6 Amazon employees reveal what’s driving people to quit, as the company reportedly worries it’s burning through workers so fast that it could run out of people to employ

Amazon fulfillment center, Staten Island
An Amazon fulfillment center employee in Staten Island, NY.

  • Amazon burns through hourly employees so quickly that execs worry about running out of people, the NYT reports.
  • Insider spoke to 6 current and former Amazon employees who explained why they think turnover is high.
  • They all cited similar issues, including surveillance, the monotonous nature of the work, and burnout.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Amazon has been hiring hundreds of thousands of workers for roles in its warehouses, which it calls fulfillment centers, but those employees have been quitting almost as fast as they can be hired, according to a recent report from The New York Times.

Many of the over 350,000 workers Amazon hired from July to October stayed with the company “just days or weeks,” the report said.

An Amazon warehouse employee in Michigan told Insider that “almost everybody I know [at Amazon] is looking for another job.”

Insider spoke with half a dozen current and former Amazon employees across the country who work in a variety of fulfillment center roles about why they think the company has such high attrition rates. They all cited similar issues: The monotonous nature of the work, the surveillance of their productivity, and rapid burnout. Though they requested to remain anonymous, Insider confirmed their identities and verified their employment records.

“I lasted longer than anybody else in my group that had started” at the same time, a former seasonal employee in Washington, who worked at a fulfillment center from September to October 2020, told Insider. “The entire group of people that I was hired with did not make it two weeks. I was literally the only one [of 23 people].”

Specifically, the current and former employees pointed to entry-level warehouse jobs as most ripe for turnover, including “pickers” – the people who pick items for orders, pack those orders into boxes, and get those boxes loaded into trucks.

“It’s super tedious, and no one wants to do it,” the employee in Michigan said.

Amazon fulfillment center, Staten Island
An Amazon fulfillment center employee in Staten Island, NY.

“As a picker, they want you to pick 4,000 items a shift … and you’re stuck at one station for 10 hours with two 30-minute breaks,” they said. “You’re sore at first, and you think it’s okay. Imagine working here four days a week, you’re doing that same thing over and over again: Picking 4,000 items. It wears out.”

Amazon employees also cited the company’s notoriously dogged approach to efficiency, in which the company uses technology to track workers’ productivity and timeliness. Being just five minutes late to clocking in results in a write-up from management, several employees said.

“You’re constantly trying to defend your employment,” a former Amazon employee in California told Insider.

Prior to the pandemic, hourly employees had a turnover rate of about 3% weekly, or roughly 150% annually, data reviewed by The Times indicated. That reportedly led some Amazon executives to worry about running out of hirable employees in the US.

An Amazon representative told the Times, “Attrition is only one data point, which when used alone lacks important context.” The company did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Amazon went on an extended hiring spree in 2020 as it attempted to keep up with a massive spike in demand during coronavirus lockdowns. As Americans increasingly turned to Amazon for things like toiletries and groceries, the company repeatedly touted major hiring pushes.

In May 2021, Amazon started offering $1,000 signing bonuses to new employees.

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Amazon burns through workers so quickly that executives are worried they’ll run out of people to employ, according to new report

Amazon fulfillment center
Inside an Amazon warehouse.

Amazon has been hiring hundreds of thousands of workers for roles in its warehouses, which it calls “fulfillment centers,” but those employees have been quitting almost as fast as they can be hired, according to a huge new report from The New York Times.

Of the over 350,000 new workers it hired between July and October 2020, the report said, many only stayed with the company “just days or weeks.”

Hourly employees had a turnover rate of approximately 150% every year, data reviewed by the Times demonstrated, reportedly leading some Amazon executives to worry about running out of hirable employees in the US.

Amazon went on an extended hiring spree throughout 2020 as it attempted to keep up with a massive spike in demand during coronavirus lockdowns. As Americans increasingly turned to Amazon for everything from toiletries to groceries, the company repeatedly touted major hiring pushes.

By May 2021, Amazon was even offering $1,000 signing bonuses to new employees – partially a symptom of hiring issues employers are facing in a variety of industries, but potentially also a result of Amazon’s remarkably high turnover rate.

One former Amazon manager who oversaw human resources efforts focused on warehouse workers compared the situation with worker churn at Amazon warehouses to the ongoing use of fossil fuels. “We keep using them, even though we know we’re slowly cooking ourselves,” he told the Times.

