INTRODUCTION ON STRESS
Today’s age is called “The Age of Anxiety” and this century is called “The Century of Stress”. Today vast majorities of people are in a state of Stress. Their fast-paced lifestyle demands that they are raring to go always and are always under pressure to perform. This pressure usually leads to Stress. Stress can be due to various reasons. And Stress in many cases causes Tension, Depression, Anxiety, etc. A lot of research has been conducted into ‘stress’ over the last hundred years. Some theories about it are now settled and accepted; others are still being researched and debated. Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers of research on stress. He stated in 1956 that “Stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how we take it.” The stress of exhilarating, creative successful that of failure, humiliation or infection is detrimental. Since then, a great deal of further research has been conducted on the subject, and new ideas have come to light. Stress is now viewed as a "bad thing", with a range of harmful biochemical and longterm effects. These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations. Stress is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In short, it is what we feel when we think we have lost control over events. There are very many proven skills that we can use to manage stress. These help us to remain calm and effective in highpressure situations, and help us avoid the problems of long term stress. Stress is something that occurs all the time and affects everyone one way or another at least some of the time. Stress can be a good thing. It can be a source of motivation to help get something done or help one to react quickly to a potentially dangerous situation.
HISTORY OF STRESS
Since the origin of the term 'stress' it is ambiguous 'stress' began life as a variant on 'distress' in the 14th century. It meant the experience of physical hardship, starvation, torture, and pain. These days, however, the term revolves around the medieval definition, in which 'stress' simply meant 'hardship'. The recent scientific developments inform us that 'stress' is actually good for us. Stress is derived from the Latin word stranger, meaning to draw tight, and was used in the 17th century to describe hardships or affliction. During the late 18th century stress denoted "force, pressure, strain or strong effort," referring primarily to an individual or to an individual's organs or mental powers (Hinkle, 1973). As has already been noted, stress has been defined as a stimulus, a response, or the result of an interaction between the two, with the interaction described in terms of some imbalance between the person developed, particularly that surrounding the personenvironment (P-E) interaction, researches have considered the nature of that interaction and, more importantly, the psychological processes which it takes place (Dewey, 1992). Stress is a physiological and psychological imbalance. It arises due to the demands on a person and that person’s inability to meet these demands. Stress is the body’s way of reacting to any situation and it can have serious repercussions on an individual’s life. Yet, people fail to realize the importance of stress management in their lives. Effective managers can stay in control of life, without panicking even under stressful situations. They handle stress by planning work, taking regular breaks, and rejuvenating them.
STRESS! What is it???
“STRESS IS THE DEMAND MADE UPON THE ADAPTIVE CAPACITY OF MIND AND BODY” --- DAVID FONTANA. It isn’t easy to find a generally acceptable definition of stress. The word with different people takes different meanings … be it professionals, psychologists, doctors, engineers, management consultants, all use the word in their own distinctive ways. Management consultants talk in terms of organizational challenges, psychologists in terms of human behaviour and doctors in terms of psychological mechanisms. The word ‘stress’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy". A condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual. In medical parlance 'stress' is defined as a perturbation of the body’s homeostasis. At one end of a scale, stress represents those challenges that excite us and keep us on our toes whereas on the other end, stress represents those conditions under which individuals have demands made upon them that they cannot physically and psychologically meet. Hence, at one end, stress is a life- saver and the other it is a lifedestroyer.
TO DEFINE STRESS…
It is a demand made upon the adaptive capacities of mind and body. This definition is useful in three ways… Firstly, it makes clear not only that stress can be both, good or bad, but also that since there is wide range of things that can make demand over the mind and the body, there is wide range of things that can cause stress. Secondly, it infers the point that it isn’t the events that determine that we are stressed or not, but it is our reactions to them.
And thirdly, as the definition says… that stress is a demand made upon the body’s capacities, its nature and the extent of these capacities determine our response to the demand. If our capacities are good enough we will respond well. If they aren’t… we give away.
Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we read just our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.
Stress is a fact of life. But too much stress can break down a person's physical, mental, and emotional health. Planning can help people to manage stress in their lives. They must begin to make choices that support their values and develop a personal plan to take charge of their lives.
TYPES OF STRESS - SOME GOOD, SOME BAD
Did you know that some types of stress can be good for you? That's right! Some forms of stress can be good for you, but other types of stress disorders can cause major health problems and even be life threatening. There are four main types of stress that people experience.
Eustress is a type of short-term stress that provides immediate strength. Eustress arises at points of increased physical activity, enthusiasm, and creativity. Eustress is a positive stress that arises when motivation and inspiration are needed. A gymnast experiences eustress before a competition.
