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Perks are great but working conditions are key

20 May 2024

In recent years, the fulfilment industry has faced significant scrutiny over its workplace practices, particularly concerning the mental health and overall wellbeing of its employees, says Zihana Jaleel.

THIS CRITICISM has largely been directed at major organisations like Amazon - with numerous allegations of gruelling shift patterns, inadequate health and safety measures, and physically demanding tasks leading to a series of well-documented strikes.

Are the benefits, perks and initiatives offered by many firms actually making a genuine difference to employees’ lives?

In my role, I have a front-row seat to the challenges and opportunities in promoting mental health within the fulfilment industry, and work closely with our teams to understand what they find most useful when it comes to supporting their wellbeing. 

The biggest takeaway I’ve learnt over the years? The answer doesn’t just lie in free bowls of fruit or team yoga classes.

Poor working conditions will always equal poor mental health

Of course, it would be remiss of me to suggest that the fun and slightly more quirky wellbeing perks are totally redundant. Access to free exercise classes, support with gym memberships and providing healthy food and drinks are often very well received. In fact, at Huboo, we do offer our teams free yoga classes and regular sports clubs - both of which draw in a decent turnout each week and allow people to blow off some steam and spend time together, away from their desks and laptops.

However, they barely scratch the surface when it comes to addressing the core issues that impact our employees' wellbeing, especially if the foundational working conditions remain unchanged.

Improving working conditions must be the cornerstone of any strategy aimed at safeguarding mental health in our sector. Acknowledging that the mental health of our workforce is as crucial as any logistical or operational metric is key. In light of this, a profound shift towards enhancing workplace conditions should be a top priority. Not only does this improve the immediate work environment, but it also serves as the foundation for all other wellness initiatives to be effective. When employees operate in a safe, supportive, and respectful environment, they are more likely to engage positively with the additional perks and support systems, leading to a healthier, more productive workforce across the board. 

To enhance our employees' mental and physical wellbeing, we've pioneered a unique 'hub' model in our warehouses. This model breaks down the traditional warehouse into smaller, more manageable hubs that house items in a way that reduces physical strain and leverages technology to enhance the roles of our human hub managers. This not only diminishes the physical demands typically associated with fulfilment work, but also enriches job content, leading to greater job satisfaction and remarkably lower staff turnover levels.

Listen to employees, don’t just follow trends

It’s easy for employers to fall into the trap of following the latest HR trends - introducing new processes, benefits and schemes at a whim, only for them to fall by the wayside a few months later. 

In my experience, the initiatives that make the most difference are the ones that involve listening to employees - asking for their thoughts and opinions on how your business can be run in a better way; understanding their biggest bugbears and then actively addressing them.  

This not only empowers employees but also builds trust and loyalty - both crucial elements in fostering a positive workplace culture. We've been trialling Coffee & Cake in our UK offices, and plan to roll it out internationally at Huboo. These are informal gatherings where employees from various levels of the organisation can discuss their views and concerns in an open forum, directly with senior management.  

The sessions are often cited by our teams as one of the most beneficial practices we offer. Why? Because these kind of initiatives go beyond mere token gestures; they are fundamental in creating a responsive and adaptive work environment. 

By ensuring that employee feedback directly influences policy and operational decisions, we demonstrate a commitment to people’s overall wellbeing and professional satisfaction. This approach not only mitigates potential mental health issues by addressing them before they escalate, but also enhances the collective performance of the workforce.

Ultimately, the future of workplace wellness in the fulfilment industry hinges on a culture of continuous listening and meaningful action. By truly valuing employee feedback and prioritising their wellbeing, we can transform the sector into one that supports both personal and professional growth.

Zihana Jaleel, head of HR, Huboo