Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) relies on its staff of warehouse workers to fulfill orders quickly and efficiently. In fact, the online retail giant's success is rooted in the fast shipment and distribution of goods. And now, Amazon has a new tactic to encourage warehouse workers to boost their productivity: making a game out of it.
Turning order fulfillment into a competition
Back in 2017, one Amazon warehouse started encouraging workers to participate in games designed to improve their efficiency. And now, Amazon is rolling a similar program out across 20 states.
The goal is to improve worker productivity by pitting employees against one another and allowing them to compete for digital rewards. But the program looks to be a mixed bag.
On the one hand, some workers agree that making a game of things can help alleviate boredom -- something that tends to crop up in warehouse environments. On the flip side, workers who are less enthused say Amazon's new games could prompt employees to work too quickly for their own good, resulting in injury and a more dangerous working environment.
The latter is something Amazon is already under scrutiny for. In fact, just last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James initiated charges against Amazon for failing to address unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon saw a huge surge in orders early on in the pandemic, when many consumers stopped going to stores and instead took to ordering household goods and other supplies online. In its rush to meet customer demand, it failed to stop and implement necessary measures to keep workers safe in what can only be described as cramped conditions.
In fact, as of fall 2020, nearly 20,000 Amazon employees had tested positive, or had been presumed positive, for COVID-19. And while these new games won't necessarily increase workers' exposure to coronavirus, they could result in a world of injuries as employees engage in what's supposed to be friendly competition.
To be clear, Amazon has said employee performance will not be measured by how well its workers do at its games. But still, implementing those competitions will no doubt put the pressure on. Furthermore, it's unclear as to what benefit workers will get by participating in the games. Amazon has said that winners will earn digital currency that can be used for virtual goods. But that doesn't translate to higher pay, better benefits, or the perks that might really motivate warehouse workers to step up their game.
Meanwhile, right now, Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are in the process of voting on whether to unionize, and ballots are due at the end of the month. The timing of Amazon's gaming expansion is therefore somewhat curious in light of that.
It could be that by offering a gaming experience, Amazon is hoping to send the message that it's looking out for its workers' best interests, and joining unions is an unnecessary step for warehouse employees. But whether that message comes through is yet to be determined. Meanwhile, it's something for real estate investors in the warehouse and industrial real estate space to keep an eye on.