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The Big Q

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  •  A Cog in a Machine

    Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “A Cog in a Machine” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, April 27th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    George is a junior at a small university in Washington State. He is a frequent user of Amazon to purchase materials for college including textbooks and school supplies. In fact, George has an Amazon Prime account to save money on shipping, since he uses the site so often. George has recently started to take advantage of his prime account by purchasing almost everything on Amazon, from clothing to books to head massagers. On average, George uses the website three to four times a month.

    One day, George is perusing the Internet and notices an article headline that shocks him: Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers.

    George reads that Amazon is not only scientifically managed to the T, but that the employees are treated more as cogs in a machine than as human beings. He reads that Amazon uses monitoring technology to track movements and performance of employees. The company has conducted several studies to find the fastest way to perform tasks in the warehouse. All employees are instructed to follow the “one best way” of completing tasks for maximum efficiency. The logic behind this strategy is to ensure that employees are customercentric, creating a “cult of the customer.”

    George goes on to read that workplace pressure at Amazon pushes up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at a barely livable rate. The speed required to complete tasks causes many employees to struggle to meet targets and less skilled employees often fail. If an employee fails three times, Amazon uses a three-strike policy and fires him or her.

    George is shocked by this article, but at the same time he doesn’t know what to do. He has already paid for his Amazon prime membership and relies on the website for most of his purchases now.

    Should George continue shopping online on Amazon? How credible is this one article? Can George rely on this article to make an educated decision, or does he need to conduct more research? Should customer satisfaction be held with utmost regard, even if that means that employees are treated as robots and pushed to unrealistic limits? Is it ethical to treat employees as a cog in a machine, or a means instead of an end? What can George do to better the circumstance of the Amazon workers, if anything?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

    Photo by thisisbossi available under a Creative Commons license.

  •  Oh, the Cleaners Will Get That

    Monday, Sep. 12, 2011

    Best Student Comment Wins a $50 Amazon gift card. Responses must be received by midnight, September 12, 2011

    Mike is new to the Bike Club on campus and the first meeting just finished. As members start shuffling out of the room, Mike notices no one picks up the trash. Mike starts to gather plates, cups, and napkins and throw them away.

    The president of the Bike Club, Tom, says, “Oh, the cleaners will get that.” Do students have a responsibility to clean up after themselves? Or is it not that important since the University pays people to clean?

     

    Here are some resources you may find useful:

     A Framework for Ethical Decision Making 

    Staff Perspective on College Behavior 

    Civility at Rutgers

     

    Photo by r_melgaresavailable under Attribution- Non Commercial- No Derivs License.