For a good period of time, call centres that sprung up sporadically in the country were considered the face of modern India. The ones who landed the coveted job were considered ‘lucky’, for they were given relatively good remuneration for relatively stress-free ‘calling work’. A report which recently came to light categorically dispels the myth that working in a call centre is a cakewalk. The study, conducted by J.D. Raja of Saveetha University in Chennai, and S.K. Bhasin of University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi began with the objective of assessing sleep quality and determine its independent predictors among ‘call handlers’ employed in international call centres in NCR, but gives us an insight into how detrimentally health is put at stake.
What is the study?
The study titled, ‘Sleep Quality of Call Handlers Employees in International Call Centres in NCR of Delhi, India’, was conducted from November 2011 to April 2013, with 375 ‘call handlers’ aged between 18 and 39 years from Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida. A ‘call handler’ was defined as “a person working in an international call centre involved in customer service, whose job required him/her to spend a significant proportion of his/her working time responding to calls on the telephone whilst simultaneously using display screen equipment”.
The mean age of the respondents was 24.6 years, and 78% of them were male. Furthermore, 83.5% were unmarried.
What did they find out?
The following are the findings of the study:
- 77.6% of the respondents had 'some suspicion of insomnia' or 'suspected insomnia', and only 22.4% said they had no sleep problems.
- 36.5% of the respondents admittedly had physical ailments, with headache (63.5%) and backache (43.7%) being noted as the most frequent issues.
- 44.3% of the call handlers were smokers, of whom, 52.4% admitted that they smoked due to the stress and tension of their work.
- The workers either worked night shifts (51.5%) or with changing shifts (28.3%), and the mean working hours were found to be 9.2 hours.
- The study notes, “Smoking, poor social support, heavy workload, lack of relaxation facility at office, and prolonged travel time to office were independent predictors of sleep quality.”
What do the findings imply?
The findings prove the notion that call centre employees, especially who work in night or unpredictable shifts, are putting their health at stake. In addition to the odd timing, the work setting in such a workplace, with a majority of time spent in a chair and in front of a computer screen, is adding to the challenge. Furthermore, apart from the direct outcome of disrupting sleep patterns, and physical ailments, call centre employees take up smoking to deal to deal with the stress.
One might argue that smoking, poor social support, heavy workload, lack of relaxation facilities, and prolonged travel time to office are common workplace issues, but these are aggravated for call centre employees, for the nature of their job requires them to work against their body clock. Working through the night and sleeping during the day creates a difficult cycle, which seldom leaves time for anything else. Lastly, if almost 8 in 10 respondents of the study reported difficulty in sleeping, the adverse impact of the job is evident on the lives of the employees. The study concludes, “Call handlers have to compromise upon their sleep owing to the contemporary work settings in call centers. Safeguarding their health becomes an occupational health challenge to public health specialists.”
What is the way forward?
The advent of the call centre industry, and its very nature, puts several hundred thousand employees at the risk of compromising on their health. With the talk of ‘wellness at workplace’ gaining momentum, managers and HR leaders in this industry will have to rise up to the challenge of minimizing the fallout on the health of their employees, sooner or later. In addition to the health problems listed here, other studies have shown that a combination of working erratic hours and having disturbed sleeping patterns is a recipe for disaster in old age. The employers need to be mindful and conscious of the damage they are inflicting on the health of their workers, and consequently come up with effective and practical work solutions that mitigate the same. However, what is imperative is the fact that things cannot continue the way they are. Relocating call centres to emerging markets saves a lot of resources for the employers, and they need to find a way to share the benefits with their most important asset: their employees.