Amazon Corporate Giants welcomes WorkingWell initiative, a physical and mental health program designed to improve the health of employees at retail giant performance centers.
The published pamphlet, which Amazon claims was created by mistake, does not circulate, encourages employees to invest in their own fitness, to become “industrial athletes”.
One of the highlights is the AmaZen Booths program. Called Mindful Practice Rooms, these kiosks are designed for employees to take breaks from work, relax, and explore mental health resources. Amazon deleted a social media post about kiosks after it was mocked on Twitter.
The details paint a bleak picture of the company against the backdrop of unprecedented growth in revenues, profits and securities values during the epidemic. Critics of Amazon say the company’s unprecedented financial success is behind 1.3 million undecided employees.
Commentators also say that these workers suffer above-average injuries in the workplace, being treated as “kitchen slaves”. In such circumstances, the welfare initiative is said to be meaningless.
These programs are gaining great popularity. COVID-19 has raised “prosperity” on corporate agendas more than ever, not always with a good egg. Many companies have introduced exercise training, other fruit-plaster solutions, rather than risk-assessment tools that focus on prevention, preferring “decent work” as a driving force for well-being and productivity.
Being a judge on the Global Healthy Workplace Awards since 2014, I have been critical of many corporate health programs. Like other large companies, Amazon faces a difficult balance of employee well-being without being blamed for its motto.
Companies often miss the mark when trying to improve employee health. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Health and productivity can և must coexist
It is easy and misleading to suggest that there should be a dual choice between health և productivity:. One of the most shocking things I heard from a senior executive at a major UK organization during the epidemic was:
“Frankly, I think job stress is a more effective driver of productivity for us than well-being programs.”
This mindset, far from being a hollow or outdated opinion, represents the vast majority of business leaders around the world. As it happens, this large organization is also very ready to tell everyone who hears that “employees’ health, safety and well-being is their highest priority”, although when I checked their latest report to shareholders, prospective investors, the words “income” և “Security Notes on “profits” exceeded 25 by 1 ratio.
2. Evangelism does not replace decent work
Dr. Paul Litchfield, the former chief medical officer of the UK telecommunications giant BT, has ridiculed what he called a “fruit-pilates” approach to workplace well-being. He argued that no healthy snack in the canteens, “challenges” or company entertainment could compensate for impossible or targeted jobs or the stress of reporting to a bullying boss.
Frederick Herzberg, one of the founding fathers of the Motivation Motivation Theory, once said: Wellness programs that ignore this simple idea are unlikely to have much of an impact.
3. Context is everything
AmaZen booths are just a few of the many successful community-based mental health programs in the modern community and workplace, such as the Men’s Garbage Movement, which originated among men working in Australia in the 1990s. It was aimed at older men, who can often find it very difficult to be open about mental health by providing resources և support that encouraged thinking և “seeking help”.
Such kiosks have been used successfully by some employers in the UK. Electricity supplier E.ON created “Hat”, which encourages employees to learn more about mental well-being, for example.
The real test of Amazon hypothesis is whether it is really part of a program of consistent initiatives that assess, reduce risk, and reassure employees that the company is giving priority in the long run. Having a well-branded welfare initiative in itself is never enough, especially if the day-to-day work experience of many employees is intense, intense, and toxic.
4. Employers. Beware of “stupid gold”
Employers should be more critical of the “miracle cures” offered by commercial suppliers. I have seen many employers divert resources from non-glamorous but evidence-based interventions (for example, access to an occupational health nurse) to goals that aim to “demonstrate” their commitment to health and well-being.
Themselves spruce trainers and head massages that are used on their own are in fact nothing more than bonuses, with little or no direct impact on health or productivity. Even very common initiatives, such as mental health first aid, have very little evidence of long-term benefits.
Unfortunately, with the pursuit of greater productivity, employee health and well-being may be among the first casualties. Reports on Amazon’s WorkingWell program have so far not been flattering. His challenge, like that of many other corporations, is to put aside cynicism and show that its efforts will have tangible benefits for all its employees, not just PR.
Stephen B.Jan is HR Research Development Director at Lancaster University’s Institute for Employment Studies.