Amazon representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment as of publishing.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Amazon ‘wellness’ guide tells workers to buy shoes at the end of their shift to better fit their swollen feet

A worker packs a customer order at the 750,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Romeoville, Illinois.
A worker packs a customer order at the 750,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Romeoville, Illinois.

  • An Amazon “wellness” guide told workers to train like “industrial athletes” to perform better, Vice reported.
  • The guide gave tips like buying shoes at the end of workers’ shifts to better fit their swollen feet.
  • An ex-employee leaked the guide to Vice and he claimed Amazon told him to keep working after an injury.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon distributed a “health and wellness guide” to workers at a warehouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma, instructing them to train like “industrial athletes” in order to improve their performance on the job, Vice News reported Tuesday.

The guide, according to Vice, tells workers to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” and lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a single shift (more than 30 pounds every minute for a 10-hour shift).

The guide, Vice reported, discusses topics including nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomics, and injury prevention, with suggestions such as: eat five to nine servings of veggies per day, “monitor your urine color,” and buy shoes “at the end of the day when your feet are swollen to allow for plenty of room when they swell during work.”

Amazon also said in the guide, according to Vice, that workers could seek help from “injury prevention specialists” for “body discomforts that you may have as an industrial athlete.”

Amazon told Insider the guide was created “in error” and that it has “removed” the guide. It’s unclear if the guide was distributed at additional warehouses beyond the one in Tulsa.

Amazon did not respond to Insider’s follow-up questions about who was responsible for creating the guide, why no one noticed what the company claimed was a mistakenly created guide before it was distributed to workers, or when it was removed (Vice reported that the guides dated back to 2020).

Vice reported that it obtained the guide from former Amazon employee Bobby Gosvenor, who claimed the company told him to keep working even after he suffered a herniated disc – an injury he sustained due to a broken conveyer belt the company hadn’t yet fixed – and that Amazon delayed him from getting treatment for two months by forcing him to seek diagnoses from multiple doctors.

Amazon did not respond to questions about Gosvenor’s injury.

Vice’s report about Amazon’s “wellness” guide, which told workers how they should take care of themselves, comes the same day as an analysis from The Washington Post that found that Amazon is doing a significantly worse job taking care of its workers as competitors.

In 2020, about 5.9 out of every 100 Amazon employees were injured on the job, compared to 2.5 at Walmart, according to The Post’s analysis. That echoes previous reporting from Reveal and other news outlets showing that Amazon has long had higher workplace injury rates than what’s typical for its industry, and has deceived the public and regulators about those rates by underreporting injuries, delaying workers from seeking medical treatment, and assigning employees to “light duty” work in an effort to downplay the hours of labor lost due to serious injuries.

In response to The Post’s story, Amazon told Insider that the company is investing more in workplace safety and taking a number of steps to reduce injuries. One of those programs is its WorkingWell program, which includes phonebooth-sized enclosed boxes where employees can practice mindfulness.

In Jeff Bezos’ final shareholder letter as CEO, he also detailed Amazon’s plans to use algorithms to rotate workers between jobs in an effort to use all of their muscle groups rather than overloading one muscle group.

But none of Amazon’s wellness programs had previously appeared to address what some experts say is the root of its injury rates: demanding and inflexible productivity quotas, which require workers to complete a large number of tasks per shift and penalize them for “time off task.”

Amazon employees have repeatedly told Insider and other media outlets that restrictive time-off-task allocations and the fear of retaliation force them to skip bathroom breaks and pee in bottles and contribute to grueling working conditions.

On Tuesday, Amazon published a blog post saying that it would measure each worker’s time off task over a longer period of time in an effort to focus more on resolving “operational issues” relative to identifying “under-performing employees.”

However, Amazon did not commit to easing up on its productivity quotas or allowing workers more time off task.

Aiha Nguyen, a researcher at the think tank Data & Society, who studies how Amazon and other employers use technology to extract more productivity out of workers, said in a recent report that the rise of workplace surveillance – along with weakened labor law – contributes to “work speedups, overwork, and injury.”

“Amazon has been leading the pack toward technologically driven speedups,” Nguyen said, citing its time-off-task policy and a game called “Mission Racer” that Amazon created to make workers compete with each other to fulfill customer orders.

