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I took an $18-an-hour job in an Amazon warehouse to cure the spiraling depression I felt as a CEO. It worked — and gave me a new perspective on the business.

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Philip Su headshot
Philip Su spent seven weeks working in an Amazon warehouse in Seattle, making $18.55 an hour.

  • 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 is predicated 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 dwelling 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 really ended up feeling even worse. I typically would not get off the 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 by some means. And I was very interested in Amazon for a few causes. 

First, in addition to having been an Amazon buyer for like 25 years, I was interested in 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 workers 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 form of societal footprint when it comes to my very own consumption, and what meaning for workers — for individuals’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 received the job.

I spent seven weeks working on the warehouse ground, making $18.55 an hour

On my first day, I was given a sizzling and chilly compress, some form of sports activities drink, a COVID material masks with the Amazon smile on it, and one serving of a ache remedy — all in a Ziploc gallon-size freezer bag. I distinction that with becoming a member of a place like Microsoft, the place I received T-shirts and hoodies and stuff on my first day, or a place like Facebook, the place I received an iPhone Plus and a MacBook Pro on my first day. 

Philip Su
Philip Su worked in an Amazon warehouse for seven weeks.

It simply goes to present how vastly totally different workers are handled in totally different elements of the business. At Amazon, I by no means as soon as met my supervisor and nobody knew my title. The most frequent title I was ever referred to as was Peter; my title is Philip.

Almost each horizontal appropriate floor in the warehouse, like the step ladders which are very good for sitting on, is labeled with a customized sticker that claims, “Do not sit.” Even the crew leads, who primarily monitor computer systems all through their total shift, should not 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 certain these choices aren’t taken flippantly; they’re million-dollar choices. 

I’ve at all times worked for firms which have claimed that persons are their biggest asset. The indisputable fact that the safety gates in an Amazon warehouse are on exit and not upon entry, in order to entice individuals from stealing iPhones and stuff, exhibits that the biggest property actually are the items transferring into that warehouse, not the individuals. 

I worked ‘peak’ — the time between Black Friday and Christmas 

The first day of peak was really form of thrilling. There have been six managers standing at the entrance door, shaking plastic clappers as we walked in by a balloon arch whereas thumping techno music performed. It was like getting 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 individuals 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, individuals must be very conscious of how excessive feelings run throughout this era. If managers can not even sustain the enthusiasm to rattle plastic clappers for 10 minutes whereas workers 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 let you know your charge all the time. My charge 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 package deal 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 could be routinely fired. If I missed one among these final minute obligatory 11-hour days, I may get fired.

For somebody like me, who would not want childcare, that was no downside. However, the common particular person with a household might be referred to 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 largest challenge for many associates.

My fingers 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 fingers could 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 fingers began to be semi-permanently curled all the time. 

I talked with the HR crew and they advisable I get an official evaluation by an outdoors physician. I went to pressing care that night time after work and was instructed I had carpal tunnel syndrome, which is when your tendons are infected and it squeezes the nerves. I was given remedy and instructed not to elevate 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 referred to as “accommodation.” It concerned three-hour-a-day shifts — which means about $1,700 much less in earnings — and working a fully modified set of days. The different possibility was to signal one thing saying I was advantageous 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 someday 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 received that form of damage the place my decisions have 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 advantageous? I’m going to signal a piece of paper that claims I’m advantageous. 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 severe 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 might be backed up, and it is not your downside. You can simply stroll away from it figuring out that night time shift is coming in and they will repair the downside. 

I additionally by no means had to make choices; somebody instructed 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 strain to make the proper choices, your thoughts is so peaceable the entire time as a result of there’s by no means stress about the precise decision-making. I may sleep at night time with out occupied with work.

I solely ever instructed one particular person at Amazon why I was there

That was as a result of associates do not actually speak to one another, but in addition as a result of I did not need individuals 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 individuals to assume I was by some means 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 ladies’s research and that he could not work up the motivation to flip on the Uber associate app every single day. He needed to power himself to have a schedule and to have bodily train. As he described the aid 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 massive jobs to being a warehouse affiliate. I went from reporting immediately to the CTO of Meta for years, to having a particular person name me Peter repeatedly on the course of line, you already know? In the finish, I determined that stuff like that does not trouble me the approach that it I assume bothers a lot of individuals. 

I advocate that individuals do a stint at Amazon. Our fellow Americans have develop into very indifferent from one another, and the concept of actually seeing and actually feeling what it looks like to be the common American employee is massively useful. 

Amazon spokesperson Sam Stephenson instructed 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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