An article about Amazon’s working conditions makes us analyse the modern working world as we know it.
Everyone is talking about a New York Times article: “Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace”. It describes what it’s like working at the retail giant. Apparently the bosses at Amazon are conducting an “experiment” into how far they can push their workers. Employees describe working 80 hour weeks. They are pressured into working nights and weekends. There is a total lack of work/life balance. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos says the Amazon described is “not the Amazon I know”. Right or wrong, the report has got people thinking whether the “9 to 5” working day is a thing of the past.
Large amounts of the NYT article detail the long hours Amazon employees are expected to work. Workers sometimes receive emails in the middle of the night, and are then pestered to answer by text. This seems to sound familiar though?
Bankers, lawyers, doctors and service industry workers are just some examples of employees expected to work late, or start early. Banking website Wall Street Oasis reports that employees at banks like Rothschild, Barclays and Citigroup work over 70 hours a week on average. The Telegraph reported last year that junior doctors were working 100 hour weeks. These are all professions which have been around a long, long time.
So, maybe the viewpoint that “9 to 5 is dead” isn’t so new after all.
Vox News argued that the NYT article focuses on “white collar” workers. Think: office working professionals. Vox claims workers in Amazon warehouses have it a lot worse. They face tough working conditions, low pay and a constant threat of dismissal. They have less chance of finding employment elsewhere than the “white collar” professionals. However, once the warehouse workers clock off, it’s unlikely their bosses will email them asking them to finish a piece of work. So, at least that’s something.
The NYT report compares how Amazon, Google and Facebook manage their workers. Google and Facebook motivate their staff with rewards (gym passes, meals, sleep pods). Amazon “offers no pretence that catering to employees is a priority”. Who is to say which is better? Amazon is currently worth around $175 billion.
Journalist Sara Robinson notes that research in the 1980s found that working 60 or 70 hour weeks resulted in short-term gains. However, “increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output.” So, regularly getting employees to work longer once they’ve done their 40 hours is “a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits.” Back to the drawing board then. Perhaps we should just see the Amazon article as an insight to a successful (if divisive) company. We are talking about THE leading tech company in the world, right?
While Amazon is being criticised for its working practices, working harder and longer seems to be the norm for many companies. Other tech companies especially seem to be joining Amazon in demanding more from their workers. Innovation is key, and falling behind is not an option.
Just how much of our lives do we spend working? According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the UK average working week is 39.2 hours per week. France introduced a 35 hour working week in 2000. However in 2011, it was reported that French workers were putting in 39.5 hours on average. Mon Dieu!
At 46.7 hours per week on average it would seem the USA works more hours than most European countries. Yet Asian countries work more hours than America. Is it productive? There are many ways to measure how productive a country is. One way is to divide a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the number of hours worked. GDP is the monetary value of all goods and services produced in the country. With us so far?
The ONS say Britain isn’t doing too well in this area. British productivity is 17% less than the average of other developed G7 countries. The G7 contains Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA. This “productivity gap” is the widest it’s been in 20 years. Ouch.
The latest statistics say the average Brit works 1,669 hours a year. This is more than France at 1,489 hours and Germany at 1,363 hours. So, we are working longer hours, but producing less. Germany works fewer hours on average, yet they are producing more than us. In fact the UK produces 30% less per hour than Germany and France. Very poor form chaps.
One of the main problems with working out productivity is there is so, so much data to look at. Even when you find what you’re looking for, it will soon be out of date. When researching this article we found that many sources containing average working hours and productivity figure seemed to contradict one another.
The bottom line: a country’s efficiency isn’t just to do with how many hours they work. But it seems the UK has something to prove when it comes to productivity. Increasing working hours may not be the answer.
Millennials are those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s. They are the new workforce, and research says that compared to previous generations, they have a different approach to work.
The Intelligence Group is a research company focusing on young people. Forbes reports on The Intelligence Group who found that Millennials want to feel their work matters. They want flexibility in their work schedule. They want “to invest in a place where they can make a difference, preferably a place that itself makes a difference.”
Job website Timewise says that 14.1 million Brits want flexibility in their work schedule. But when looking at 3.5 million job adverts they saw that only 6% offered flexibility and a good salary. London was the worst. Does this mean the UK is following the Amazon style of work: long hours and little flexibility? If so, the Millennials don’t seem too fussed. Self-employment and freelancing is on the rise.
Millennials were either studying or entering work at the time of the financial crisis. Perhaps this means they see a job differently to previous generations: not for life, but an opportunity to learn new skill sets and build a network of contacts.
According to research by the Kauffman Foundation over half of 18 to 34s want to start their own business. They are adept at working remotely – from home, in coffee shops or “hot desking”. They also want to work in collaborative environments. This is potentially why so many companies are replacing offices and cubicles in the workplace for an open plan design. Advertising agency Grey even created a “Millennials only” section to their office.
Millennials want flexibility and to work remotely. Don’t make the mistake of calling them lazy though. A separate study found that 89% of Millennials admit to checking work emails “out of hours”. Though, with 9 to 5 seemingly out the window, is there such thing as out of hours anymore?
By 2020, around 40% of the US workforce will be made up of Millennials. Eventually bosses will need to adapt to the needs of this generation. Let’s start by busting the myth working longer makes you more productive.
It’s time to start embracing change, and with that in mind let’s be specific about what we are crucifying Amazon for. Feeling like you’re working too hard? Sharing this post will definitely make you feel better.