Distress is a negative stress brought about by constant readjustments or alterations in a routine. Distress creates feelings of discomfort and unfamiliarity. There are two types of distress.
1. Acute stress is an intense stress that arrives and disappears quickly. Acute stress is
the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. Because it is short term, acute stress doesn't have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress. Acute stress can crop up in anyone's life, and it is highly treatable and manageable.
Chronic stress is a prolonged stress that exists for weeks, months, or even years. Someone who is constantly relocating or changing jobs may experience distress. While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress
that wears people away day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. It's the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it's there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable.
Hyper stress occurs when an individual is pushed beyond what he or she can handle. Hyper stress results from being overloaded or overworked. When someone is hyper stressed, even little things can trigger a strong emotional response. A Wall Street trader is likely to experience hyper stress.
Hypo stress is the opposite of hyper stress. Hypo stress occurs when an individual is bored or unchallenged. People who experience hypo stress are often restless and uninspired. A factory worker who performs repetitive tasks might experience hypo stress.
SIX MYTHS ABOUT STRESS
Six myths surround stress. Dispelling them enables us to understand our problems and then take action against them. Let's look at these myths.
Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody. Completely wrong. Stress is different for each of us. What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another; each of us responds to stress in an entirely different way.
Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you. According to this view, zero stress makes us happy and health. Wrong. Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life. The issue, really, is how to manage it. Managed stress makes us productive and happy; mismanaged stress hurts and even kills us.
Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can't do anything about it. Not so. You can plan your life so that stress does not overwhelm you. Effective planning involves setting priorities and working on simple problems first, solving them, and then going on to more complex difficulties. When stress is mismanaged, it's difficult to prioritize. All your problems seem to be equal and stress seems to be everywhere.
Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones.
Again, not so. No universally effective stress reduction techniques exist. We are all different, our lives are different, our situations are different, and our reactions are different. Only a comprehensive program tailored to the individual works.
Myth 5: No symptoms, no stress. Absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of stress. In fact, camouflaging symptoms with medication may deprive you of the signals you need for reducing the strain on your physiological and psychological systems.
Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention. This myth assumes that the "minor" symptoms, such as headaches or stomach acid, may be safely ignored. Minor symptoms of stress are the early warnings that your life is getting out of hand and that you need to do a better job of managing stress.
STRESS AND GENDER
Does stress tend to affect the male of the species more than the female? Opinions vary, since there are differentiating factors between the sexes. All parameters being equal, however, the preponderant view is that women are more adept at handling stress, thanks to better coping mechanisms.
EFFECTS OF STRESS The human body’s reaction to stress is natural. It results from the need to resist a stressful situation. For example, when a person is nervous, there is an increase in his/her pulse rate. This is a ‘fight or flight’ response. However, things can go out of control if too much stress is present. The person can have a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Too
much of stress can tell upon a person’s health. If neglected, it can lead to serious health disorders at a later stage. Stress has both physical and psychological effects on an individual. (Refer Exhibit 1 to find out the effects of stress on an individual.)
Effects of Stress on an Individual Physical Effects :
Increased heart rate and blood pressure Sudden increase or decrease in weight (change in appetite) Frequent headaches, fatigue, and respiratory Problems Nervous weakness ( biting nails, too much sweating) Insomnia Reduced immunity to common colds and flu Ulcers and weak digestive system
Psychological Affects :
Difficulty in concentrating Unable to spend leisure time productively Always anxious Bad decision making Mood swings
Increased usage of food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs Developing fears and phobias Feeling out of control and confused
STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH STRESS
After understanding the sources of stress and the effects of stress on individuals, let us discuss some strategies to fight stress.
Strategies to Fight Stress
Some of the important strategies for managers to fight stress are prioritizing and delegating work, laughing a lot, exercising regularly, practicing relaxation techniques, maintaining a good balanced diet, and having a good night’s sleep.
Multi-tasking is the buzzword these days. An individual requires special skills to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. One way to minimize stress while multi-tasking is to plan, prioritize, and perform. Planning involves preparing a list of activities that need to be performed. This involves considering the time factor. Prioritizing involves ranking the activities based on their importance and performing these activities in that order. Prioritizing activities each day is the simplest way to tackle stress. The next step is to schedule time for tasks depending on the priorities. For instance, a person may have to attend a community meeting and an official party. He/she may schedule time for both activities by attending the official party first and then the community meeting.
Some individuals prefer doing all the work themselves. This adds to their stress. They should learn to delegate routine work to others. For instance, a manager can delegate the work of preparing a report on a project to a subordinate.
