Disclaimer: We are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017. I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.
We had some time this weekend to explore the area, but I found myself just wanting to relax. It’s been such a long time since we had a weekend off and I really wanted to just enjoy it. We did make a Sam’s Club run with Bill and Kelly, and bought a bunch of different snacks for the next couple of months. Small packs of peanuts, Slim Jims, and crackers will all fit in our clear fanny packs and are perfect for a little protein kick mid-shift. We also stopped and tried out a new Chinese buffet, which was OK but nothing that special. The company was great though, and we really enjoyed catching up with our friends.
Saturday, Kelly had set up am RVillage event for Camperforce people at Green River State Park, and we drove over to check that out. The state park is really beautiful, right on a gorgeous lake, and we reconnected with Harry and Vicky, and met some new people, which was nice before we started our full shifts. You do “meet” people in the aisles when you are working on occasion, and the more friendly faces the better, I think. Despite the beauty of the campground we are glad we chose our current RV park. The state park only has 30 amp and a honey wagon for grey/black water tank dumps, and although it really was beautiful, having strong 50 amp and full hookups was worth giving up the nature for us. Everyone is different though, and it is nice that the State Park is an option for the Camperforce folks. It adds about 14 minutes to the drive to/from work, but for many the setting would totally be worth it.
I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous when I woke up in the morning. It wasn’t about my mental ability to do the job, but rather whether I could handle it physically. We had jumped right in and signed up for Voluntary OT on Sunday, and although they cancelled the mandatory OT our voluntary shift was still a go. And that was a good thing, frankly. We are here to make money, and who knows how long OT will be available, so we wanted to take advantage of the opportunities when they came. We were actually hoping to sign up for an additional 5 hours at the end of the week and Lee and I decided to stagger those shifts so that we would both get some alone time in the RV. Unfortunately when we went to the portal we got a strange error message so we will need to speak to someone when we go in today. After all the training and talking, I would just like to get it started. I’m a “rip the band-aid off” kind of girl and the sooner I knew what I was dealing with, the better. It’s also really humid today (85%) and I toyed with the idea of wearing shorts, but it got cooler as the day wore on and ultimately I decided to stick with jeans at least for the first day. They do provide knee pads, which I might try out today, but I just want to play it safe clothing-wise until I get a better handle on the job.
So overall it went ok. I really made sure to pay attention to my body and when an area started to fuss a little I would switch hands, do mini-stretches, or try to adjust my stance. The only are I couldn’t do this for was my feet. I bought some Gel insoles. which really helped, but my feet were very sore. The last hour in particular was pretty tough, but I kept plugging along. You may have noticed that my steps were much less than Lee’s and that was because for most of the night I stayed in the E section and did clothing. I was actually pretty grateful to be moved into other products at the end of the night, because mentally I was getting a bit sluggish. For me at least that does matter, because I am a bit dyslexic and start to misread the number/letter combinations when I am not paying attention and end up walking in the wrong direction lol.
Overall I felt I did well, and at one point early in the shift was even out picking Lee. That was largely a factor of where my picks were and I hit a “hot streak” that had me up around 132 picks an hour at one point. Although he is moving from place to place a lot faster than me, I think I am pretty good at getting the item out of the bin quickly. I noticed a pattern where usually the needed item was on top of the pile and many times the right item was the first one I put a hand on which saves a ton of time. If the needed item is “hiding” in the bottom of the bin, that can really slow the process down, especially if there are numerous items that are the same color, but different sizes. Speaking of which I honestly don’t know how you could do this job if you were color blind. Technically it could be done, as you could look at brand names and use the scanner when in doubt, but color is often a great short cut and it would definitely make this job a lot harder.
And I should probably mention thank heavens for the scanners. I can’t tell you how many times I scanned the wrong item or bin and it beeped at me, which showed me at least how often human error came into play. Not that long ago bar scanners didn’t exist and I imagine the process times and error rates were much higher. The way it works is we scan the bin and then the item and if either of those things is wrong (I am facing the wrong side of the aisle more times than I would like to admit lol) it beeps at you. And if you absolutely can’t find the item you every single thing in the box. I had to do this a few times when there was no discernible difference between products. I even came across one poor guy scanning over 50 look-a-like items trying to find the “right one” and definitely felt for him. Thankfully this situation doesn’t occur very often. Usually there is enough difference in product it is easy to quickly find the right one without the scanner, but it is nice that you can use it as an option in a pinch.
