In an age when companies are increasingly starting to focus on employee wellness, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is refusing to be left behind. To this end, it's introducing ZenBooths -- tiny "mindful practice rooms" where warehouse workers can take a break and recharge. But while the company may have good intentions with regard to these booths, its new initiative fails to address a host of far more pressing concerns.
Amazon is acknowledging that warehouse work can be tiring and tedious, so it's been taking steps to address the issue in an effort to boost employee morale and retain staff. Earlier this year, it announced it would be making a game out of warehouse work in an effort to keep things more interesting and motivate warehouse staff to push for better productivity. And now, it's rolling out its new WorkingWell program -- a program that aims to improve employee wellness.
As part of the program, workers will be provided with nutritional support, wellness exercises, and mental health activities designed to help reduce the risk of injury on the job. ZenBooths fall into that setup. Workers can enter these booths and be walked through different breathing and mental health exercises. But how celebrated are they likely to be?
Overlooking a bigger issue
Ultimately, ZenBooths will probably do a poor job with regard to employee retention, and they may fall short in preventing worker injuries. Or, to put it another way, ZenBooths may be more of a public relations play for Amazon than anything else, especially given the way the company's come under fire lately for poor warehouse safety practices.
Earlier this year, New York sued Amazon for its mistreatment of warehouse workers at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. As of last fall, roughly 20,000 Amazon employees had either tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19. Not only were warehouse workers subjected to unsafe conditions, but Amazon reportedly retaliated against workers who spoke out or protested that mistreatment by firing them.
Meanwhile, Amazon's general safety record is less than stellar when it comes to warehouse workers. According to a 2020 report by the Center of Investigative Reporting, Amazon recorded 14,000 serious injuries or injuries that were substantial enough to require time off from work in 2019. According to OSHA, that was more than three times the national average.
Now to be fair, Amazon may also have a larger number of warehouse employees than the average company, but still, 14,000 incidents in a single year is a lot. And if that trend continues, it could cause regulators to crack down on the warehousing industry as a whole, which could also result in a headache for real estate investors.
Nice try, Amazon
Amazon may be approaching its wellness program with the best of intentions. But it's unlikely that warehouse workers will embrace it.
While taking a 10-minute meditation break may be nice, ultimately, what warehouse employees really need is better working conditions, training, and safety protocols, as well as fewer unreasonable order fulfillment demands and decent benefits. Amazon already does a pretty good job with regard to the latter, and it does at least pay more generously than some of its competitors after having raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour back in 2018. But ultimately, the online giant has a lot of work to do when it comes to worker appreciation -- and ZenBooths just aren't going to cut it.