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27 May, 2021 23:00

Amazon gives its employees mindfulness booths at work. Critics call them ‘despair boxes’

Amazon gives its employees mindfulness booths at work. Critics call them ‘despair boxes’

Amazon is infamous for the grueling working conditions at its warehouses, and the company is now being mocked for giving employees a space to recharge their mental batteries: in a two-foot by two-foot box.

“My work day feels like a nine-hour intense workout every day, and they track our every move,” Amazon employee Jennifer Bates told a Senate Budget Committee hearing on wealth inequality back in March. “I learned that if I worked too slow or had too much time off task, I could be disciplined or even fired,” she added.

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Bates’ experience seems to be a common one among employees at Amazon’s ‘fulfilment centers,’ who in some locations have been struggling to unionize against the wishes of their superiors. The retail giant regularly features on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of unsafe employers, with the most recent pre-pandemic report citing 13 fatalities since 2013, “a high incidence of suicide attempts,” and “workers urinating in bottles because they are afraid to take breaks.”

However, Amazon has supposedly noticed the toll its workplace takes on employees’ mental health and has given them something back: “a space where our employees could focus on their mental well-being,” according to a video posted by Amazon to Twitter on Wednesday – only for it to be deleted hours later.

The “space” in question is apparently a phone booth-sized pod on the warehouse floor that Amazon calls the “ZenBooth.” Bonsai trees sit on shelves inside, and a computer terminal allows stressed-out employees to “navigate through a library of mental health and mindful practices to recharge the internal battery.”

Commenters online were horrified. “Imagine working for a company so dystopian where conditions are so awful that they need to put a cry closet in the middle of the floor, and the company tries to sell it as a badge of honor,” one wrote. “If you provided a thriving environment for your employees why would you need this in the middle of your shop floor?,” another tweeted.

Others saw the box as a glimpse into some dystopian future, where drops in productivity result in a trip to the “mental health pod,” the idea for which looked to be lifted wholesale from George Lucas’ “nightmare movie THX-1138.”

It is unclear whether Amazon intends to roll out the mindfulness booths at all of its locations, or whether the idea is still in the concept stages.

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