Amazon warned workers that its busy season could make them feel suicidal

"They talked about how a lot of workers feel this way."

Brendan McDermid / reuters

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). Wikipedia maintains a list of crisis lines for people outside of those countries.

Amazon is hitting the tail end of peak – the term the company uses to refer to the winter holidays, as well as its own corporate holiday, Prime Day – when its workers are under the greatest strain, frequently required to clock mandatory overtime hours and are disallowed from scheduling any vacation days. It also coincides with the hiring of a deluge of temporary workers, with a projected 150,000 added this year, its largest holiday surge to date.

It's hectic during the best of times. But according to an internal email viewed by Engadget, and the testimonies of four current or former associates who were granted anonymity for fear of reprisal, it's also a time of year when Amazon expects some number of its workforce to take out their stress on their colleagues, or on themselves.

"Peak is a busy time for our entire team as everyone is dedicated to helping customers receive their holiday packages on time. It's easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed," the leaked email, dated November 23, reads. "And while most of us never pose a risk to others, some people can act out in a way that causes concern. This could be due to many factors in their lives, not just what they experience at work. Regardless of the cause, workplace violence is never the answer." [Emphasis theirs]

The worker who provided the email to Engadget could not recall similar messaging during previous peaks. "I've been with Amazon a little over four years now and they've never mentioned anything about our mental status until now," they wrote in an email. "Our leadership hasn't announced anything [other] than quota related issues."

The email goes on to draw a connection between the grueling workload of peak and the potential for self-harm. "Remember that your mental health matters," it reads. "If you experience stress, feelings of depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, please talk with your manager, a human resources business partner, or a mental health professional." It directs workers to use the company's "free, confidential counselors and other resources."

Two of the associates who spoke to Engadget recalled being shown a video, covering similar subject matter, during their training.

"It was stupid things like call the employee resource center, and talking about 'if you feel like you want to harm somebody you can tell your supervisor and you'll be allowed to leave work and go home.' It was just such bullshit," one recalled. The same associate stated that the employee resource center is "like a black hole of 'press one for this', I don't even know how to talk to a real person there."

"They have a number you call if you start feeling suicidal or depressed from working too much," another told Engadget. "They put a video on during training where they talked about how a lot of workers feel this way. And that was right after the reveal that we were not getting the schedules we wanted and we had to work 60 hours a week. After being told it would be 40."

A 2019 report in the Daily Beast publicized some of the 911 calls that had been made from inside several of Amazon's warehouses, including a pregnant worker who threatened to stab herself and her unborn child. Jace Crouch, a former employee quoted in the story, said that "people having breakdowns [are] a regular occurrence" within these facilities.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to answer specific questions sent by Engadget, including whether the company had seen any uptick in workplace violence. Instead the company provided the following statement: “We know it’s been a tough year and a half for everyone, and like most large companies, we work to support our teams in many different ways. This includes providing resources throughout the year for anyone who may be dealing with stress in their personal lives or at work, and making sure they feel seen and able to ask for help if they need it.”

Are you a tech worker with concerns about your job, safety, or the work you're required to do? Reach out to me confidentially on Signal at 646.983.9846

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