Amazon’s latest euphemism for overworked workers is ‘industrial athlete’


Amazon tells its warehouse workers not to see themselves as overworked cogs in a huge, soul-crushing machine, but as “industrial athletes,” and to prepare their bodies for that experience, such as someone training for a sporting event, according to a pamphlet obtained by Motherboard. The comparison is a disturbing euphemism for a company whose employees have nearly double the number of serious injuries as the rest of the warehouse industry and are reportedly often unable to use the toilet.

The pamphlet tells workers that some of them will walk up to 13 miles during the day and burn an average of 400 calories per hour. It also suggests all sorts of ways to help workers prepare for athlete life, including changes to their diet and sleep schedules and making sure they don’t become dehydrated throughout the day by monitoring the color of their urine. It also suggests that employees buy shoes “at the end of the day when” [their] feet are swollen” to prevent tightness and blisters — advice that will be known to distance runners or multi-day trekkers.

One thing Amazon doesn’t bring up is that athletes train for an event with a definite end date. Athletes are not competing day in and day out and have time to rest and recuperate in between. The comparison gets even more ridiculous when you consider what a professional athlete’s day actually looks like: a lot of time is spent warming up to avoid injury, training can only be a few hours a day (read: don’t heed or ten hour shifts), time has been made for rest or even naps, and a lot of attention is paid to nutrition. It’s safe to say that most Amazon warehouse workers don’t professional nutritionists and/or chefs provide for their nutritional needs. If an employee were to compensate for the calories they would expect to burn in a given shift, they would have to eat nearly 40 apples, or more than 1,000 baby carrots if given one of the company’s 10-hour “megacycles.” Amazon does say it is try to provide employees with healthy snacks, but that’s not exactly reassuring.

Unlike real athletes — who have a lifetime of physical experience that allows them to train and compete at a high level — many Amazon employees don’t have a background in doing highly physical work. It’s no wonder, then, that reports continue to find Amazon’s relatively high injury rates: Amazon’s warehouse workers had nearly double the number of serious injuries in 2020 compared to other warehouse workers, which is actually a “significant” improvement over 2017 figures. 2018 , and 2019.

Amazon told Motherboard that it deleted the pamphlet immediately after it was created, but the employee who provided it said it had been around since November.

If Amazon wants its employees to consider themselves “athletes,” the solution isn’t in wellness programs or forcing employees to check the color of their pee. Instead, it should allow them to work at a reasonable pace and provide them with support and staff to keep them healthy. Trainers don’t try to get the maximum value out of an athlete, only to throw them away when they are injured. In the case of an employee who spoke to: MotherboardAlthough, he said of all the Amazon employees he had to consult during the recovery process from a work accident, only one person even asked how he was feeling.