constant hustle and stress of the modern economy are making people crazy, she says.
“It’s making us sick and terrified and cruel and hopeless.”
Human beings aren’t robots, she says.
“They need to go to the bathroom, take sick days, take Mom to a doctor’s appointment, attend funerals. Stay up until 4 with the baby.”
But any meaningful shift in what’s considered normal work conditions has to start at the bottom, with the undervalued workers who’ve let themselves believe that “the things that make humans less efficient than robots are weaknesses — moral failings.”
Guendelsberger has faith that many of the people she met during her brief two years could someday break through and demand more from their employers. But she won’t be among them.
“Oh, God no,” Guendelsberger says when asked if she’ll ever engage in minimum-wage employment again. “I’m not that strong. I’m going to stick with writing.”
How America works
80%: of US workers feel stressed on the job
46%: claim their stress is caused by “workload”
75%: believe there’s more job stress than a generation ago
1 million: workers stay home every day because of stress
$125 to $190 billion: spent annually treating job burnout-related ailments
42%: claim verbal abuse is common at their workplace
34%: of workers can’t sleep because of work stress
1 in 4: have been driven to tears by workplace stressSources: American Institute of Stress, Gallup, Korn Ferry, Harvard Business Review
Since workers at the Chester facility were typically expected to pull 100 items or more per hour, a picker could expect to walk more than 12 miles over the course of a shift.Is Amazon a tough place to work? ›
The company's fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don't stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.How long does the average person work at Amazon? ›
The average tenure of a full-time Amazonian is roughly one year, while tenure at other tech places like Facebook, Apple, and Google tends to be roughly about two years.How many breaks do Amazon warehouse workers get? ›
One 10-minute rest break during a shift that's between 3.5 hours and 6 hours long. Two 10-minute rest breaks during a shift that's between 6 hours and 10 hours long. One 30-minute meal break during a shift that lasts more than 5 hours. Two 30-minute meal breaks during a shift that lasts more than 10 hours.Can you wear Airpods at Amazon warehouse? ›
Amazon does not allow warehouse workers to wear headphones, earphones, or earbuds during work.How do you pick faster on Amazon? ›
FIVE TIPS to improve your rate as a PICKER at AMAZON! - YouTubeWhy do people quit Amazon? ›
Leaked documents show Amazon employees are quitting at twice the rate of recent years. Low pay, a stagnant stock price, and a grueling work culture are largely cited as fueling the exodus, but increased competition also makes it easier for the most prized corporate workers to find better opportunities.What is a water spider at Amazon? ›
4. Water Spider. In a warehouse, "water spiders" are workers tasked with keeping work stations fully stocked. At Amazon, this means carrying boxes of goods to a "stower" who then places the items onto merchandise racks.Why is Amazon turnover so high? ›
The report attributes Amazon's turnover rate to unsustainable work expectations, high injury rates, monitoring systems that often lead to termination and discipline, low chances of promotions, and more.Can you be 5 minutes late at Amazon? ›
If you clock in five minutes before or five minutes after the computer automatically adjust your time to show that you logged in at 6. This applies to clocking out as well. If you are later than those five minutes, You either have to use unpaid time in minute increments, Or you get one hour deducted From your UPT.
