It has been more than a month since the divisive entry of AmaZen booths and Amazon’s attempt to boost employee wellbeing into the internet’s and work culture’s discourse. And it was a wild ride for when they were here, having also come in at the height of allegations of harsh workplace conditions for employees while Amazon themselves continued to profit greatly after a massive year of online shopping due to the pandemic.
It all started with a supposed pamphlet leak from Amazon themselves encouraging employees to take charge of their personal health while offering these AmaZen mindfulness rooms with guided breathing practices and mindfulness instructions playing within. Some people viewed it as a step in the right direction while critics called the effort anything from tone-deaf to dystopian in nature. Since then, Amazon has stepped forward to say that the pamphlet had been made in error.
Wellness as a Buzzword
Many companies have made greater efforts to promote worker wellness, and in fact, the movement has seen a massive gain in traction because of COVID. But critics hit Amazon’s attempts as leaning more towards the bare minimum: introducing remedying solutions instead of pursuing prevention, assessing risk and rewarding safe, healthy work practices. And the truth is, many companies are guilty of introducing wellness programs thinking it will be the magic solution to fixing an unhealthy workplace. Amazon’s situation is simply the highest profile example of this.
So, while the AmaZen booths have come and gone, a lot can be learned from their introduction in the first place. In fact, at the height of the discourse, a judge for the Global Healthy Workplace Awards weighed in on what they believed would be better approaches to employee wellness given modern working conditions.
Health and Productivity’s Relationship
The reveal came at the height of Amazon’s work culture being laid bare, especially for warehouse workers. Overall, everything that had come out at the time painted a picture of a place that devalued worker safety and rights in the name of productivity and profits. To say Amazon is the only culprit of doing this would be erroneous, however.
It’s a common misconception but all too commonly held belief that health needs to (and should) be sacrificed for a highly productive environment. The truth is, health and productivity must coexist for any wellness initiative to be truly successful.
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle Doesn’t Ensure It
Mental health resources can only go so far when an employee is returning to a work environment with steep deadlines, dangerous conditions or unreasonable/aggressive superiors. As Frederick Herzberg once said, “If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” Wellness programs that seek to have actual lasting impact need to take the conditions of the job into account so that they’ll be able to make change at the roots instead of pruning sickly leaves.
Context is King
The AmaZen booths were not the first of their kind. They were, however, the first of their kind to be deployed in a work environment like Amazon’s. Prior to that, similar setups were used to great success in Australia where male workers had difficulty voicing their mental health struggles, offering guidance and resources so they could better find help.
It’s all about the sincerity and awareness of the problem. If the everyday work experience is strenuous, toxic and dangerous and the initiatives seem to ignore parts of the main problem, workers won’t respond well.
Beware Wellness Washing
While eye catching with a snappy name, the AmaZen booths were never going to be workplace saviors (not that anyone claimed they would be). That’s because on their own, something like an AmaZen booth or yoga classes are nothing more than perks. Even popular initiatives like mental health first aid offer little benefit in the long term.
While unglamorous, it’s hard to ignore the proven benefits of simply giving employees access to mental health resources.