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.