Amazon Fulfillment Centers meet shipping demandsAmazon’s unquintessential leadership is not confined to their corporate office. It literally permeates the entire company including their fulfillment centers from which all shipping of purchases directly from Amazon are done.

Unfortunately, Amazon customers are unknowingly complicit in this aspect of unquintessential leadership, although their demand – and payment for, in the case of Amazon Prime – is why this aspect is in place.

Since, as customers, we rarely even think about and certainly almost never know what goes on behind the scenes to get what we buy to us (and this is not just with Amazon, but everything we consume and buy), it’s helpful to take a look – and if it makes us uncomfortable at the least then that’s a good thing because it means we’re aware and thinking and we are not guilty of not caring – at the processes from time to time.

Actual Amazon Fulfillment CenterAmazon has 75 fulfillment centers in North American. These are 24/7 operation centers, with two 12-hour shifts per day.

Amazon employs 90,000 full-time employees at their fulfillment centers have several thousand full-time employees (who earn between $10 and $14 an hour, and receive some benefits), but during times of exceptional high demand, such as during the Christmas season, Amazon hires 100,000+ more temporary workers (who are also paid between $10 and $14 an hour, with no benefits) through staffing agencies to meet customer demand.

The work environment itself is grueling, even for the most physically-fit workers. 

All workers walk between 7 and 12 miles per shift and they must be able to endure temperatures of 90 degrees for the entirety of their shifts (in 2011, Amazon was forced to install climate control systems in all their fulfillment centers after it came to light that workers in a Pennsylvania fulfillment center were working in 114-degree heat).

Additionally, all Amazon workers must be able to lift at least 49 pounds, be able to stand or walk 10-12 hours a day, and must be able to meet Amazon’s exceptionally high productivity targets consistently.

Amazon uses very sophisticated software to track every single thing that happens in its fulfillment centers, including the pace at which each employee is working. The hourly productivity metrics are brutally demanding and failing to meet them means immediate termination.

The Great Recession of 2008 that continues today has led to an employee glut and has forced workers to take whatever they can get no matter how awful or risky the jobs areAlthough all of this would seem to be enough to have Amazon constantly scrounging for employees, The Great Recession (which began in 2008 and, despite what the government and the media are saying, is still with us here in 2015) and its massive layoffs and job eliminations/employer reluctance to hire have led to places like Amazon’s fulfillment centers (which pay only slightly above minimum wage) having an abundant pool of employees to hire full-time and temporarily through staffing agencies.

For the unemployed or underemployed, the relatively-higher hourly wages at Amazon seem worth the potential and likely physical risks to employees who meet the demands of Amazon’s promises to their customers and customers’ demands for the fastest shipping times.

But is it worth it? The story of Jeff Lockhart, a temporary worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Virginia, says, “No.” 

Undoubtedly, Amazon, as a prominent player in Big Data, keeps statistics on the number of workers who get ill, become incapacitated, or, as in Jeff’s case, die while on the job in their fulfillment centers.

Given the working conditions, metrics, and hours, it’s reasonable to believe that those numbers are high enough to send red flags up everywhere.

Amazon Prime includes free two-day shippingHowever, in the highly-secretive and overtly-intimidating atmosphere that typifies Amazon’s culture as a company, it’s unlikely that the general public will ever know the true costs, including the human costs, of being an Amazon Prime member or choosing the fastest shipping times Amazon offers on products they ship directly.

I suspect that many people would go ahead and buy from Amazon anyway, even if they do know.

We humans have a unique ability to not think about anything beyond what’s right in front of us and what we want or gain in our transactions.

Additionally, if working conditions and environments like these don’t affect us personally (we don’t have people close to us in them or they’re physically distant, whether it’s states away or continents away), we have a strange capacity to gloss them over as normal and okay.

Quintessential leaders are acutely different in this respect because they respect human health and life and recognize that people are the most valuable resource in any of life’s venues.

So instead of treating humans like pack animals, quintessential leaders make sure they have excellent working conditions and don’t let computer software and customer demand – and the bottom line of huge profits – dictate sustained beyond-any-human-capacity productivity.

Look around.

Amazon is not the only company that has reduced humans to an unreasonable, unsustainable-over-the-long-term, robotic-like creature that can be easily swapped out with a new one when an existing one fails or breaks completely.

Many companies, especially in manufacturing and logistics, have adopted this metric-based productivity system, where the machines (hardware and software) drive human performance instead of humans driving machine performance.

Let’s look at ourselves in this context.

Do our organizations operate this way (in non-manufacturing and logistics organizations, high burnout, high employee absence, and high turnover rates are the indicators to look for)?

Do we, as quintessential leaders, support this or are we working to change it?

Do we buy products from organizations who operate this way? If we are Amazon Prime customers, for example, or we choose Amazon’s fastest shipping speeds, then we, as consumers are just as culpable as Amazon in creating the fulfillment center environment because we create the demand that Amazon offers to fill.

Let me be clear that I’m not saying not to buy from Amazon or companies that use these productivity metric systems. In this time and space in the history of the world, you will simply never be able to get completely away from this kind of environment as a consumer.

However, I am asking each of us to do two things:

  1. Make sure we’re not creating the same kinds of environments in areas and organizations under our control;
  2. Eliminate the fast-shipping options (Amazon Prime, for example, or same-day shipping) and go back to standard shipping times (if enough people did this, the lack of urgent demand would at least be an incentive for these companies to create better working environments, better hours, and a manageable pace of work that’s not going to harm or kill anyone if they’re in relatively good health).

How are we doing?


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