Undercover Investigation: Working At Amazon Warehouse Can Cause “Mental & Physical Illness”

For all the times you’ve felt like working could send you straight into the arms of the mental health care system, an investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse claims conditions were so stressful, they could cause “mental and physical illness.”

The BBC sent an undercover worker to film his life of night shifts, during which he’d walk up to 11 miles while being expected to collect orders every 33 seconds, says the news organization.

A lot of those workers are extra holiday employees brought on just to help with the uptick in traffic, with the Amazon warehouses in the UK bringing on about 15,000 seasonal staff.

That included an undercover worker who was hired as a “picker” to grab orders off the shelves in a 800,000 square-foot warehouse. He says a handset directed him what to pick up and add to his cart. He had a certain amount of seconds to find each product, with a countdown ticking off the time. If he messed up, the scanner would beep.

“We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves”, he said. “We don’t think for ourselves, maybe they don’t trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don’t know.”

A stress expert viewed the footage from the undercover operation and said it seems the working conditions at the warehouse are “all the bad stuff at once”.

“The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness,” he explains. “There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual’s health and wellbeing — it’s got to be balanced.”

Amazon says official safety inspections haven’t triggered any alarms, and another expert it had weighing in on the picking job said it’s “similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness.”

While the undercover worker opined about a ten-and-a-half-hour night shift by saying he’d had to walk or “hobble” almost 11 miles in that time, Amazon says new recruits are told that some of the jobs are hard physically, and you should only go for those positions if that’s the kind of thing you like. As such, it’s up to employees to have good judgement.

In other words, if you hate walking and don’t like getting beeped at by an angry scanner, this job’s not for you.

Amazon workers face ‘increased risk of mental illness’ [BBC]

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  1. Tightwad says:

    OMG! Any attack on a large “evil corporation”. Really?

    If you don’t like the job or can’t handle it’s physical stress then QUIT! Hell I’d do that work just for the physical exercise. However whining about working indoors in a heated building rates right up there with complaining that Mcdonalds doesn’t pay a living wage. You knew the job going into the employment offer. If you can’t handle the heat get out the kitchen.

    • CharlesWinthrop says:

      Heated building? Hardly! I’ve worked that job. You are in a big WAREHOUSE and the only heat is from the shrinkwrap machines way over on the other side of the building in the packer lines.

      Best part is that it doesn’t matter what position you apply for (I was hired to be systems support), you end up as a picker for most of your shift. The ONLY ones who don’t do any picking are the floor managers who have their stations right next to the shrinkwrap machines.

      Before you start smarting off, try working the job. Or are you a company shill?

      • CzarChasm says:

        Charles are you saying they do not tell you it’s a physically demanding job when you are hired?

        I for one am tired of people taking mindless drone jobs, then complaining about being treated like mindless drones at their job.

        • CharlesWinthrop says:

          Oh, they tell you that IF you apply to be a picker. What they DON’T tell you is that no matter what job you apply for, you’re going to end up being a picker. If your work location when you get hired by Amazon is a warehouse, you’re gonna be a picker, no matter what.

          Unless you’re a floor manager, and they only bring those in from other locations. The time I worked there (I quit after 4 months of empty promises), we had 14-15 different floor managers (3 per shift), and ALL of them were brought in from other locations. They don’t hire floor managers from outside the company.

          And when I tried complaining about being hired to do systems support, I was told “Well, you have to work as a picker for a certain amount of time before we can move you to that position.” So yes, I’m saying they don’t tell you it’s physically demanding. They lie about the pay and hours, too.

          • CzarChasm says:

            While I can’t fault them at all for hiring managers from inside the company ( I wish more companies did that) I wonder what their reasoning is for not telling people what job they are going to be doing. It would seem to me that it would lead to very, very, high turnover and a lot of unhappy employees.

            I know you probably don’t know the answer, it just seems like an absolutely terrible business practice to have most employees hate you from the start.

  2. Airwave says:

    What I don’t understand, after reading http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor is, why does the order picking system send one person ALL OVER THE PLACE??? With all their automation, why can’t they put certain pickers in assigned areas, so they can get the product sooner and not have to walk as much? I worked in Customer Service and the telephony was evolved enough to route calls to people who were available, who had a certain expertise etc. Why does the warehouse system sound just so DUMB?