Helping each other is a hindrance…? “Sadness of a former Amazon employee at the mercy of AI surveillance
AI Cannot Read “Helping Each Other
Amazon.com, a major mail-order company, aims to be the “world’s number one” in terms of sales and speed from order to delivery, and has been captivating customers with its high-quality services based on the business spirit of “taking care of customers best on the planet.
On the other hand, problems seem to have arisen. We interviewed a former Amazon employee.
It is truly amazing that Amazon has grown so much just by bringing in talented people from outside the company. In that sense, too, I think Amazon is admirable.
Ms. Katsuko Nishino (pseudonym, in her 50s), who has worked at Amazon’s distribution centers (FC) and delivery stations (DS) in various parts of Japan, was frankly surprised.
Ms. Nishino, as you might expect, was one of those who was recruited from working for a foreign food company.
Her previous job was at a company that placed employee development at the center of its corporate philosophy as “not a company that makes (food), but a company that makes people,” and it presented a clear roadmap to reach its goals. A spirit of teamwork, “let’s work hard together,” was fostered among colleagues working in the stores.
Compared to those days, changing jobs at Amazon was like “coming to a 180-degree different company,” Nishino said.
Mr. Nishino continued.
I wondered if there was a company that could exist without praising people,” he said. I felt that the ‘spirit of mutual help,’ which I had valued in my previous job, was rather an obstacle. Perhaps I was a liability at Amazon.”
This may mean that even among employees, “how to rise above the rest ” was considered important. What exactly is Nishino-san talking about as he looks back with an apologetic expression on his face?
In his previous position at a foreign company, he was hired by Amazon as a manager of the shipping process for franchisees in recognition of his skills and ability to draw out the strengths of each employee and work as a team to achieve results.
At FC, employees select products ordered by customers from the shelves, pack them into boxes, and place them on trucks. Ms. Nishino managed the process of placing packages flowing on rails onto carts for each delivery area to ensure that no mistakes were made.
Because the department in charge handled heavy items such as refrigerators and washing machines, the movement was not so fast, but it was sometimes dangerous to work alone. Even with small refrigerators, one person had to be physically strong to serve as a single person to move two vertically stacked high carts. Even so, he often asked employees not to carry heavy items alone, or even lent a hand himself.
However, he felt that at Amazon, the “spirit of mutual help” only hindered business performance.
All labor at FC is recorded down to the second by AI. Each day, workers press their time cards when they arrive at work, but the time from arrival to the start of work, the time spent while processing each item, and the time between the end of work and when they leave the office to press their time cards are all closely tracked. If you help others while promptness is required, your own work will only become slower, even if you help the entire group to speed up. This will directly lead to a negative evaluation on the grounds that “I can’t digest the required workload in time. Unfortunately, AI cannot read “mutual help.
Moreover, each person’s record is calculated and assigned, and everyone’s record, from the highest to the lowest, is posted in the workplace as a superiority of “productivity. Based on these mechanically calculated numbers, a certain number of people leave the workplace each year. The reason for this, Ms. Nishino was told, is that “human resources personnel also have a quota to cut people. The company’s policy seems to be that “it is necessary to replace people in order to gain new knowledge.
The plight of a former full-time employee who quit Amazon
The human sensibilities of people like Mr. Nishino, who thought, “If it’s slow, there must be some reason why it’s slow,” do not come through. Perhaps that is why former Amazon workers post comments on the Internet saying that one of the reasons their jobs at FC and DS were tough was that they were not treated like human beings.
Ms. Nishino herself once asked a colleague to teach her a procedure for a new task when she was assigned to DS, and was met with a dismissive “You don’t understand what I’m telling you.
Although there are manuals, the work process changes rapidly every day, as does the speed of the work, so there is no way to create manuals, and the only way is to teach each other. However, he says that onsite, if it is not a manager like Mr. Nishino, he is simply shunned and told to “figure it out on your own. This does not help those who cannot do things to improve, and it does not help those who cannot do things to become able to do them. Even if performance does not improve, there is no end to the number of applicants to Amazon, a company with a high name value, so there are plenty of replacements, which is a cruel system when you think about it.
