• 8 November 2004
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Stress: BPO Industry Stress Factors

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Stress: Long Working Hours

Long working hours is the greatest cause of stress for Indian call center agents, just ahead of work timing. 39.4% of the respondents surveyed endorsed the fact. Along with salary, both these factors, no doubt, account for the high rate of attrition in the industry. Long hours, in itself, is a combination of work load, call volume and travel time.

Since most BPO players are still primarily voice-based, the workload is tremendous; add to it the increasing call volume, as more and more outsourcing continues to happen despite threats of backlash, plus the time involved in traveling between home and office.

Any average agent works for 11-12 hours per day-the number goes up to 14 in case of companies that encourage overtime.

Stress: BPO Industry Stress Factors
Percentage employees who named these as the most important reasons for workplace stress. Multi-coded responses so total will be greater than 100%

The plight of the operational heads is worse-they regularly clock 17-18 hours per day working their shift besides staying back for customer conference calls.

Least Affected
eFunds 0
iSeva 9.1
Sykes 9.1
Most Affected
EXL Services 57.8
Transworks 55.6
24/7 55.2

Stress: Work Timing
The second biggest cause of stress for BPO employees is unique to the Indian industry. Many in the industry, in fact, feel that this is the root cause for most of the malaises afflicting Indian call centers. It is indeed an irony that the raison d'être for the success of the industry is also turning out to be its Achilles Heel. But, since, no doubt, the geographical time difference with the US and the UK gives Indian industry one of its biggest advantages, a possible solution to the problem is unlikely to be found in the near future. Even the endorsement from 38.6% of the respondents seems to be somewhat tempered by the fact that many of the respondents were either senior non-call floor people, or those in the day shift. While pure-play call centers like Transworks and EXL Services were most severely afflicted, barring eFunds and iSeva to some extent, no one in the survey seems to have tackled the issue with any measure of success.

Least Affected
eFunds 8.6
iSeva 9.1
Sykes 15.1
Most Affected
Transworks 52.8
EXL Services 48.9
24/7 Customer 44.8

Stress: Workload
Some would argue that even IT services employees are burdened with tremendous workload, so why are BPO employees complaining? The real story lies elsewhere. True, even IT services employees work for long and odd hours, but these are interspersed with smoke breaks, coffee breaks or plain chatting with colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not the case in call centers, where sometimes agents do not even get toilet breaks. Sounds draconian? But that is the business driven reality for the Indian call center industry. Absolute freshers get a little respite, since the first few months on the job involves a lot of training time. Like on several other factors, eFunds is in the least affected category, either they are close to devising a mechanism to take care of the most common stresses, or the attrition rate is so high that most of these factors are not accounted for.

Least Affected
eFunds

8.6

iSeva 12.1
Motif 20.6
Most Affected
Transworks 50
HCL BPO 41.7
EXL Services 40

Stress: Repetitive Nature of Work
No surprises here-it is a commonly accepted fact that the monotony of the same kind of work in call centers can indeed be very stressful. 37.1% of the respondents re-iterate the same in the survey. The male freshers seem to the group particularly affected. Again, solutions are not readily available, though measures like hiring retired personnel or housewives might be of some succor, since these groups with more experience tend to get frustrated the least. Some others have also devised innovative measures, like periodic job rotation, though not much can be expected out of these in a pure call center environment. That explains why, even in eFunds, the company least affected with this affliction, more than 14% complained about the stress caused by the repetitive nature of the job. It is a bit surprising to see Motif'son the most affected list, especially given that it is located in a smaller town like Ahmedabad. Received wisdom, that small town employees in places with limited scope do not easily get tired even of repetitive jobs, stands questioned.

Least Affected
eFunds 14.3
Ajuba 19.4
HTMT 21.2
Most Affected
HCL BPO 52.8
Motif 41.1
EXL Services 40

Stress: Insufficient Holidays
While this was not amongst the top 10 causes of stress in last year's survey, this year more than 36% of the respondents complained about it. Not too surprising, considering that most of these employees have to work on all Indian calendar holidays. True, they enjoy holidays like July 4th and Thanksgiving, but that is scant solace for working 12-14 hour shifts even during the festive seasons. Of all the companies surveyed, only eFunds seems to have escaped the brunt of this problem. To add to the woes, many companies dangle the bait of additional incentives for working on holidays-it is initially attractive to the freshers, but as the attraction weans, more heartburn happens.

Least Affected
eFunds 2.9
HTMT 15.1
Ajuba 16.7
Most Affected
Transworks 52.8
HCL BPO 50
24/7 Customer 37.9

Stress: Pressure to Perform on Metrics
This is particularly galling for the first timers-working in an environment where every single action needs to conform to a performance measuring metrics. This looks unlikely to go away soon, since most call centers are keen on different standards certifications. It's no fad, but, instead, an absolute business necessity for most companies to follow these quantifiable business metrics to attract customers. However, not many are keen to look at the effect this has on their employees. More than 36% point to it as one of their major grouses-the only silver lining here is that, with experience, the stress level goes down, and more importantly, working on such quantifiable performance parameters helps these people later in their careers. Companies like Sykes and Transworks, which have been going for a number of certifications this year, seem to be the most affected.

