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Does Amazon warehouse work lead to mental illness?

Massive Amazon warehouses, like this one in Phoenix, hold millions of square feet of merchandise that someone needs to retrieve in order to fulfill an order. (AP file photo)

A video secretly made inside an facility in the UK leads an expert on workplace stress to the conclusion that doing some jobs at Amazon could cause an “increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”

The BBC had one of its reporters get a job, through an agency, at an Amazon distribution center. The new employee then video recorded what it was like to work there doing a job they call being a “picker.”

Adam Littler’s job is to retrieve items people purchase online from warehouse shelves, so they can be shipped.

A hand-held device tells Littler, 23, what the item is, and where it’s located in the building in Swansea, Wales that has 800,000 square feet of storage.

The scanner tracks his “picking” rate. Littler was told he faced disciplinary action if the rate fell too low.

With that kind of constant feedback, that means the employee needs to work faster; ultimately retrieving an item every 33 seconds, and walking up to 11 miles per shift.

Littler describes to the BBC what the job felt like to him.

“We are basically machines,” he says. “We are robots. We don’t think for ourselves.”

He then took the undercover video to Michael Marmot, a professor of Public Health at University College London and reportedly, an expert on workplace stress.

“The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows, increase risk of mental illness and physical illness,” says Marmot.

Marmot didn’t expand on that claim to explain if he’s referring to a true mental illness – an altering of chemicals in the brain. He also didn’t say how working at Amazon leads to a physical illness.

In a statement, Amazon says, “We strongly refute the charge that Amazon exploits its employees in any way. The safety of our associates is our number one priority, and we adhere to all regulations and employment law.”

Amazon says recruits are warned some positions are physically demanding and it says some workers seek out those jobs because they enjoy the active nature of the work.

The company says productivity targets are set objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by the workforce.

It also points out it has a “highly” favorable safety rating compared with companies in the same industry.


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