Warehouse Workers Prone to Mental Health Issues

19535051 - large and tall full warehouse full of boxes and goodsMental health has been a hot topic in the wake of the latest school shooting. While this is an extreme example, the topic itself should make us all ponder our vulnerability in every day life. Our mental wellness is impacted by our daily activities, and has a wide range of consequences.

Ignoring mental health can be dire on many levels, including productivity and mortality, and the culprit of unwellness is often the workplace.

Warehouse managers are highly concerned with safety, and focus largely on physical wellbeing. However, laborious and menial work often assigned to warehouse employees proves to be mentally strenuous, too.

The BBC News article “Amazon workers face ‘increased risk of mental illness’” (link) follows an undercover reporter who works in an Amazon warehouse as a picker.

The article describes the job itself:

“A handset told him what to collect and put on his trolley. It allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake the scanner beeped.

‘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… We don’t think for ourselves, maybe they don’t trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don’t know.’”

The worker also complained of the physical toll it took on his body to “walk or hobble” almost 11 miles during his ten and a half hour shift.

In response to all this, the article stated:

“Prof Marmot, one of Britain’s leading experts on stress at work, said 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.’”

This concern is echoed in Jessica Leber’s article in Fast Company, “Fixing Mental Health In The Workplace Requires A Lot More Than A Yoga Room:”

“A 2015 study from Harvard and Stanford University business schools found that health problems stemming directly from job-related stress–ranging from long hours to the burdens of having no insurance and doing shift work–likely contribute to about 120,000 deaths a year and $190 billion a year in health care costs. By examining more than 200 separate studies, the research concluded that job insecurity increased the odds of reporting poor health by 50% and long work hours increased mortality by almost 20%.”

These are troublesome statistics for warehouse managers who often employ people whose jobs fit any of those descriptions.

Poor mental health is not just a problem for the employee, but also the company’s bottom line. Leber’s article states:

“Depression alone is estimated to cost the U.S. $210 billion a year, half of which are workplace costs including missed days and reduced productivity. More generally, research studies showing how mental health affects productivity and performance are piling up. By 2020, the World Health Organization estimates, depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide.”

So what can you do about it? There are two important things warehouse managers in particular can look at. The first is creating awareness and a comfortable space to be open. From Leber:

“‘There is a reluctance on the part of many workplaces to have open discussions about mental health on par with other physical health issues,’ says Wendy Brennan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City. ‘We don’t generally recommend that anyone discloses in the workplace. There’s still a huge stigma attached.’ In one study of 600 people with disabilities reported in the New York Times, about half involving mental health, 25% reported receiving negative responses to their problems, including bullying and being passed up for promotions. The U.S. Department of Health itself warns that discrimination can be a cost of disclosing. Brennan says she’s seen people still fired after they reveal their issues.”

The second aspect to consider is workplace design. Leber writes:

“… Many work environments are designed for anxiety today… People are most ‘mindful’ and happy in the course of doing their jobs when they can work without too much interruption and accomplish goals every day, rather than flitting between 1,000 tasks and not getting anything done. Designing job roles and teams that allow employees to focus on goals, accomplish tasks every day, and feel in control of their time could go much further to improve mental health than a meditation program.”

Most importantly, if you’re a warehouse manager that hasn’t considered mental health in the workplace, start now. There are options within technology that can help people in need, but those appeal more to Millennials. Your crew may not respond to those avenues, so find what works best for your particular staff demographics.

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