Tracy: 19,730 steps (8.26 ,miles)
Items picked: 770
Lee: 29,918 steps (13.22 miles)
Items picked: 984
Interesting Item Picked: Since my daughter Kat likes the interesting item section, I thought I would share something I thought was perfect for her husband Micah. It was a Minecraft Creeper Fleece Robe and it made me smile as I thought of them. I also picked an OSU hat and a Philadelphia Eagles jersey that made me think of family and friends, but the robe was the overall winner for the day.
(This is my favorite item of the day: The Sasquatch Bikini Ugly Christmas Sweater. Quantities are limited, so be sure and get yours today! This was a close runner up. Also, I picked a LOT of French maid and “schoolgirl” outfits. So some folks are gonna have a very Merry Christmas! – Lee)
There definitely is a cumulative effect on the soreness. Day 5 was my first 10+ mile day and although I did pretty good in the early parts of the shift towards the end it was a struggle. There is a certain amount of mind over matter involved at that point, and I try to think to myself (as our friends Bill and Nancy suggested) that this is great hiker trainer. Still there were lots of groans at the end of the night and we both went to bed pretty quickly. One thing that made it worse, was the number of steps between picks was much longer than yesterday. We were both traveling from one end of the section to another between picks by the end of the night and ultimately we both received messages that we were out of work towards the end of the night. We weren’t 100% sure what to do in this situation, so we logged out and logged back in a couple of times until more work was in our queue and that’s one thing I do find frustrating and want to talk about, but in order to do so I need to make it very clear that this next part is based on supposition and anecdotal evidence and unfortunately I have no idea how the algorithms work. They didn’t teach us that in training.
It appears that when work becomes sparse the computer intentionally slows you down. It does this by sending your picks farther and farther away from each other and even in some cases sending you away from and then back to the same bin to get the same item rather than combining the pick. The idea, I suppose, is from a productivity standpoint it is better to keep people moving than allow everyone to take a break, but it’s hard to keep moving when you see this happening and realize all that extra walking is essentially “busy work.” To be fair, people are definitely monitoring the situation, because so far every time the routes start to lengthen, pretty quickly the computer tells us VTO (voluntary time off) is available. People start to take advantage of that, which then puts more work for the rest of us, and eventually things seem to settle back into “normal.” I’ve also noticed this seems to happen right around break time. As folks start to peel off on break, the route gets much more compressed with picks coming in rapid succession and near each other. Those last few minutes are a great time to boost stats, because I’ve found I can quickly pick multiple items right before break.
All that being said, I’ve never been a big fan of busy work and I am REALLY not a big fan of it when it adds steps to my day. When you are picking and get lots of items in rapid succession you get into a rhythm and feel like you are accomplishing something. For me walking to and fro and barely picking anything is both tiring and a little frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself that I get paid the same no matter what I am doing, but towards the end of the shift that doesn’t help much. It’s also probably worse because we are in training and by design “locked” into a relatively small area. Since being “opened up” means adding in walking up and down stairs, which I have no idea how my body will respond to, for now it’s best just to leave it alone. So far my knees are doing OK. I have to be really careful to switch out hands and arms because I do start to feel overuse in the left side and both of us are struggling with our hip muscles.
