8. Human Touch

Riding through the city on a sunny day is an undeniable joy of the job. With the ease of the e-bike you feel powerful winding through the streets. Some enjoy the movement of being a rider: bracing the elements, listening to music, owning the streets of Amsterdam. Others feel independent while riding, grateful to have a job that includes exercise. Sadly, my phone is old and broken. It lacks the power to sustain the rider app, Google Maps or music. So, my rider shifts on sunny days are generally filled with a lot of thinking… and singing.

Customers order ice-creams and drinks to enjoy the sun. They welcome me warmly. I hand over the bag, exchange thank yous and that’s that. But sometimes they don’t look at you. Sometimes they hide behind their door or don’t say a word. A fellow rider and I discuss those customers who order near to closing time. He remarks, “Sometimes they have the decency to look ashamed as you hand over one pot of Ben and Jerry’s at midnight that you have just cycled over to them in the rain”.

Often, customers are slow, or they live on the top floor, or they forget I’m coming and I have to call, or they don’t list the correct house number. Look, it isn’t their fault if I’m called into the office for not being fast enough and I don’t blame them. But I recognise how they do impact my recorded delivery speed and if my time starts to enter the manager’s red zone then my job is in jeopardy. Although, most managers understand if you explain the customer’s role in this. They’ll just ask you to cheat the app — tell it that you’ve arrived and finished the order before you have, as if the app is a person. The lie is justified because it’s important for the company’s reputation. 

Your relationship with your manager pretty much determines how many shifts you get. They either have to like you personally or as a worker (preferably both). If you have a conversation with them you can explain why this order took a little longer — if not, then you may not be booked for a shift again. It’s the fastest riders who book the best shifts, the fastest pickers and the best friends. At times, the importance of interpersonal interactions for job security makes uncomfortable situations more difficult to navigate. While there’s a clear hierarchical structure in the Dark Store, I’ve experienced a lack of clear communication around boundaries. Personal and work-based. A former shift leader (who’s now stopped working) made many (women) workers feel uncomfortable.

He would shout at riders, seemingly out of nowhere. An assertion of dominance that only served himself. A bitter attempt to regain control after realising that we didn’t need his presence or ‘guidance’ to do our job. When picking, I ask riders if an order is too heavy for their backs — he didn’t like that. It slows down the process. I do it anyway. After demonstrating his power, he’d suddenly become friendly. Too friendly. With his arms around my shoulders, he suggests we take a break together in the basement. He lets me know how sexy I look today and then reprimands me for not following the standardised work regime as he steals a few beers from the fridge.

‘He lets me know how sexy I look today and then reprimands me for not following the standardised work regime as he steals a few beers from the fridge.’

I walked home wondering what I had done to make him think that he could talk to me like that. This isn’t true for all shift leaders. Most are kind and respectful. They’re often young, like me, and we can understand each other, talk, and interact with some ease. I brush away the thought that I’d been too nice. He’s my boss. It’s inappropriate. He should know that. I didn’t know if I should say something. He’s friends with the other managers. He’s the one booking my shifts. He’s my job security. I’m time-poor and financially unstable. I am relieved when I find out he’s been fired. Seems someone did speak up. I later found out that I wasn’t the only one that he found sexy.

A project by affect lab. 2022