My Life as a Picker: Two Weeks In

Today I saw a video of a journalist who took a job with my company in order to report on working conditions.  She described her time there as a “wage slave” and claimed she even came from a labor background with years of experience in warehouse work, but yet this experience was beyond horrible.  Her young age and delicate appearance, as well as her professional position as a journalist, cause me to question this claim of a long history in these kinds of places.  I cannot tell if she is being truthful about the working conditions, but thankfully, they are nothing like what I have experienced so far.  But our warehouse opened just over a month ago.  We have plenty of time for things to deteriorate.  Peak season is just around the corner and thousands of seasonal workers will soon be clogging up our work space, with shipping deadlines looming every day.  Bins will be stuffed full of products and hard to pick from (my particular job description – “picking”).

In orientation they claimed they listen to their employees, want to hear about issues, and are willing to adapt to help us do our jobs more easily.  My thoughts were along the lines of.. “whatever.. nobody does that.”  Maybe the company has learned this recently, or maybe the journalist was a liar, but I have found it to be true.  They have already responded with genuine action in response to one of my suggestions!   I am in awe of this amazing sense of power given to the most lowly of the entry level positions.  Maybe I will ask for a BMW.

So the job.. is hard.  Really hard.  And boring.  Not complicated, but physically hard.  As I have discussed previously, this was the aspect that concerned me the most.  Working the night shift only compounds the physical exhaustion.  If someone had said to me, “I want you to spend 10 hours walking today.  You get two 10 minute breaks and 30 minutes to eat your lunch.”  I would have said, “Impossible!”  But it is in fact quite possible.  Not only can I do it, many other people who would not appear to have this ability from a first impression, also do it.  Around me there are many young, able-bodied workers, but I also see grey hair, obesity, one knee wrapped in a brace, and another even with a limp.  I wonder not just how can we, but WHY are we willing to do this?  Three people I have met even have other jobs in addition to this one.  No one would take a job like this for the fun of it.  There must be driving need.  Here are the pros and cons I have observed so far.

Positives
*Higher than average starting wage
*No dealing with the public
*Working without direct supervision most of the time
*Regular schedule, with no dropped hours from a 40 hour week
*Great benefits, vacation, stock shares, bonuses, opportunities to advance
*Consistent environment where expectations are clear
*Little opportunity for workplace drama

Negatives
*Little chance to connect with other employees (which is why there is minimal drama)
*Prison-like atmosphere with security checks, strict time limitations, and no personal property allowed except food
*Extreme foot pain (Did not know my feet could produce these extreme sensations!)
*Fatigue
*Boredom
*Pressure to meet rates (only heard hints to this so far, but expecting it to be more of an issue eventually)
*Long walks to find a manager to help with a question, take a break, or go to lunch

I struggle to think of anything to describe beyond the foot pain associated with this work, but contemplating further, I’ve come to appreciate my fellow human beings much more.  As an introvert I crave alone time, and have seldom had any the last two years living in a house with many people.  Now I have almost 40 hours of alone time a week.  While this isn’t quality time with one’s own soul, as I do have to concentrate on the direction of my next stop every few seconds, I have at last discovered loneliness.  Not sure when I was last lonely, but another girl also commented that the back corner of the warehouse was especially lonely and she was happy to move to an area where the stowers (people who put the products in for us to pick) were in her way so she would at least be around people.  I find myself drawn to the 7 people I trained with the first night.  They are the only people I see on every shift because ours falls in the middle of two others schedules.  We are even split between two management teams.  In an unfamiliar and dehumanizing environment, a familiar face is a warm sight to your eyes, even if it’s only been familiar for 3 days!

Time at home and days off are more precious also.  My kids miss me and I miss them more than they can know.  I think about them all night as I see really amazing toys, games and books I know they would love.  In fact, I see things that remind me of almost everyone I know.  In a way, I keep everyone I love with me through the night, as I connect them to the things I see.  I realize more clearly what matters, as I am surrounded by all that the world desires.  People matter most.

Sorry no pictures for this post.  Taking pictures is strictly forbidden and a sure-fire way to get promoted from Picker to Customer.

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