Nearly all corporations run their businesses in the way that earns the most profit for their shareholders and function in ways that are detrimental to the well-being of their employees. It’s common to see an enterprise maintain unrealistic productivity goals that stress their workers in the interest of profit motive. The American news had a field day when Amazon, the shipping giant, was called out for its abusive workplace practices. Prior to 2020, there were rumours Amazon employees were being forced to urinate in bottles in their vehicles to meet their stringent, delivery time constraints.
The scandal came to a head in 2021 when someone managed to leak documents showing that the company was aware its workers were in such inhumane working conditions and did nothing to help them. As a result, Amazon faced scrutiny in the public sphere and criticism from the US government, but it is still resisting attempts of its employees to unionize and striking is beginning to happen over its abusive business practices.
Amazon was impacted twofold by the Coronavirus because it was both under extreme public pressure over the conditions in its facility and facing extremely high delivery demands as people were quarantined and forced inside. Additionally, there were shortages in the consumer market involving toilet paper, which prompted unprecedented volume and orders from the conglomerate. Americans found themselves dependent upon a service that had questionable labour practices.
With respect to Amazon, what we are seeing is what I call the post-Covid-clarity, which is when unsustainable labour practices are no longer acceptable in the light of day and require reform. Amazon employees took advantage of the crisis and held strikes for more favourable treatment since they were less replaceable to the corporate giant when high demand existed for workers to process orders. A day at Amazon and many major corporations revolve around the employee’s speed and ability to complete quantifiable tasks. Sadly, the majority of the time, this situation is ripe for abuse due to the beliefs of management and middle-management. When management is not taught to value the lives of employees, then there’s more abuse in that particular workplace than one with well-trained managers.
Why Toxic Workplaces Fail
A good company will assign employees measurable tasks since this is how they track if employees are actually working. Unfortunately, this has often translated to beyond inhumane practices that demand employees act like automatons and are reminded of their replicability, which lends itself to people being easily replaced. When companies are run by statistics and fear, the workers are dehumanized and the natural bonds amongst people are shattered in the interest of competitive approval-seeking. The distrust on the floor and an abusive manager will cause the employees to turn on each other in fear of losing their jobs. The disparity of wages creates further conflict and reinforces the power dynamic between the worker and white-collar staff.
One key takeaway is that this type of situation can be avoided by showing empathy to employees if you are in a position of leadership. My philosophy is to extend kindness to everyone. If you have ever studied the great masters in religion or movements like Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, then the common strength these figures had was empathy for the suffering of their fellow humans. When a business is run fairly, the pay will be stratified dependent upon experience, but that doesn’t mean there should be a master-servant dynamic. When you have empathy for a worker, you see them as an individual and fellow human. They also have to meet their basic needs, seek human contact and friendship, and have their own dreams. When I interact with my employees, I remind them that I see them.
When you see your employees, it means that you recognize their strengths and weaknesses. The problem with Amazon is that they dehumanized their employees so much that they weren’t even allowed to use the restroom, a basic human function. The message being sent there was that these workers’ bodies were the property of Amazon, and they did not have bodily autonomy.
Essentially, their rights and the very basic need to use the restroom were being denied, whereas any reasonable employer would take a bodily function into account. Instead, when this problem began to impact many of the employees, Amazon management suppressed it in their own self-interest and fear of being fired. If a workplace culture existed where any of these people felt comfortable addressing their problems, then the problem could have been fixed instead of repressed.
Why Mental Health Matters
Recently tennis champion Naomi Osaka made the news for not wishing to appear in press conferences as this part of her job damaged her mental health. Professional athletes are often required to give interviews with the press, but the questions the press ask them can be designed to disturb the athlete or provoke them into saying something shocking for headlines. Osaka released a statement and mentioned, “‘I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.'” In other words, when athletes see how others in their field have been treated by the press, they don’t want to be subject to the same treatment. Whether we’re speaking of professional athletes or delivery drivers, no one wants to be mistreated at their workplace.
If management, upper-management, board members, and owners do not value the mental health of their employees, then they will continue to see turnover in the sense that the employees will not make their numbers and others will quit due to burnout. If we do not fix the workplace dynamics, then the hierarchal nature of people will take over and this type of treatment occurs. Without management’s influence, those beneath you will take out their pain or sense of unfairness upon those below them. It is not up to the workers to confront their superiors and that jeopardizes their job. If you see this type of behaviour in your workplace, it’s time for some serious training seminars and interventions.
During past recessions and with many obligations with collateral debt like a mortgage or installation debt like student loans, many older employees like Boomers, Gen X, and even Millennials found themselves in unhealthy workplaces, yet forced to remain to pay their bills. There is some hope that Gen Z is rebuking this trend of white-knuckling one’s way through toxic workplaces. The hope is that seeing how much young people value their mental health will make employers realize that this is something to change in order to recruit new talent. But, beyond that, knowing your employees aren’t robots and acting accordingly will allow you to sleep at night. Contact us today for more information on maintaining the right kind of worksite.