An Amazon Warehouse Employee on Working Black Friday

  • A senior Amazon employee shared his experience preparing for Black Friday in the warehouse.
  • They used to be packers but switched to a new role after carpal tunnel surgery.
  • An employee loves the chaos of Black Friday, but encouraging an employee sweepstakes is frowned upon.

This essay is based on a conversation with a 60-year-old Amazon warehouse worker. They asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, but Insider has documented their identities, salaries and jobs. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I started working at Amazon four years ago as a stock picker. My wife was sick and needed health insurance, so I started working. Health insurance at Amazon starts from day one.

The first year I struggled. It was very difficult for my legs and body. I work 10 hours a day with two 45-minute breaks. That means I’m up for 8 and a half hours every shift.

But over time, I started to manage a little better. I developed a system of doing simple stretches at the table, taking frequent breaks so that I wouldn’t wreck myself.

I recently moved from packaging to another department. Even though I’m pretty good at what I do, I wanted to go slower. My hand hurt and I had to have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. I had hand problems before I joined Amazon, but it got worse as I worked.

Black Friday is peak time. I thrive on madness.

In my warehouse, the week before the peak period begins, all equipment is serviced in anticipation of the busiest time of the year. The warehouse then often shuts down the entire shift to do what they call a stress test to make sure all the equipment is working. The peak period starts before Prime Day and lasts until the Christmas holidays. The week before an important peak day like Black Friday, there is definitely overtime.

During Black Friday, Prime Day and the holiday season, work shifts are increased from 40 hours per week to 55 hours per week – 11 hours, five days per week. The size and types of boxes don’t really change, only the number. But I am a year-round high producer. When I was a packer, I would try to pack a little more than usual because there was more space.

I think when we get to the peak, all hell breaks loose and I look around and see people running here and there. With more orders comes more boxes and most people get overwhelmed, but I really enjoy it.

I am very fast in what I do and I produce a lot. So when I’m busy, I know I put my head down and packed hundreds of boxes. Usually between 7:30 am and 11:00 am I would pack 380 boxes. By lunchtime, I’d be trying to crack 500 boxes. I would pack at least 1000 boxes per shift, but at peak times I would pack 1100 boxes.

I see a lot of Apple AirPods being bought on Black Friday. I noticed a lot of sex toys. Additionally, I stocked up on a lot of electronics and Amazon brand products like Amazon Fire Sticks. There are also many toys for children. When I first came here, I collected a lot of books, but lately I’ve noticed that books have become less popular.

When I first started working at Amazon, I loved the competition

There is a lot of competition, and we know who the top producers are. So it’s fun when the game is on.

You are about 10 hours. Can you imagine living in your head for 10 hours? You either collect mindlessly or you collect with purpose. You have to have a system that you like – one that doesn’t stress your body and gets the job done.

Supervisors counted how much each packager produced, starting with the lowest, and then hitting 100 per hour. Watchers did these public announcements for a while, but then it wasn’t fun because people would come up to me and tell me I was stupid for working so hard. They say, “Amazon doesn’t care about you—they’re destroying you.” But they pay me to work for me.

I think some people have complained to human resources about the numbers being publicly called, but I don’t know for sure. Now messages are sent through our computer terminals. It provides rank and rate — for example, it can tell you that you’re third out of 65 packers at a rate of 117 boxes per hour.

during Black Friday and other peak periods, Amazon incentives

During peak periods, Amazon was giving away $50 Amazon gift cards. It has now been replaced by raffle tickets for prizes such as televisions, bicycles or barbecue kits. Once a week, the managers remove the winning ticket. Instead of going department by department and having a department pick someone, they do the whole building.

It’s like a lottery. How do you overcome it?

Supervisors once announced giveaways and a man who had never been on the job received a 60-inch television. Seeing this, the fast worker was shocked. It never worked the same.

Many people think this is fake. I see the same people getting the same gifts. Now when I get the tickets I will give it to someone else. I think they should invest $200 in top performance rewards every quarter instead of giving out lottery tickets.

You can be the worst employee in the world and still do the same work as the most productive guy in his group as you get a raise.

I made $16.40 an hour earlier this year, but Amazon raised me to $18.40 an hour in October. I couldn’t believe it. He recently raised the salaries of all employees. You get a raise based on your years of service, but 36 months, four years, and five years all get the same raise. By Thanksgiving week, I can make $1,150.

Then there’s inflation to worry about. It’s not fair. A guy I work with was the fastest at packing boxes, but this lift cycle and draw incentive killed his drive.

I’m looking forward to retirement, but I have some financial goals I need to reach before I leave. I am very grateful that I can earn money and take care of my family, especially my wife’s health. I wish it didn’t come at the expense of long hours and damaged hands.

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