Amazon Uses Tech to Regulate the Workplace — Here’s Why That’s Problematic
Amazon has a reputation as one of the highest-tech employers out there. The company regularly makes headlines about the advanced new technology they use to stay in front of the competition. However, there is another side to the brand’s use of innovations. Many critics say Amazon uses tech to regulate its workplaces — especially its warehouses — in a way that hurts employee health and morale.
Why Amazon’s Tech Use Is Troubling Some
Back in 2018, Amazon came under fire after filing a new patent for a movement-tracking wearable wristband. These wearables track every movement of workers in their warehouses and nudge them with vibrations when they made a wrong move — or if the algorithm that manages productivity felt they needed to pick up the pace. While the wristband itself never materialized, the patent was one of many incidents that seemed to show Amazon treating workers like robots.
Amazon’s warehouse workers have been raising issues with the company for years, regularly voicing concerns about strictly enforced rules, short breaks, and a workplace culture that prioritizes productivity over almost everything else.
Each month, several reports appear from Amazon warehouses of tech used to improve productivity at the cost of worker health and morale. When employees get written up, it’s not by a manager. Instead, an automated algorithm tracks and makes notes of when workers fail to meet productivity targets.
As a result, if an employee fails to meet a target because, for example, they’ve had to stop the conveyor belt to clean up a spill, they may not get a chance to appeal the strike against them. Impersonal applications of tech like these can quickly create absurd situations where management doesn’t consider the realities of the warehouse floor.
While Amazon sometimes applies tech that could make jobs easier — like robots that perform monotonous tasks, such as lifting heavy boxes — it often becomes another way to put more pressure on the staff. With innovations, the brand expects worker efficiency to increase.
In several cases, this demand for high productivity has pushed workers to the point of exhaustion or injury. While those who get injured on the job are entitled to workers comp in many states, Amazon has often discouraged employees from making claims.
Not all applications of Amazon tech have been bad for the company’s workers — some advancements relieve the pressure on their retail and warehouse staff. For example, Amazon’s cashier-less stores provide customers with groceries and other items without needing to be rung up. These stores can improve worker safety during an event like an outbreak of disease when grocery store employees can be some of the most vulnerable.
However, the company’s overall implementation of tech has generally failed to consider the needs and health of their workers.
How Businesses Can Regulate Their Tech Use
Your business can take steps to ensure that your use of tech isn’t overbearing or harmful to workers.
When implementing new workplace advancements, balance employee needs against productivity growth. Improving workplace quality won’t always yield benefits that are obvious right away. For example, tech that makes worker movements more ergonomic won’t necessarily speed up processes or make them more efficient. This tech will, however, decrease injuries in the long run.
Fielding regular feedback on the use of tech can also help your business stay aware of what innovations may not be a great fit. Invite employees to weigh in on tech and ask them when certain applications may be overbearing. Regular internal audits can also help your business see if tech is genuinely improving the workplace.
Why Amazon’s Use of Workplace Tech Isn’t a Model to Follow
While Amazon is regularly praised for its use of advanced tech, like AI, in digital commerce and logistics, not every aspect of their use sets a good example. Workers in Amazon warehouses regularly complain about an impersonal company culture that seems reinforced by algorithmic management.
Businesses wanting to avoid these kinds of issues should keep an open line of communication between management and workers. Regular audits — especially those that include interviews with staff using the innovations — can help organizations tell if a new solution is improving their workplace or driving up productivity at a cost.