Warehouse Work: Here's What It's Actually Like

The experience of working in a warehouse varies quite a bit, depending on if you're working for a small company or an international corporation.

Amy White |
Categories: Career Advice

You think all warehouse jobs are the same, right? Miles of shelving, forklifts going beep-beep, piles of bubble wrap. But the experience of working in a warehouse varies quite a bit, depending on if you're working for a small company or an international corporation. I've done both.

The huge warehouse job

Best part: The exercise you get from pushing a cart around for hours.

Worst part: Oprah's Book Club. When she slapped her "O" on a book, you knew you'd be filling orders for weeks.

In college, I worked as a picker/packer at the Amazon.com fulfillment center in Delaware. The warehouse was humongous: a building bigger than an airplane hangar, filled with endless rows of metal bookshelves. The place was dim, lit by fluorescent lights far overhead, and it was easy to forget if it was day or night.

When you arrived for your shift, you'd be assigned to picking, packing or a combination. Picking meant pushing a cart up and down the shelves and selecting books customers had ordered. You checked them off a printed list, highlighted any that were missing and then delivered the books to the packers. I liked being a warehouse picker, because looking at the book titles made the hours go by faster.

Packing meant checking customers' orders and packaging them securely for shipping. You had to pack fast, but you also had to pack well - if a supervisor found a book rattling around in the box, she'd stop the line and have everyone's work inspected. After a few hours, my feet ached from standing and my hands stung from cardboard cuts. The only fun part? Laughing when someone ordered a book that was a little... naughty.

Working for Amazon was interesting, but it was such a big place that I never learned the names of anyone I worked with. It was all about speed, speed, speed - and at the end of the day I stumbled home, exhausted.

The small warehouse job

Best part: Working on a tight-knit team.

Worst part: Slow day = no pay.

Several years after Amazon, I worked as a seasonal warehouse associate for a small gifts and collectibles business. Working in a small warehouse was fun, because I got to learn every part of the operation. The three other people who worked in the warehouse taught me how to do everything (and didn't get mad when I messed up an order). I swept floors, stocked shelves, filled orders, packed them up and printed UPS mailing labels.

The work atmosphere is a lot more relaxed in a small warehouse. No one's timing you - you do things at your own speed (as long as everything's done by UPS pickup time), so you make fewer mistakes. And I got a certain satisfaction from choosing just the right box to fit two polo shirts, a stuffed elephant and a Christmas ornament. Yeah, I'm a dork.

At the end of the day, hundreds of boxes would be stacked up at the loading dock, waiting for the UPS driver. It felt good to see the results of all my hard work. But there were some days when the work was slow, and as a part-time warehouse worker, I wouldn't be called in. No hours, no pay. That's life.