Critics also say the policy flies in the face of assurances from Amazon that warehouse workers can take bathroom breaks outside of their allotted 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks in each 10-hour shift.How many days can you miss at Amazon? ›
You can take up to 80 hours of sick leave each year if you are ill. Employees at Amazon take an average of 80 sick days each year. Within 90 days, Amazon employees are entitled to 20 hours of sick leave. That implies an employee may take 20 hours off for a sick day and not be penalized.What is the best shift to work at Amazon? ›
Work early in the morning and get a jump start on your day – most early morning shifts earn more per hour, too. A typical early morning shift starts between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. and ends between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.How long do most people stay at Amazon? ›
By the way, the eight-month average that Amazon workers stay is a piddling one-sixth the average job tenure for America's 155 million workers. However much Bezos detests unions, there's one thing Bezos can't honestly deny –unions would be a surefire way for Amazon to become a better employer.Does Amazon pay employees to quit? ›
Typically, Amazon pays its warehouse workers up to $5,000 to quit their jobs after peak seasons like the holidays as a way to pare down its workforce in the slowdown that follows.Can I listen to music Amazon warehouse? ›
After describing the hiring process, Taylor turns to the particular characteristics of the job: You're not allowed to bring your phone into the facility because they're afraid of stealing. You're also not allowed to bring electronics, so you can't listen to music—apparently, it's a safety hazard.Can I wear leggings to Amazon warehouse? ›
Jeans, sweatpants, yoga pants, gym leggings, joggers and even pyjamas are allowed in Amazon fulfillment and sort centers. Short shorts (including shorts that are above the mid-thigh level) and pants that are too baggy, however, are not permitted.Can you listen to music while working at Amazon 2022? ›
Amazon packing employee. Amazon employees in certain facilities are allowed to listen to music. It comes down to the facility's policies, local laws and regulations as well as management's level of tolerance.What is Amazon sub same-day? ›
Amazon's Sub Same-Day buildings serve as mini-fulfillment centers, optimized for delivering hundreds of thousands of items with ultra-fast same-day delivery speed. These are first-of-its-kind buildings that are optimized for faster click-to-delivery speeds.Does Amazon deliver on Thanksgiving? ›
According to Heavy.com, Thanksgiving is one of the holidays that Amazon delivery services are shut down. It also notes that Thanksgiving is one of the paid holidays Amazon employees receive each year.
You can make your Amazon Day your preferred delivery option by ticking the checkbox in the Amazon Day delivery option at checkout or on the Amazon Day page. You can also opt out of this preference there.Why is Amazon laying off employees? ›
In the second quarter, Amazon shaved its headcount by 99,000 people to 1.52 million employees. The retail giant is taking steps to shrink its workforce as it looks to cut costs after growing its staff and warehouse footprint at an unprecedent pace during the Covid-19 pandemic.What happens if I quit Amazon? ›
What is this? After resigning, you will receive your voluntary termination email in a few days. Depending on which state you are in, you may get paid your accrued PTO and vacation hours after resigning.Is Amazon a good place to work 2022? ›
LinkedIn: Amazon is #1 company where Americans want to work in 2022. Amazon recognized as the most desirable workplace in the U.S. for the second year in a row. The ranking is based on our ability to attract and retain talent, including the career advancement opportunities we provide for employees of all backgrounds.What does ICQA mean at Amazon? ›
The ICQA department in Amazon warehouses is charged with assessing the accuracy and quality of inventory. ICQA associates help execute this task. ICQA stands for inventory control and quality assurance.What does Amazon call their employees? ›
Amazonians | Amazon.jobs.What does cap stand for at Amazon? ›
I have been working with Amazon since April 2016 and My job designation is CAP (concession abuse prevention team). I handle fraud related issues and also prevent or decrease invalid concesions and abuse pattern by taking appropriate action.Does Amazon fire a lot of people? ›
Amazon's attrition rates were 123 percent in 2019 before jumping to 159 percent in 2020, according to internal data in the report Recode obtained, while turnover rates across the US transportation and warehouse sectors were much lower: 46 percent and 59 percent respectively in 2019 and 2020, according to Bureau of ...What is the highest base salary at Amazon? ›
The lowest-paid workers at Amazon make less than $29,000 a year, while the highest-paid workers earn over $144,000.Is Amazon giving a raise in 2022? ›
Sept. 28, 2022, at 9:41 p.m. NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon said Wednesday it's raising its average starting pay for frontline workers from $18 to $19 a hour, a boost that could help it attract more employees in a tight labor market as the holiday season approaches.