Lee definitely had the worst of it, because for some reason the computer kept sending him back to the same bin where he couldn’t scan the barcode. There was one bin with Superman underwear that had faded bar codes and he marked it as such, like you are supposed to. But when we were low on work, it sent him back multiple times and the problem solver hadn’t yet been out to fix the problem. Ultimately he got frustrated because the system wasn’t working the way it was supposed to, so instead he marked the item as “missing”, and then dumped the entire contents of the bin in the “damaged” bin at the end of the aisle. Afterwards when the scanner sent him to that bin he just ignored it. This story, by the way, had me laughing so hard when he told it to me (gallows humor), especially when he explained the interaction with the nice young girl who was the problem solver. Eventually she explained to him that when things are rejected a message is sent to the problem solver team who then solve the problem. At one point, she put new bar codes on the items and restored them to the bin, but she couldn’t explain why it kept sending him back to the same bin before the new bar codes were attached. Can I just say every. single. day. he is getting some kind of “special attention”, whereas I barely think they know I exist lol. (I also got yet another long visit from a safety person, who followed me around for about 15 minutes to watch me and asked me a few questions. Like, “Where do you go if there’s a fire?”. I told her I would quickly and calmly leave the building using the nearest exist. When she asked me where the nearest exit was, I told her I had no idea, because there was no signage, but in the event of a fire I would be motivated to find one. I think she made notes that I thought the exit signage was inadequate. She also asked me where I would go in the event of a tornado. I told her I would go to a tornado shelter area. She asked me where they were, and I told her they were under the tornado shelter area signs. She asked me where the nearest one was, so I told her I had no clue, and we walked around a little bit until I saw a sign and pointed to it. I pretty much always feel like I’m in an episode of candid camera. She said I was doing a good job, which was nice, since I’m 200% to goal. But it’s only day 5, and we haven’t started using stairs yet. I fully expect someone to watch me go up and down the stairs to make sure I’m doing that right as well. I’ll make an educated guess and say that they want us to always use the handrails, and hardly ever want us to slide down the banisters. – Lee)
Tracy: 25,552 steps (10.66 miles)
Items picked: 782
Lee: 25,364 (11.2 miles)
Items picked: 837
Interesting Item Picked: It is true you start to zone out and hardly register what you are picking, but once in a while an item really stands out and actually makes me stop. Today it was a Chemo Beanie which was a really cute and stylish head wrap for someone who has lost their hair to chemo. The reason it caught my attention was initially I thought it was just a cool head wrap, and was thrilled when I looked closer to see they were specifically designed for chemo patients and came in all kinds of colors and chic patterns. The company was founded by a woman who was trying to help two of her aunts who had breast cancer feel better about how they looked and it’s a wonderful example of value-based entrepreneurship. I didn’t know any of that, by the way, until I got home and researched it, but as I said the quality and uniqueness of the product really stood out and made me want to learn more about it.
(Today I picked several Family Holiday Survival Kits. Those made me chuckle. Also, something in a plain brown box with a title that was so graphic and shocking to see in print on the scanner screen that I actually gasped when I read it. I am not going to link it here, you’ll have to use your imagination. – Lee)
Yes, the effects are cumulative, but I’ve also noticed I am having different problem areas every day. Overall this is a good thing, because as Lee said “pain is weakness leaving the body,” but today’s problem area were the arches of my feet and that was brutal. If the problem area is muscular there are things you can do…change your stance, use icy hot, more Advil etc., but the pain in the feet to some extent is what it is and the arches in particular were rough. What it feels like is I am changing my stance automatically to accommodate problem areas, which then leads to pain in other areas. I have also started wearing gloves, not because of concern about dirt but to help with potential cuts, scrapes and blisters. The ones they provide for free seemed to help pretty well. (Almost all of the bins are these ingenious cardboard box modules with cardboard drawers, and the edges of the drawers can be pretty sharp. – Lee) I am hoping that eventually I will run through all the areas of the body and “toughen up” all over, but that remains to be seen. On the plus side an employee came up and told me I had passed the safety check with flying colors. That was strange because I didn’t even know she was watching me, but at least I got the feedback. I get why people talked about the “big brother” atmosphere now, but I have decided, for the moment at least to not let it bother me.
Oh, and you may notice that I don’t have the number of items picked down below. Because we are on swing shift, there is no daily report for us, and we have to manually ask someone everyday to look it up. Frankly this has been a major pain in the butt and since I don’t know what value it provides, I’ll throw it in on the days I can easily get the information, but for my sanity I have to let it go. I like working swing shift very much, but since there are so few of us, it’s had some negative points. They have a portal where we can sign up for voluntary overtime, but none of us appear to be set up properly in the system. That means we need to manually have an HR person put in our requests for OT and when we worked Sunday it’s not showing up in the portal as worked.
