In Amazon fulfillment centers across America, Amazon warehouse workers are being summoned for mandatory group huddles designed to improve their wellbeing. In the middle of their shifts, the summoned Amazon warehouse workers stand before a TV or laptop, and watch a short animated video. In the videos, warehouse workers and an animated robot demonstrate bending over and using their “powerzone” (core muscles) to lift bins, gripping, and stretching. Workers are invited to follow along to the video, which lasts a few minutes. Then back to work.
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
The huddles—referred to by workers Motherboard spoke to as “wellness huddles” and by Amazon as “WorkingWell huddles”—are a part of Amazon’s WorkingWell program. The program, which began last year, is a mix of “physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthy eating support” meant to help Amazon warehouse workers “recharge and re-energize.” Part of this program includes AmaZen booths, a closet-sized room in the middle of an Amazon warehouse where workers can go to meditate and practice mindfulness activities on a computer, as Motherboard previously reported. On its website, Amazon says, the program is helping Amazon fulfill its “vision to be Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”
Amazon workers said they are asked to participate in wellness “huddles” roughly once a month. Workers told Motherboard that some huddles also focus on healthy eating, such as cutting back on sweets and carbs and eating more vegetables.
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Several workers told Motherboard they find the videos to be rudimentary, repetitive, and unhelpful, as workers weren’t given the opportunity to ask questions. The introduction of these “huddles” coincides with investigations that have shown that workers at Amazon warehouses get injured far more frequently than other warehouse workers at other employers around the country due to the pressure to work quickly. Last year, a Washington Post investigation found that Amazon warehouse workers suffer serious injuries at nearly double the rate of other warehouse companies. A Reveal investigation found that Amazon deceived the public on rising injury rates. On a recent Reddit thread on the subreddit r/AmazonFC titled, “Does the Huddle really work I feel like this is just to kill time lol,” one user wrote, “I absolutely loathe the wellness huddles. Hands down the most infantilizing experience I have to endure at work. ‘Make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables so you can be a superhero!’”
“It's nice to get a break from a task for a few minutes but at the cost of feeling like the company views me as a toddler who needs constant reminders on how to do basic things like bending my knees and holding a box, I'd rather just keep working,” another worker posted.Motherboard spoke to three Amazon workers who felt the videos were intended to make Amazon look good more than genuinely provide useful training and advice to warehouse workers. A spokesperson for Amazon said that new topics are cycled through on a monthly basis, but some warehouse workers said they watched the same videos over and over again. “It’s for them to cover their asses [in case someone gets hurt],” another warehouse worker at a facility in New Jersey said. “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.’”“It’s just Amazon saying ‘if you get hurt it’s not our fault you saw the videos,’” one Amazon warehouse worker told Motherboard.Richard Rocha, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard that the huddles are intended to improve health and safety in Amazon warehouses, and are tailored to specific groups of workers based on the tasks they perform. “WorkingWell Huddles are an important part of our WorkingWell suite of programs and one of many activities that are focused on supporting employees’ health and safety,” Rocha said. “WorkingWell Huddles provide education on proper body mechanics and stretching techniques that will reduce musculoskeletal disorder injuries. Surveys are sent to employees after each Huddle, with a vast majority of responses consistently indicating they are satisfied with the Huddle experience.”