One's work environment plays an integral role in their mental health and a recent study has shown that this is especially true for those working in call centers. While call centers exist all over the globe, the call center industry is exceptionally thriving in India, the country most commonly known for its strong business process outsourcing workforce. Many companies around the world outsource labor such as payment services, customer services, and administrative duties to other countries in hopes of allocating its own resources to more specialized tasks and projects. But due to the time differences, most call center work done in India is done at night.
Working at night, also commonly referred to as “working the graveyard shift," is common practice in call centers and has helped isolate call center employees from typical 9-to-5 people. Jeyapal Dinesh Raja and Sanjiv Kumar Bhasin acknowledge the rapid development of call center culture and document their observations and analyses of this new work lifestyle in a study published in the July to September 2014 volume of Indian Journal of Community Medicine. Raja and Bhasin's observations reveal that this segregated group of workers experience high levels of stress and anxiety due to their work environment.
Call Centers and Its Negative Impact on Occupational Health
Raja and Bhasin describe the general lifestyle of a call center employee as a sort of identity crisis: Indian by day, Westerner by night. This is because most outsourced labor comes from English-speaking countries such as the U.S., Raja and Bhasin speculate that “the burden of work along with dual identity creates severe personal dilemmas" and has the potential of resulting in elevated anxiety and related disorders.
Generally, call center workers must deal with hostile customers while reading scripted conversations over the phone. The customer has expectations to get their issues resolved, the company has the expectation to maximize efficiency with faster calls, and the employee is expected to meet both. These pressures build up and create a high-stress environment in call centers.
Necessary to the job is one's ability to suppress emotion. When working customer service, employees cannot express any sort of frustration, resentment, or anger. Bottling up emotions at work becomes habitual and can carry over into one's leisure life. “If not given a healthy expressive outlet, this emotional repression can profoundly affect a person psychologically," warn Raja and Bhasin.
Stress from Work Affects You 24/7
Call center employees are a unique social class of their own with their graveyard shifts, young employee base, English speakers, and westernized lifestyle, paired with high incomes and holidays. Raja and Bhasin categorized lifestyle into sleep quality, food habits and addictions, social life, and physical and mental health. The following observations were made about the call center work lifestyle:
- Sleep Quality: Most employees accumulate high sleep debt because of disturbances in their circadian rhythm and inability to sleep during the day.
- Food Habits and Addictions: Poor eating habits, skipping meals, multiple substance addiction problems, overeating, excessive coffee drinking, and risky sexual behavior are common among workers. Smoking is a common “quick-fix" for stress.
- Social Life: Employees felt socially alienated from family a friends due to their nocturnal lifestyle.
- Physical and Mental Health: Other studies show that 58.3% of call center workers were significantly more stressed (58.3% vs. 19.3%), depressed (62.9% vs. 4.6%), and anxious (33.9% vs. 1.4%).
These observations show the need for de-stressing facilities such as break rooms, games, yoga, libraries, and even counseling offices. Raja and Bhasid urge call center employers to periodically screen their employees for psychological disorders due to the high-stress nature of the job. “The importance of having a stress-free and healthy lifestyle should be stressed upon through regular information, education, and communication activities," echo Raja and Bhasid.
Date of original publication: August 30, 2014.
Updated on October 23, 2015.
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Raja, Jeyapal Dinesh, and Sanjiv Kumar Bhasin. Health issues amongst call center employees, an emerging occupational group in India. Indian journal of community medicine: official publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine 39, no. 3, July-September 2014; DOI: 10.4103/0970-0218.137156