“Making work into a race contrasts with other standard and accepted principles of engineering that set rates based on the ability of an average worker or the overall workforce, not an algorithm,” Nguyen said. “As a consequence, the injury rate for warehouse workers is increasing.”

In response to The Post’s report, labor groups affiliated with Amazon workers called for the company to end its time-off-task policies.

“The stunning analysis released today is proof that Amazon’s impossible productivity requirements are unsustainable and must be brought to a swift end. Amazon’s grueling and strenuous pace of work puts workers in increased danger of serious injuries, and appallingly has been used to punish any workers who push back,” Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker safety and health program at the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.

“Amazon workers don’t need meditation booths. They need Amazon to end rate and Time Off Task requirements and redesign the physical layout of the jobs to provide workers with a safe workplace. Workers should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck,” she added.

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More than 600 Amazon workers sign petition demanding the company reduce its warehouse pollution in communities of color

Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who will step down in July.

  • Hundreds of Amazon workers signed a petition calling on the company to reduce emissions to zero by 2023.
  • They say that emissions from Amazon warehouses disproportionately affect communities of color.
  • Amazon has previously pledged to go completely carbon neutral by 2040.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More than 600 Amazon workers have signed a petition calling for the company to eliminate its carbon emissions by 2023, saying pollution from the e-commerce giant’s warehouses is “disproportionately concentrated in communities of color.”

The workers, who are not named publicly, say Amazon must first deploy zero-emissions technologies in communities most affected by pollution from the trucks and other vehicles going in and out of distribution hubs. The group also cites a 2014 study that found people of color are exposed to an average of 38% more toxic air pollution than their white counterparts.

“We want to be proud of where we work,” the petition says. “A company that lives up to its statements about racial equity and closes the racial equity gaps in its operations is a critical part of that.”

The petition comes as Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting takes place Wednesday, including investor proposals regarding reports from the company on packaging waste and on “environmental racism.

This isn’t the first time Amazon employees have pushed the company to make changes to better serve the environment. Insider reported that 7,700 employees signed a petition in 2020 calling for the company “to develop a plan to stop using fossil fuels. They also wanted it to stop going after customers in the oil and gas industries,” adding that, “Amazon Web Services has an entire unit dedicated to serving this market.”

Amazon in 2019 pledged to go completely carbon neutral by 2040 as one of the founding companies of the “climate pledge.” Founder Jeff Bezos has also pledged $10 million to fight climate change globally through his Bezos Earth Fund initiative.

But some critics pushed back on this initiative, saying that the company should be combating climate change on a more intimate level, taking aim at Amazon’s excessive packaging.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Amazon’s consumer chief says the company is ‘like the Bernie Sanders of employers’ but that ‘we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents’

Amazon SVP WW ops Dave Clark
Dave Clark, Amazon’s chief of worldwide consumer.

  • Amazon’s Dave Clark issued a fiery response to Bernie Sanders’ visit to its Alabama warehouse.
  • “We actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents,” Clark said.
  • Sanders has come out in support of the union and criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ fortune.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon’s consumer chief is firing back at Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of the Vermont politician’s visit to Amazon’s Alabama warehouse amid a union vote.

Sanders has plans to visit Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday to meet with Amazon workers in the final days of a vote to unionize at Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center. Dave Clark, who serves as CEO of worldwide consumer at Amazon, issued a fiery statement on Wednesday in response to Sanders’ visit.

“I welcome the Senator to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace,” Clark said in a statement to Insider. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, health care from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment.”

“So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring,” Clark said.

Sanders’ trip to Alabama comes as roughly 6,000 Amazon workers vote on whether or not to form a union, which would be the first at the company. The vote closes on March 29 and votes will be tallied on March 30.

Amazon has staunchly opposed the formation of a union, arguing that it would only cost workers more money in dues and provide benefits Amazon already gives them.

The company has aggressively pushed employees to vote against unionizing. Employees told Insider that Amazon had started handing out “vote no” pins and hosting frequent informational meetings about unions in addition to airing anti-union ads on Twitch and placing signs in bathrooms.

Sanders has been an outspoken critic of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over his $184 billion fortune, and has come out in support of the Alabama employees’ unionization efforts.

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