Stories of a Chronodrive courier: the people behind it

When In-N-Out Burger fed off of the American’s fast-food eating habits by adding a “NO DELAY” sign in front of a driveway, the Drive-Through service begins its official history. From then on, a series of developments were made to how and when one experiences a Drive-Through. Our increasingly consumerist society and advances in technology gave space to absurd levels of immediacy; today, you can get all of your full month groceries in as little as 5 minutes after buying them online. This development, however, translated into a series of work conditions that are far from advanced.

Sonia Kronlund and Delphine Saltel’s “Les Pieds Sur Terre (Chronodrive)” is a France Culture podcast episode dedicated to the stories of Mehdi and his fiancée, both former Chronodrive employees.

What is Chronodrive?

The global hype of express delivery can only be attributed to Amazon’s massive worldwide shipping business, a company whose work ethic has become the target of outrage over the last decade. It was in 2012 that the group Auchan Retail France acquired “Chronodrive”, a French delivery service company whose principle is based on the immediate delivery of groceries through a Drive-Through. The customer happily leaves the premises with all of their groceries in their own car trunk, having spent considerably more time making the order than actually receiving it.

Chronodrive had a turnover of 454 million euros in 2017, a number which has reportedly only increased during the COVID19 pandemic.

To be hired, Mehdi applied to the post 5 times — the fifth being the lucky one. There were 4 group interviews, but he was determined to get through the long process after reading in online forums about the company’s potential to grow, which was ideal for the equally ambitious young man.

It really felt like the perfect company with prospects for growth as it was young. So that ‘if you come, we make you grow with the company.’

The young man describes the environment as initially very laid-back; your employees will not require a formal treatment, not even the boss. The doors seem open and the young, new workers are put in training in order to always prioritize the costumer’s time.

At the moment an order is made, the customer gets the notice that in less than 5 minutes their order will be ready. The time presented to the couriers, however, is less than 1,5 minutes. A lot of pressure is built around not surpassing a 2-minute mark, in which case Mehdi only qualifies as “not good, not good at all”.

A board called “top or flop” is placed within the working space to illustrate a competition system, in which the best workers are put at the top and the “less good” ones at the bottom. “What does it change if we’re placed at the top?” Mehdi boldly asked his manager. “Well, you know, it’s just better.” Another manager added, “I won’t be getting you any treats”.

The evaluation is continuous and the word “time” starts to hold different meanings for a courier. Every move is calculated and every second is watched, and after 7 hours of work a day (with mere 21 minutes of unpaid breaks) going on 6 days a week, Mehdi does not see the “human aspect” of Chronodrive anymore.

The average service for a newly received order starts as soon as an alarm rings. Once the package is prepared and if no one takes it within 2 minutes, another even more unnerving alarm will inform everyone in the warehouse of their tardiness. This carries on with a variety of sounds and dynamics involving occasional reprimands by the managers who oversee the whole operation.

Photo Credits: ® AFP

One day, after starting to cry for no apparent reason during his fourth working hour, Mehdi told his manager he couldn’t continue his work anymore, he had to go back home for the day. He then went home and came back to work the next day, straight to the director’s office to explain what had happened. He was promptly interrupted by his boss, whose impression of the occurrence made him realize Chronodrive was no good for him;

“I don’t know what’s going on in your life, and I don’t give a f***. But yesterday you screwed us over.”

After a series of altercations with his managers and bosses, Mehdi was pushed into leaving the company while not being granted any benefits — all within legal breaches, which he then took to justice to reevaluate. His wife, who preferred to not be named, expresses the highlights of their work experience; she met her fiancé and a lot of their good friends while working there, many of which were witnesses on the legal battles against Chronodrive.

These details seem to paint the only human aspect left in such a company, brought specifically by their employees, the people behind it. Why is it, then, that these people seem to be always on the losing side of this equation?

Photo Cover Credits: ® Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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