Among the rigorous requirements for the job — among them, the ability to stand for 8-10 hours while continually bending and lifting, the wherewithal to call the warehouse a “fulfillment center” without snickering — there was one in particular that popped out: You have to be able to walk the equivalent of 10 to 15 miles ...Does working in a warehouse count as exercise? ›
All warehouse positions require some kind of constant movement, whether you're picking, loading, or packaging. The walking and lifting definitely gives you your workout for the day. This definitely saves you time as you won't have to hit the gym or do a home workout once you're off.How many picks do you get an hour at Amazon? ›
The job is grueling. Quotas are set, and they're not easy; a picker might need to get 120 or more items in an hour — that's two per minute! — and that includes walking around, finding the item, and dropping off full bins. A picker might walk more than 10 miles each day.How many steps are there in the Amazon? ›
7 Steps of The Amazon Recruitment Process. Amazon's recruitment process consists of six main parts: resume screening, phone screening, hiring manager interview, writing test, loop interviews, and hiring committee reviews.Can you bring a lunch box to work at Amazon? ›
Can you bring lunch to the Amazon warehouse? Warehouse associates are allowed to bring lunch to work as long as it's not on the warehouse floor or lockers. Employees eat lunch in the break room or in their cars. Ultimately, making your own lunch is much cheaper and healthier than buying food in the cafeteria.How do you survive a warehouse job? ›
- Wear Appropriate Clothing. ...
- Take Care of Your Diet. ...
- Save Your Money. ...
- Don't Overstrain Yourself. ...
- Use Proper Lifting Techniques. ...
- Stay Hydrated While Working. ...
- Get to Work Early. ...
- Make Friends at the Warehouse.
The average Amazon warehouse worker leaves within just eight months – that's an unmistakable sign that Amazon's jobs are unpleasant, to put it kindly, and that many Amazon workers quickly realize they hate working there because of the stress, breakneck pace, constant monitoring and minimal rest breaks.Are warehouse jobs stressful? ›
Because the job often involves meeting quotas — so many orders filled per hour — warehouse work can be stressful.Are warehouse workers strong? ›
If most of your tasks at the warehouse involve lifting heavy items, you are going to build a lot of strength over time. Your body quickly adapts to the constant lifting and putting items down. You will also build a lot of endurance, especially if you work jobs like loading and unloading.What exercises can I do if I work 12 hours a day? ›
- Decide what time of the day you want to exercise. ...
- Find something you enjoy doing and be consistent. ...
- Stay well hydrated throughout your day. ...
- Pack your lunch and resist the goodies at the nurse's station. ...
- Get plenty of sleep to recharge and de-stress.
Day 0 – Onboarding and Training
The session is paid training and takes 3.5 hours to complete. Depending on the location and job you are applying for, your Day 0 may be online or it may be on-site. In some locations, your Day 0 and Day 1 will take place on the same day.
The law clarifies this wording by stating that employees who work jobs that reasonably need longer work weeks can be required to work seven or more days in a row, as long as one out of every seven days in the month is a rest day.How long is Amazon training? ›
Amazon employees participating in this apprenticeship receive 12 weeks of paid training followed by on-the-job training to learn how to maintain and repair the machinery that keeps Amazon warehouses running.How do you know if you got hired at Amazon? ›
To check your status, log in to your application profile and review the roles for which you've applied. Candidates for warehouse and Amazon Fulfillment Center positions can check the status of their applications here.How do you get selected on Amazon? ›
- Figure out what you really want to do. ...
- Pick five roles based on basic qualifications. ...
- Don't judge a job by its title. ...
- Frame your story with data. ...
- Identify your unique value. ...
- Simplify your resume. ...
- Don't cut your experiences short.
There are four Amazon interview rounds. In this four-round Amazon interview process, each round lasts for 1 hour. Each round will begin with five minutes of introductions. You will have a 50 minutes interview.