Laughter is a good de-stressor. An individual can relax and de-stress by watching a humorous movie, reading comics, etc. A sense of humor allows an individual to perceive and appreciate the imbalances of life and provides moments of delight. ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted for life’. This is very true. Laughter is the best outlet for stress. It is a great stress buster. Laughter is a no cost, no side effect medicine. A person with a sense of humor is less likely to be under stress. A sense of humor allows an individual to perceive and appreciate the imbalances of life and provides moments of delight.
Exercise is another good stress-buster. It keeps an individual physically and mentally alert. When a person is nervous, tense, or angry, exercise is the best outlet for giving vents to his/her emotions. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, lowers pulse rate, boosts blood circulation in the body, increases artery suppleness, lowers cholesterol, and reduces fatigue and tension. These benefits help an individual to tackle the physiological changes that occur during stress. Exercise should increase blood circulation to the heart.
The best strategy to reduce stress is to relax. Relaxation is not being idle. It is doing what one wants to do, rather than what one should do. It is very important for a person to
schedule some time for relaxation. This relaxation time should disconnect the person from all his/her tensions, worries. This is the time when the person rebuilds his/her energy levels. Relaxation techniques vary from person to person.
A good balanced diet plays a vital role in reducing stress. A person tends to neglect diet when under stress. This may lead to overeating or under-eating. This improper eating results in a weak immune system and creates health problems. A well-balanced meal that is eaten on time is very important to minimize stress.
Sleep is a weapon. During sleep, a person prepares himself/herself to face another day. Stress makes a person sleepless or very sleepy. A stressed person may feel sleepy throughout the day and awake during nights. On an average, everyone needs at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day. Some may need more sleep or some less. After a good night’s sleep, a person feels fresh. An individual must adopt a bedtime routine that induces sleep like reading a book that is soothing, and listening to music that is relaxing. One must go to bed at the same time every day.
Meditation is one of the most effective techniques in reducing and avoiding stress. Regular meditation helps in stress reduction. It • • enables one to control the thought process enables one to take effective decisions
helps in physical and mental relaxation Improves concentration
Meditation is a technique to achieve a thoughtless or mindless state. In this state, a person has no thoughts. This kind of state thus acts a stress reliever and a great rejuvenator.
Yoga is another important stress reliever. Yoga has been tried and tested since ancient times. According to Patanjali Maharishi, yoga is the cessation of mind. It is a state of nomind. Yoga is not for bodybuilding. It simply focuses on gentle postures that improve circulation of blood to vital parts of the body. The increase in blood circulation rejuvenates the organs and releases stress.
Maintaining work-life balance
Work-life balance means a harmonious balance of work and domestic life. It allows an employee to fulfill all the roles in his/her life effectively and efficiently. Researches have proved that employees are at their best when they are contented and motivated both at work and at home. Achieving a work-life balance is not as easy as it seems. In the corporate world, change is constant and imminent. The impact of globalization has further fuelled these changes. The corporate world signifies uncertainties, too many responsibilities, and long work hours. These changes in the environment disturb the balance between domestic and work-life of employees. The increasing competition and demands of society further aggravate the situation. All this adds up to stress.
Importance of Work-life balance
The corporate world is realizing the importance of the work-life balance. Companies are realizing the fact that the work-life balance of employees has a direct effect on the productivity of their organizations. Exhibit 5 explains the various practices that companies follow to maintain work-life balance.
The importance of work-life balance is due to the following reasons:
Changing social scene: In today’s world, maintaining work-life balance is the greatest challenge employees’ face. Employees have realized that their personal lives have an effect on their work life. Hence, they are striving hard to maintain the balance.
Changing work culture: There is a shift in the organizational work culture. Today’s work culture provides flexible work hours, focus on results, and recognition of achievements. However, this has made the workplace even more competitive as employees are expected to always give their best, and this leads to stress.
Increased work time: With globalization, organizations are working 365 days, 24 hours, and 7 days a week irrespective of time zones. Businesses are focusing more and more on customer care. With the coming of call centers, this focus has doubled. The technology has added to the speed of work but the workload remains the same.
Dual income families: The shift in attitudes, work styles, and cultures has disturbed the work-life balance. Working mothers have major responsibilities of managing both home and work place. This makes it all the more important for them to balance work and life. Organizations are helping women by providing facilities like work from home, day care etc.
Benefits of Work-life Balance
Achieving a work-life balance benefits both employers and employees. While the employers get the benefit of productive and active employees, the employees feel secure and loyal. It also improves confidence, concentration, self-esteem, and loyalty among the employees. The concept of work-life balance is still fresh in India. Indian IT companies are probably the first ones to provide a fun-work environment. Some companies are now investing in recreational facilities at the worksite.
Steps to achieve work-life balance: To build up an awareness of the importance of work-life balance in employees, companies should conduct regular workshops and programs on work-life balance.
