how working in call centers impact on the health of employees

23 Mar 2015

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Answer Š Call center industry has shown a tremendous rise in the UK from the last decade . It has experienced huge growth during the last five years with 640,000 individuals employed in the industry of call centre (Data monitor, 2010). More needs to b added These rapid growths in the call center industries are due to the advancement in the telephone and computer technologies.

Though there is no agreed and exact definition of call center but following definitions can be adopted for call centers and call handlers:

Call Center "a work environment in which the main business is conducted through telephone while simultaneously using display screen equipment (DSE). The term call center also includes parts of companies dedicated to this activity such as internal helpline as well as whole companies."

Call Handler "an employee whose job requires them to spend a significant proportion of their working time responding to calls on the telephone while simultaneously using DSE."

Call handlers are required to spend significant time of their job responding to the calls of the customers on the telephone at the same time using DSE. Many negative comments are being passed by the media to call cemter jobs as they are being referred to as 'electronic sweatshops'. Call handlers are often termed as 'battery hens' because the stressful working conditions and psychological and physical job stress they experience (Garson in 1988, Fernie & Metcalf in 1998, and Taylor & Bain,1999).

Call center jobs are considered heavily routinized and monotonous. Batt and Moynihan in 2002 states that "production line call centers proliferate" because of the low quality of the nature of job.

Physical health problems are the outcome of long working hours, high targets and night shifts that are unable to adjust with the biological clock that has emerged as a major health issue (Appl Ergon, 2009). In a cross sectional study of 1023 line operators in Taiwas at telecommunication call center physical discomfort was assessed. This physical discomfort includes spinal problem and pressure sores which are also common among the employees of call center because of staying in the same chair for long period. This can be overcome by providing relaxation breaks for a relevant period of time, using good ergonomic chairs that are adjustable and comfortable and maintaining good sitting posture. Musculoskeletal pain is the most common contributor of the physical well being of the employees in the call centers (Hales T.R, Sauter S.L, Peterson M.R, 2006). This pain is usually felt in the four main body parts namely neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist which occurs due to the excessive use key boards or in other words we can say due to high computing environment along with long static muscle load. Many employees in the call center have often complained about the visual problems or visual fatigue due to their work in front of computer screen for major period of time on job (Buckle PW, Devereu J.J, 2002). This can prevented by positioning the monitor at correct distance from the eyes, ensuring proper breaks away from the computer screen will relax the eye muscles and eye-testing is recommended from time to time.

Auditory problems also are common among the employees of the call centers as they answer various inbound and outbound calls, the crackling distortion leads to noise interference which has adverse effect on the hearing of the employees (Garbarino, 2002). Use of handset for long time may cause damage to the tinnitus in ear. It can be prevented by controlling the volume to prevent from acoustic shock to employees, by adjusting the microphones properly and maintaining hygienic environment by cleaning the handset to prevent infection.

Psychological risk factors

Call centers have often been exampled as a stressful work environment by media. Call centers are often being considered as low-quality job because of limited task time and highly monotonous routine as call handlers expected to speak the same sentence which is also known as scripting (Callaghan & Thompson, 2001). Moreover call handlers have least control over the call they attend and have no control over time they require to spend on each call and no power to select the call they can attend as calls are routed to them through ACD systems (Automatic Call Distributor). They are often allotted a specific limited time which they have to spend on each call and they are not expected to extent that time limit (Holman, 2002). A research has shown clear association between the characteristics of the work design and the effectiveness of the employees towards their job that is link between the mental health of the employees and their work performance (Parker and Wall, 1998 & Parker and War, 2002). Results from various studies have shown that employees who experience low task variety with low job control often report greater stress, on the contrary the employees reported more job satisfaction those who have high task variety along with more job control (Terry and Jimmeson, 2003).

A study by Barbara Charbotel in 1995 asses the result of conditions in which the employees work in call center on the health of the employees by identifying the risk of the working conditions.

Employees also experience poor mental health because of the vague job role. As the outcome of the poor role characteristic they have high role conflict which further leads to low role clarity which means they are not sure of what actually is expected from them (Deery, Iverson & Walsh, 2002). Call handlers also come across the customers who insult or bully them or at times use abusive language which adversely affect their self-esteem. Call handlers often experience low self-esteem than the officials working there as call handlers are the one who have to interact with customers and look after their complaints and demands. At the same time call handlers have to control their aggression which might further result in poor mental health.

Along with these problems long working hours too can lead to stressful working environment and elongated working period can lead to poor concentration . Night shifts can further add to the devastating health problem as it often leads to distress and sleeplessness (Givoanni Costa ,1999). Call handlers can also experience Techno- stress which is a modern disease caused by the inability to cope with the modern technology or new computer technology in a healthy way (Zirwatul 2007).

Thus to overcome this problem it is important for the organization to redesign the working style and the nature of the call center so that employees or the call handlers should experience less stress, have low role conflict and more job control along with task variety in such a way that it enhances the performance of the employees and leads to healthy mental well-being of the employees. Work design undertakes various job characteristics. Five Core Job Characteristics were identified by Hackman & Oldham in 1975, 1976 and 1980 that are related to the satisfactory and motivational factors in employees namely skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback from job. The first three characteristics bring meaningfulness to work. Autonomy leads to responsibility for work and feedback reveals the results of the performance. The main outcomes of these core characteristics are job satisfaction, internal motivation, high performance and fewer turnovers (Parker, 1998).