Amazon is constantly striving to improve productivity and efficiency, and Mr. Nishino once devised a measure to increase the occupancy rate of the bags that carry packages. The idea was to allow delivery staff to efficiently carry and load packages onto trucks.
Based on Nishino’s idea, it was implemented only one night. While Mr. Nishino was not on site, things did not go well during the night shift, and the measure itself was discarded the next morning. There was no atmosphere of trying it several times, making improvements, and utilizing it as something better. This was a shock to Mr. Nishino, who had always emphasized the importance of “everyone working together.
In spite of these efforts, he found that the coaching plan had started without any notice. The coaching program, which was introduced in Oe’s previous article published on October 14, was designed to improve individual performance, and Mr. Nishino was told by his supervisor that there were too many things he could not do.
From Ms. Nishino’s point of view, however, she was not given any new duties to take over before she could learn, and she was not taught anything or even given the opportunity to learn. Before that, he also felt that the problem was that even with coaching, there were no personnel who could coach.
When notified that a coaching plan or other improvement programs will be implemented, they are offered the choice of accepting or refusing, and if they refuse, they are given an explanation of the severance package. If they accept and still fail to meet the goals, they are offered severance pay and the option to try again, but if they try again and fail, they must leave the company.
Employees who have been caught off guard are subjected to a series of interviews that can be considered intimidating, and are thus hounded until they voluntarily leave the company. Anyway, I felt that the company was even pushing the employees until they quit on their own.
Mr. Nishino, who was driven both mentally and physically through the coaching plan, was, in parallel, pressed to prepare for the DSs that were opened one after another. Because he was in a managerial position, he had to go to work as early as 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning to make sure that the newly launched 24-hour site was running smoothly. As he continued to work such hard hours, for five consecutive months, the number of overtime hours reached a level where he had long since “skipped the overwork line (100 hours).
Fortunately, he did not collapse from overwork, but “I wondered whether I should resent or be grateful to my parents for giving me a strong child,” he said. I wondered whether I should resent or be grateful to my parents for giving me a strong child,” he said, smiling wryly.
Amazon Japan responded to the former employee’s complaint by saying, “We use technology for workplace safety and workers’ health, but we do not use AI to monitor every single movement of our workers,” and then said, “The health and safety of our workers is always our top priority,” he added.
The health and safety of our workers is always our top priority, and Amazon is using technology to not only make work more efficient, but also to create a safe working environment for everyone. Amazon’s culture is built around the “Leadership Principles,” which encourage collaboration, teamwork, and community service by putting the customer first. We use technology to meet our customers’ needs, but not before the health, safety, and wellbeing of our workers.
Under Amazon Japan’s policy of aiming higher to meet customer demands to the fullest, Ms. Nishino could not mentally endure the company’s persistent encouragement to leave, so she changed jobs.
He was asked, “What can I do to make everyone feel good about working here? His new employer was looking to him for his humanistic management traits.
However, we have heard that former full-time employees (Amazonians) who left Amazon, like Mr. Nishino, are having a hard time changing jobs.
Why? The idea that “Amazonians are the brains and temporary workers are the hands and feet” that they felt while working at the company may have led to prejudice against temporary workers, supercilious treatment, age discrimination, etc., and the accumulation of these attitudes has left them “without knowing or learning how to deal with people,” according to Mr. Nishino. Amazon is not a click away.
Amazon expresses gratitude to customers who are willing to click. But, unfortunately, the company’s appreciation for (working) people may not be enough.
Interview and text by： Chie Matsumoto
Journalist. She mainly covers issues related to social justice, including human rights and labor. She is co-author of "Mass Media Sexual Harassment White Paper" (Bungei Shunju) and "Manga de Wakaru Black Kigyo" (Godo Shuppan), and co-translator of "Striking China" (Sairyusha), which will be published in January 2021. Co-translation of "The Power of Change to Move the World: A Message from the Co-Chairman of Black Lives Matter" (Akashi Shoten) will be published in January 2021.