Pitfall of Working for Amazon: Mental Illness?

BBC investigation finds fulfillment center conditions could increase risk

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 25, 2013 6:55 AM CST

(Newser) – It's just about that most wonderful time of the year: for holiday shoppers, and for Amazon, which CNN last month reported would be hiring 70,000 seasonal workers to beef up the staffing at its more than 40 US fulfillment centers. Last year, thousands of these workers were converted to full-time employees, making it a good gig if you can get it, right? Not according to a BBC investigation, which had an undercover reporter work the night shift in a UK Amazon warehouse. He showed what he filmed to Michael Marmot, a leading job stress expert. Marmot's conclusion: The working conditions were "all the bad stuff at once." He continued: "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness."

The 23-year-old reporter worked as a "picker"; a handset would flag an item for him to retrieve and place on a trolley in the 800,000-square-foot space. He was given 33 seconds per product, with his handset counting down the clock each time; it beeped if he made an error, and also sent data to his managers. The reporter said that in one 10.5-hour night shift, he walked "or hobbled" almost 11 miles, noting afterward, "I'm absolutely shattered." Amazon described the picking job as "similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness," and noted that new hires are told some positions can be physically demanding. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that German workers at two Amazon centers are today striking for better pay. (Who isn't likely to complain about Amazon? Its top reviewers, who get major freebies.)

Inside an 800,000 sq. ft. Amazon.com distribution and fulfillment center warehouse, this one in Goodyear, Ariz.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this file photo made Nov. 16, 2009, Stephen Guymon, of Twin Falls, Idaho, separates packages for final shipment inside the 800,000 sq. ft. Amazon.com warehouse in Goodyear, Ariz.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin file)
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