Least Affected
eFunds 5.7
Ajuba 11.1
iSeva 15.1
Most Affected
Sykes 57.6
Transworks 50
HCL BPO 50

Stress: Health Issues
Last year, when 23% pointed to health hazards as a cause of stress, we compared the call center industry with coal miners. This time the number has gone up to 34.5%-maybe it's time to classify call centers as an extremely hazardous job. We have also detailed the call center related ailments separately. Not surprisingly, people in senior managerial positions with five plus years of experience are less affected with these illnesses. That's perhaps because they maintain a more regular work schedule and timing. Companies like 24/7 and ICICI OneSource, which have grown spectacularly in a short frame of time last year, seem to be most seriously affected.

Least Affected
eFunds 8.6
EXL Services 15.6
Daksh 15.8
Most Affected
24/7 41.4
ICICI OneSource 39
HCL BPO 33.3

Stress: Travel Time
Most call centers are located on the outskirts of cities, and therefore most employees spend a long time traveling to and from their offices. Again, this is unique to the Indian industry and cannot be easily wished away. Most Indian call centers require large manpower influxes in order to scale up and grow, and to support such huge workforces, they need lots of real estate. And exorbitant land prices inside cities necessitate their movement to the outskirts. Therefore, it is not surprising that companies like Motif, located in a smaller city like Ahmedabad, are least affected by this factor.

Least Affected
eFunds 8.6
EXL Services 15.6
Daksh 15.8
Most Affected
24/7 Customer 41.4
ICICI OneSource 39
HCL BPO 33.3

Stress: Call Volume/Number of Calls
While the overall workload is quite high, call volume in itself is proving to be a major cause for stress, afflicting 26.8% of our respondents. In most call centers, there is hardly any respite between two calls-not only is this disconcerting, but in the case of one abusive call immediately following another, it can be psychologically disturbing too. In addition, most agents accept these calls under an assumed identity: constantly maintaining a false image amidst an influx of calls afflicts all agents – both experienced ones as well as first timers.

Least Affected
Motif 5.9
HTMT 9.1
Ajuba 11.1
Most Affected
Sykes 54.5
ICICI OneSource 41.5
eFunds 40

Stress: Overtime
Though most companies encourage overtime with incentives, for most of the respondents (25%), this is one stress they inflict upon themselves. Especially the first timers, who, with the goal of making more money, willingly do overtimes, but once they are into it, the stress factor starts showing up. Overtime, in concert with long working hours and travel time, is turning out to be a potent combination, causing call center-related stresses. Not surprisingly, companies like eFunds, which have high capacity utilization, seem to be not at all affected by the overtime issue, according to our survey.

Least Affected
eFunds 0
NIIT SmartServe 6.1
iSeva 9.1
Most Affected
Transworks 47.2
HCL BPO 27.8
EXL Services 26.7
Work-related Ailments Industry Data on Call Center Ailments
Percentage employees who named these as the most important reasons for work-related ailments they suffered from. Multi-coded responses so total will be greater than 100%

Sleeping Disorders
No prizes for guessing the most severe ailment afflicting people working in Indian call centers. Since this is a unique Indian problem, again, no solution appears in sight. Obviously this affects first timers more severely, as they take time to acclimatize their biological clocks, but even experienced people or managers are not able to completely escape from it. Some call centers are looking at devising innovative mechanisms like flexible shifts with sleeping arrangements in the office premises as possible solutions.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 69
Transworks 63.9
HTMT 54.6

Digestive System Related Disorders
Working long and odd hours without any sleep, and eating food supplied by external caterers everyday, has led to 41.9% of the respondents suffering from digestive problems. Especially for the large number of girls working in the industry, the problem is even more severe. sMany call centers are now taking additional care to ensure their caterers supply hygienic food, besides stipulating strict conditions to maintain the quality of the food they serve.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 69
Transworks 50
NIIT SmartServe 27.3

Depression
In last year's survey, this was not among the top disorders, but this year it has climbed up the chart, affecting nearly one-fourth of the respondents. Not surprising, since, as the industry matures, the initial glitz and glamour wears away and the real problems come to the fore. Not only are there several health related issues, but, on top of that, the gradual realization that there is limited scope in developing a career owing to fewer growth opportunities is increasing the frustration levels. Coupled with growing mental fatigue and increasingly punishing physical environments, depression is the obvious end result. Some call centers have now devised different stress management programs mainly to counter depression.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 37.9
Transworks 30.6
Sykes 30.3

Severe Stomach Related Problems
Continuing digestive problems lead to severe stomach disorders like gastroenteritis, as endorsed by more than 24% of the respondents. Even doctors in major cities agree-in recent times many of the patients with various stomach ailments are from call centers.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 37.9
Transworks 30.6
Sykes 30.3

Eyesight Problems
Globally call center industry employees are considered a high-risk group for eye-related problems. While the quality of monitors might impact these disorders, sitting continually without adequate breaks seems to be the truer reason. The number of people affected seems to be on the rise-last year only 19% complained; this year it has gone up to 23%. At some point of time, this problem might also afflict the IT services industry, but for the call center industry, no remedy seems to be in sight.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 27.6
HTMT 27.3
Transworks 25

Ear Problems
More than 16% of the respondents inform that they have hearing problems. Again, no surprises here, since a call center job involves taking calls throughout the shift, sitting with headphones. While quality of headphones does make a difference, it would not be correct to completely wish the problem away by thinking that changing headphones will solve it.

Most Affected
24/7 Customer 34.5
HCL BPO 19.4
NIIT SmartServe 15.1

Rajneesh De

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