Amazon is changing how it measures a key productivity metric called ‘Time off Task,’ which workers have blamed for a culture of relentless monitoring and punishing staff who fall behind

FILE PHOTO: An Amazon worker delivers packages amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Denver, Colorado, U.S., April 22, 2020. Picture taken April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo
An Amazon worker delivers packages Reuters
  • Amazon announced Tuesday it’s changing its “Time off Task” productivity metric.
  • “Time off Task” refers to the time warehouse workers spend away from their workstations.
  • From now on, Amazon says it will average Time off Task over a longer period.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon says it’s changing a metric that workers have claimed it uses to closely monitor staff productivity.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Amazon’s Consumer CEO Dave Clark wrote that the company was changing the way it measures so-called “Time off Task.” Time off Task is measured when an employee steps away from their workstation.

Amazon would now start averaging its measure of Time off Task over a longer period, Clark said.

Employees have previously said Amazon uses Time off Task to closely monitor productivity and punish workers who don’t meet exacting quotas. Workers have said fear of accruing Time off Task means they avoid taking bathroom breaks.

Clark said Time off Task was primarily a way to measure software and system bugs, with productivity being a secondary consideration.

“Starting today, we’re now averaging Time off Task over a longer period to ensure that there’s more signal and less noise – reinforcing the original intent of the program, and focusing Time off Task conversations on how we can help,” he said.

“The goal is to re-focus the conversations on instances where there are likely true operational issues to resolve. We believe this change will help ensure the Time off Task policy is used in the way it was intended,” Clark wrote.

Clark did not elaborate on how long this “longer period” would be. In the same blog, he announced the company would stop testing job candidates for marijuana.

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Amazon worker Catherine Highsmith told Insider in March that Time off Task was an obscure metric, and that employees had no way of knowing how much they’d racked up, and therefore how close they might be to a reprimand.

In 2020, Amazon told CNBC that warehouse staff could spend time outside of breaks to use the restroom, wash their hands, take a break, get water, or speak to their manager.

Tuesday’s announcement came the same day as The Washington Post reported that injury rates in Amazon warehouses were twice as high as for competing retailers like Walmart.

It also came the same day Vice News reported on a leaked “wellness guide” for staff, which recommended workers buy shoes for the end of the day when their feet swell up.

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