Parker, (1998) demonstrated that work redesign was important as "both a stress preventive strategy and as a way to facilitate organizational effectiveness." Short intervals are necessary in order to prevent various musculoskeletal pains.


Sprig, A ; "Psychosocial factors in call centers: An evaluation of work design and

Well-being, Sheffield

Lewig, K.A. "emotional dissonance, emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction in call Center workers, Australia.

Zapf, Dieter, Goethe, J.W, "What is typical for call centre jobs? Job characteristics, and service interactions in different call centers.



Researchers often have divide up the individual's different functional domain in order to examine the impact of stressors on individual. The similar approach was for 'home' and 'work' stressors where these were considered two distinct psychological domains (Blood & Wolfe, 1960; Dubin, 1973). The segmentation model (1950's/1960's) states that work and the family life are two different and independent domains which have no reciprocal effect. But the 'myth of separate worlds' of both work and family has often been revealed (Kanter, 1997) and thus segmentation model is not generally incredited now.

Thus in order to explain the relationship between the work life and home life three popular models are the spillover model, resource-drain model and the compensation model. The spillover model suggests that there will exist no firm outlines between the home and work line and that there will be positive relation between work and non-work experience (Young & Wilmott, 1973; Piotrokowski, 1978). The resource drain model suggests that using the finite resources like energy and time in one sphere may reduce its availability in the other sphere (Frone, 2003). The compensation model suggests that there will exist a negative relationship between work life and home life ( Wilensky,1960; Rousseau,1978).

Role conflict can be defined as, " simultaneous existence of two or more role expectations such that compliance of demands in one domain would make compliance of demand in other domain incompatible" (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Therefore the work-life conflict can be defined as "a form of inter-role conflict where work and life demands are mutually incompatible such that fulfilling demands in one sphere would make difficult to meet the demands in the other domain" (Edward & Rothard, 2002). Greenhaus and Beutell in 1985 suggested three conflict forms . The 'time-based' where the finite resource like time spent in meeting the demands of the one domain makes it difficult to spent the appropriate time in the other domain. The 'strain-based' where the strain or stress experienced in the one domain overlaps the other. The 'behaviour-based' this conflict arises when behavior in one domain is not compatible with the one required in the other domain. This bi-directional conflict has tremendously increased where the individuals find it difficult to balance their roles of employee, partner, parent etc properly. The reasons that has lead to these work-life conflicts are role-overload where time and energy demand associated with multiple roles is too high to perform the role adequately (Barnett, 1998), work to family interference exist when the work load is too high that it makes difficult to fulfill the demands of home life (Frone & Rice, 1987), family to work interference leads to imbalance when the responsibilities of the family exceed the demands at work (Frone & Rice, 1987) and caregivers strain which can explained as burden in the life of the caregivers exceeding the demands of the other responsibilities (Robinson,1983 & Lee ,1997).

This work-life conflict not only leads to stressful life but may cause various physical and psychological problems to the employees with in turn can affect the productivity of the organization.


Unemployed people are at greater risk of relationship breakdown than those who are employed (Blekesaune, 2008) where gender plays no role. Unemployment has more adverse effect on the relationship of the employee with the spouse than the economic factors as they might believe that individual who cannot do good in job will also have difficulty in carrying out the relationship effectively (Blekesaune, 2008). Job-loss threat can even lead to relationship break-up or can result in relationship strain as an outcome of emotional distress. It can also be vice-versa.

Effect of work-life conflict on health of employees

Work- life conflict often leads to the stress in life which further has many negative consequences that have direct impact on the health and the well being of the employee which in turn affects the organization. Work-life imbalance leads to increased stress which in turm might drastically change the blood glucose level that can be dangerous for the diabetic employees. Stress as an outcome of work-life conflict can also pump up the cholesterol and blood pressure level (Rystedt & Johansson ,1998). Employees may opt for unhealthy eating habits like binge eating, drinking or smoking as a coping mechanism to stress because of work-life imbalance (Frone et al, 1997; Steptoe et al, 1998). Depressed Mood is a psychological or subjective feeling characterized by persistent feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and of low energy (Duxbury and Higgins, 1998). In a research results suggest r that women working in clerical and administrative positions report 45% high levels of depressed mood and 34% of men worked in a blue collor job reported high depressed mood and male employees working in public sector reported 32% high level of depressed mood than men working in groups (Frone,Russell and Cooper,1992,1997 and Tangri,2003). Stressors related to work-life conflict has a range of negative consequences like negative mood, anxiety and depression (Doby & Caplan, 1995; Leiter & Durup, 1996) & ill-health and fatigue (Chan & Margolin, 1994; Rystedt & Johansson, 1998).

Considerably less attention has been given to the features of the non-work domain that are likely to impact on the individual in his or her working environment. Although marriage is generally considered to be a protective factor for men, early research tended to focus on the potential negative effects of marriage and children on women's job experiences and the difficulties they experience in combining work with family life. Research has focused on:

• Characteristics of the family, for example: marital status, marital adjustment, presence, number and ages of children, child and elder care responsibilities

• Characteristics of the spouse or partner, for example: attitudes towards partners' work, and the extent to which availability and quality of emotional and practical support influence job-related outcomes (such as work performance or salary level) and experience of strain (such as role overload or job tension).


Anxiety-work-life stress caused

Lack of energy and optimism

Serious backaches


Sleep disorder and fatigue

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