They have a manned HR desk open most of the time in the warehouse, but I have not found this to be helpful. We are always talking to a different person, it appears their knowledge is pretty limited, and since you are not talking to one person the core issue was not being resolved. Finally I found our Area Manager (my first conversation with him) and laid the situation out. There is a line between line supervisors and HR and since the portal was on the HR side, initially he was moving me in that direction. I was having none of that. I firmly explained I needed someone to take ownership of the problem, and eventually he agreed to call HR. So far that appears to be the biggest issue with their processes. The processes all work pretty good, but anytime something falls out of the norm, it appears supervisors/leads have a hard time problem solving. Admittedly this is my impression from my limited view, but the few times we have had issues because of our shift they have been very difficult to resolve.
If I felt I could stand around while they were fixing it, I would probably care less, but that timer is always in the background. No one put you in non-productive time while you stop and talk to someone (I did hear that the health clinic, AmCare, does, but haven’t personally seen that) so every minute you are talking to safety or a supervisor counts against you. And yes, I understand that we are new and no one appears to be even looking at these numbers, but as a metrics driven person that bugs me. In a perfect world every time I went to HR or talked to a lead person they would scan me out and when we were done would scan me back in. The reason it bugs me is because it sort of pushes a person towards doing work related things in their off time so their metrics aren’t affected and I am not 100% sure that isn’t intentional. Let me give you an example;
They have this nice portal that we can use to look up tons of info, but every time we logged in from home it made us change our password. Because of my IT background, I determined pretty quickly that this was happening because we weren’t on their internal network. The solution (which none of the supervisors was aware of) was to log in just once on their internal computer and change the password there. It’s a silly little thing, but in order to do that we were referred to a bank of computers in one small corner of the building and the initial setup of our desktop and changing the password took about 7 minutes. (The system uses each computer as a separate desktop, so if you log in to any “new” machine, it goes through the entire process of creating you as a new user on that machine, and setting up a desktop. And it’s slooooooow. – Lee) I decided to do this coming back from lunch, knowing full well that my metrics would show a “late start” back from break. I also knew that I would need to push it a little bit to make up that 7 minutes. (I take a completely different approach to this entire problem: I just don’t care. I’ve never been a fan of “the clock”. Once I clock in, I am working, and anything that I need to do that is work related is on their time. If they choose not to use labor tracking for anything “off task” that’s completely up to them. If they don’t want my time wasted dealing with administrative stuff, then they should fix their administrative stuff. At the moment I am consistently between 178 and 200% of goal, so I’m happy to discuss how I manage my time with anyone that would like to bring it up. – Lee)
And sure, I get it, these are seasonal jobs and they don’t really care that much about our metrics as long as we show up on time, but I can’t help but think about the folks that work there full time. In all fairness I am sure they know how to “get around” the computer system but the whole energy and dynamic of the place is kind of weird. I’ll see some permanent employees standing and chatting in an aisle while picking and then someone will say, “I better pick something before I get into trouble.” and the little group breaks apart. So I know it’s not just me who feels this internal clock/pressure, I just don’t understand the limits and rules yet. As a rule follower, that’s a little frustrating, but trust me I am not making myself totally crazy…there’s just a ton of time to think on this job.
Tracy: 23,711 steps (9.91 miles)
Lee: 26,251 (11.6 miles)
Interesting Item Picked: Today the item that made me stop in the aisle was a 3D printing pen. I am not 100% sure how it works, but you draw things and with filaments(?) created a three-dimensional item. Pretty cool for a kid who has an imagination and is artistic, but no idea if it actually works in practice. Never seen anything quite like that before though so wanted to pass it along.
(Today the item I picked more than any other, is the Stocking Flask, the use of which would make the dancing Santa hat seem less ridiculous. I also picked some Enema Coffee. Um, ick. I’ll stick with pumpkin spice flavor, myself. Something else that caught my eye was the girl’s first birthday outfit, available in size 18 months. Must be metric. – Lee)
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