Could Working at Amazon Cause Mental Illness?

Amazon's (Nasdaq: AMZN) labor practices have come under scrutiny after an undercover investigation at a UK-based warehouse aired last night in Britain. The show, BBC's Panorama, sent an undercover worker to work at a facility in Wales to take a closer look at the harsh working conditions.

The reporter, Adam Littler, got a job as a "picker" and recorded his night shifts during the holiday season, a time in which Amazon employs 15,000 extra staffers. A handset told him what to collect throughout his shift. It allotted him a set number of seconds—sometimes as few as 33 seconds—and would countdown the time he had to find each product. If he made a mistake or went over time the handset beeped. The scanner also tracked Mr Littler's picking rate and sent his performance to managers. If it was too low, he was told he could face disciplinary action. In one 10-hour shift, Littler walked "or hobbled" nearly 11 miles in the 800,000-square-foot factory to process his orders.

Littler later showed the footage to Michael Marmot, a leading job stress expert, who concluded the working conditions could lead to "increased risk of mental illness and physical illness."

Amazon issued a response to the segment on its website the same day the show aired.

"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 has retained an independent expert who has visited our buildings and associates. In the independent expert's opinion, a picking role is similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness," Amazon said in a statement.

For more see:
This BBC article
This Amazon statement

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