- After 23 years in tech, former Facebook and Microsoft exec Philip Su felt paralyzed by burnout.
- He give up his CEO job and started working 11-hour Amazon warehouse shifts throughout the firm’s busiest season.
- He says the inflexible schedule and grueling bodily labor helped pull him out of depressive episodes.
This as-told-to essay relies on a dialog with Philip Su, a former Facebook and Microsoft exec and CEO who took an Amazon warehouse job after a 23-year tech profession left him “paralyzed” by depression and burnout. His phrases have been edited for size and readability.
I’d began a nonprofit in Seattle in 2018, constructing free software program for international well being, and I’d run it for 3 years. But throughout that final yr, I actually struggled with seasonal depression — one thing I’d been coping with for in all probability 20+ years residing in Seattle. I wasn’t sleeping properly in any respect and was feeling very down. I determined to step away and focus on getting higher.
But after being unemployed for a good six to eight months, I truly ended up feeling even worse. I typically would not get away from bed till midday and even 2 p.m. I was actually low.
I determined to take a warehouse job at Amazon
It felt like the one factor I actually wanted for myself was some construction — wakeup occasions, some train — simply to get on the market one way or the other. And I was very interested by Amazon for a few causes.
First, in addition to having been an Amazon buyer for like 25 years, I was interested by robotization and what it is doing to our society and future of labor. I’ve been satisfied that robots will put us all out of jobs.
I was actually additionally a little skeptical of the articles you examine staff being unable to pee and different issues [about workplace conditions]. Part of me puzzled, may it actually be that dangerous? Lastly, I needed to perceive my very own type of societal footprint when it comes to my very own consumption, and what meaning for workers — for folks’s lives.
In November of 2021, I utilized to work at the native warehouse, which additionally occurs to be Amazon’s flagship right here in Seattle. I bought the job.
I spent seven weeks working on the warehouse ground, making $18.55 an hour
On my first day, I was given a scorching and chilly compress, some type of sports activities drink, a COVID fabric masks with the Amazon smile on it, and one serving of a ache treatment — all in a Ziploc gallon-size freezer bag. I distinction that with becoming a member of a place like Microsoft, the place I bought T-shirts and hoodies and stuff on my first day, or a place like Facebook, the place I bought an iPhone Plus and a MacBook Pro on my first day.
It simply goes to present how vastly completely different staff are handled in completely different elements of the trade. At Amazon, I by no means as soon as met my supervisor and nobody knew my title. The most frequent title I was ever known as was Peter; my title is Philip.
Almost each horizontal appropriate floor in the warehouse, like the step ladders which might be very good for sitting on, is labeled with a customized sticker that claims, “Do not sit.” Even the group leads, who primarily monitor computer systems all through their total shift, don’t have chairs. I do not perceive why even a particular person whose job is stationary doesn’t get a chair in the warehouse. I’m positive these selections aren’t taken calmly; they’re million-dollar selections.
I’ve at all times worked for corporations which have claimed that individuals are their best asset. The proven fact that the safety gates in an Amazon warehouse are on exit and not upon entry, in order to lure folks from stealing iPhones and stuff, reveals that the best property actually are the items shifting into that warehouse, not the folks.
I worked ‘peak’ — the time between Black Friday and Christmas
The first day of peak was truly sort of thrilling. There had been six managers standing at the entrance door, shaking plastic clappers as we walked in by means of a balloon arch whereas thumping techno music performed. It was like coming into the Super Bowl; you felt heroic, like, “Whoa, we’re gonna do this great thing.”
As peak wore on, although, it will definitely dwindled down to two managers and then none — no clapping, no songs. By the finish there was merely a human assets desk the place folks may line up and register their complaints to HR.
It was virtually like a microcosm of the total emotional expertise of peak: You’d start on this excessive; it is all thrilling and whatnot. By the center, you are barely enthused to even present up. And then by the finish, it is simply human assets.
It’s shocking to me that since Amazon has had peaks for 25 years at this level, folks ought to be very conscious of how excessive feelings run throughout this era. If managers can’t even sustain the enthusiasm to rattle plastic clappers for 10 minutes whereas staff stroll in for an 11-hour shift, it is setting such a dangerous instance for everybody.
On any given day, I in all probability lifted round six tons of packages
They inform you your fee all the time. My fee floated between in all probability 220 and 380 packages per hour. During peak, I was required to work 11 to 11 1/2 hours a day, and the common bundle appeared to be between 4 and six kilos. If you do the math, you find yourself with some loopy quantity like six tons.
During peak, Amazon may notify me simply 16 hours in advance that I was required to work an 11-hour shift the subsequent day. I had 10 hours of unpaid time that I may take earlier than I can be mechanically fired. If I missed one in all these final minute obligatory 11-hour days, I may get fired.
For somebody like me, who would not want childcare, that was no drawback. However, the common particular person with a household could possibly be known as in for an further day simply 16 hours in advance — the day earlier than, even throughout Thanksgiving weekend. I assume that lack of schedule predictability was the greatest problem for many associates.
My palms began to go numb, so I noticed a physician
I started waking up in the mornings and for about the first half-hour of the day, my palms can be numb, simply mildly tingly, from the wrist to my fingers. The fingers would curl — I may straighten them, however they’d curl once more. Eventually, my palms began to be semi-permanently curled all the time.
I talked with the HR group and they advisable I get an official evaluation by an outdoors physician. I went to pressing care that evening after work and was advised I had carpal tunnel syndrome, which is when your tendons are infected and it squeezes the nerves. I was given treatment and advised not to carry greater than 10 kilos for 2 weeks.
I submitted lodging paperwork to Amazon straight away; after seven days, I hadn’t heard again. But in the meantime my supervisor let me work on a line with lighter packages — the little bubble-wrapped ones. I cranked on that for a whereas.
When Amazon HR did get again to me, they gave me the possibility of taking two weeks of what is known as “accommodation.” It concerned three-hour-a-day shifts — which means about $1,700 much less in earnings — and working a utterly modified set of days. The different possibility was to signal one thing saying I was high-quality and return to work. I took the lodging, however as a result of HR had taken so lengthy to get again to me, I worked simply at some point of the lighter responsibility earlier than the two weeks ordered by my physician was up.
All I may take into consideration was if I had childcare to fear about, or if I was caring for an aged particular person — what that schedule change, plus the lack of earnings you are relying on, would do to somebody. What if my household’s healthcare was dependent on my employment, and I bought that type of damage the place my selections had been to take $1,700 much less for 2 weeks, or simply suck it up and signal a piece of paper that claims I’m high-quality? I’m going to signal a piece of paper that claims I’m high-quality. A cynic may say that that system virtually feels designed to push you into accepting.
Within about two weeks after I left the job, the bodily signs went away.
My warehouse job lifted me out of my depression
I took the job as a result of I was determined for one thing to implement regularity for me, and I very a lot benefited from Amazon doing that. And I was taking 28,000 steps a day and lifting six tons of packages — it was critical train.
I additionally cherished the simplicity. In the white-collar jobs I’d had, there was at all times an infinite pile of labor to do, with no exhausting cutoff occasions. In the warehouse, when your shift ends, the total loading dock could possibly be backed up, and it is not your drawback. You can simply stroll away from it realizing that evening shift is coming in and they’re going to repair the drawback.
I additionally by no means had to make selections; somebody advised me what to do every day. And once you do the work, it is largely senseless. So for somebody like me, who has [in many past jobs] felt super stress to make the proper selections, your thoughts is so peaceable the complete time as a result of there’s by no means stress about the precise decision-making. I may sleep at evening with out occupied with work.
I solely ever advised one particular person at Amazon why I was there
That was as a result of associates do not actually speak to one another, but additionally as a result of I did not need folks to choose me. I was there as a result of I was depressed, and the job was lifting me out of that depression. I did not need folks to assume I was one way or the other disrespecting their job, simply by exhibiting up when I did not want the cash.
I ended up assembly one man at the warehouse who additionally joined as a result of he was depressed. He stated that he has an affiliate’s diploma in girls’s research and that he could not work up the motivation to flip on the Uber accomplice app daily. He needed to pressure himself to have a schedule and to have bodily train. As he described the reduction he felt after taking the job, the enforced regularity [of a schedule], I actually recognized with that.
I could not resolve whether or not to put the expertise on my LinkedIn
Since Amazon, I’ve been piecing collectively small part-time jobs whereas I resolve what’s subsequent. I’ve additionally been working on my podcast.
I briefly debated whether or not my Amazon expertise ought to go on my LinkedIn. Part of me was actually a little ashamed about what recruiters may assume in the event that they noticed that I had gone from these huge jobs to being a warehouse affiliate. I went from reporting instantly to the CTO of Meta for years, to having a particular person name me Peter repeatedly on the course of line, you recognize? In the finish, I determined that stuff like that does not hassle me the method that it I assume bothers a lot of individuals.
I suggest that folks do a stint at Amazon. Our fellow Americans have turn into very indifferent from one another, and the thought of actually seeing and actually feeling what it seems like to be the common American employee is massively useful.
Amazon spokesperson Sam Stephenson advised Insider, “In 2021, when this employee was hired, employees automatically began their time at Amazon with 10 hours of unpaid time (UPT). At the beginning of each quarter, an additional 20 hours was added. These policies have recently been updated to allow for UPT to be accrued on an hourly basis instead of quarterly. Discussions for termination do not occur until we have exhausted all time-off options, to include paid or unpaid time off. We work hard to accommodate our team’s needs, but like any employer, we ask our employees to meet certain minimum expectations and take appropriate action when they’re unable to do that.”
“We’re committed to providing accommodations for employees and have a dedicated team whose sole job is to support individual medical restrictions identified by healthcare providers. Unfortunately for readers, due to the 24-hour deadline we were provided, we are unable to verify any claims made by the alleged former employee mentioned in this story,” Stephenson added.
Are you an Amazon warehouse employee with a story to inform? Email [email protected].
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