The following measures have to be taken by employers: • • Discourage employees from working late Take a regular employee satisfaction survey that can identify the pitfalls in the work pattern • • Provide vacations and encourage employees to take breaks Provide opportunities like work from home, flexi times
Every one wants stress-free life. Yet, stress is ubiquitous. Of course, it cannot be controlled by more nutrients as the real cause of stress is anxiety or pressure which may ultimately lead to the neglect or proper dietary habits. Stress refers to the “circumstances that threaten one’s well being and thereby tax one’s coping abilities”. Stress is inevitable part of modern life. Like Janus, stress has two faces. It is a good servant, but a bad master. In other words, it can be one’s best friend or worst enemy. A certain amount of stress is necessary to achieve success. But, undue stress causes distress. Stress is received by different people differently. If two people experience the same amount or pressure, one may be healthy while the other is sick. This is so because our personalities do influence the level of stress. The present day’s lifestyle breeds stress and tension. When tension lasts long, depression sets in. According to Dr. Raw Baum, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian bioenergetics analyst and stress educator, “Stress is our body’s bio-chemical reaction to how we live our lives. Stress can develop into distress and disease through your personal adaptations to internal and external environments.” Stress is the body’s reaction to the external demands placed upon it by the environment. Stress can be either good or bad. Good stress creates the necessary excitement to perform an activity. This type of stress is temporary and has no long-term effects on the body. Bad stress creates an alarming reaction in the body. It affects the body’s immune system and has detrimental affects on the body over a period.
There are many sources of stress for an individual. It can be family, friends, workplace, superiors, and colleagues. The sources of stress for an individual should be identified. The effects of stress may include minor symptoms like headache, irritability, loss of concentration, loss of appetite to major symptoms like insomnia, amnesia, heart attack, ulcers etc. Stress should be identified and treated in the early stages or it could result in a burnout. A severe case or neglected case of stress leads to burnout. Exercise, diet, and rest play a vital role in stress handling. A healthy person is better at handling stressful situations than an unhealthy person. A working person should learn to balance work and personal life to lead a happy life. This work- life balance can be achieved by giving importance to both work and personal life. Organizations should help their employees achieve work-life balance, as this has an effect on the productivity of the organizations. Spirituality at the workplace has become a necessity in today’s world. The practice of spirituality at the workplace enables an individual to deal with stressful situations. It provides an individual with the strength to face unforeseen situations without panic. Spirituality helps a manager to deal with stress internally instead of looking for external solutions.
Managers should: • Identify sources of stress and their effects on you.
• Adopt a de-stressing routine like going for a solitary walk at the end of the day. • • • • • • Spend time with family, friends. Make time for vacations. Practice relaxation methods like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. Sleep for at least 6-8 hours. Plan, prioritize, and delegate work. Try to maintain a work-life balance.
Managers should not:
Ignore symptoms like frequent headaches, coughs, and colds.
• Take on too may responsibilities or demands that are outside your capabilities. • • • • Use drugs, tobacco, alcohol to handle stress. Use self-medication. Wait for deadlines to approach. Set unrealistic goals.
STRESS AT WORKPLACE
“Job stress is a consequence of two key ingredients: a high level of job demands and little control over one’s work.” -PAUL FROILAND.
In this difficult economy, you may find it harder than ever to cope with challenges on the job. Both the stress we take with us when we go to work and the stress that awaits us on the job are on the rise – and employers, managers, and workers all feel the added pressure.
While some stress is a normal part of life, excessive stress interferes with your productivity and reduces your physical and emotional health, so it’s important to find ways to keep it under control. Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to manage and reduce stress at work.
Call center is a generalized term that embraces a number of activities like reservation centers, help desks, information lines or customer service centers, irrespective of how they are organized or what types of transactions they handle. Call center is generally referred to a refined voice operations setting that provides a full range of high-volume, inbound or outbound call-handling services, including customer support, operator services, directory assistance, multilingual customer support, credit services, card services, inbound and outbound telemarketing, interactive voice response and web-based services.
Call centers are becoming increasingly popular in today's business, where many companies have centralized customer service and support functions. Call centers are generally large offices with representatives who either make or receive phone calls. Depending on the type of work, call centers may have a single office employing a few people or large office with thousands of employees. The main activity in some call centers is answering inbound calls, such as a bank that gives out a toll-free number for customers needing help. At the same time there are some call centers that focus on outbound calls too. With increase in outsourcing, call centers are also becoming popular. By way of outsourcing, companies contract out some functions to other companies located mostly in cost effective destinations like India. In this field India enjoys several advantages over a number of developed counties. In India, we a have large pool of qualified people; English speaking graduates and IT professionals. In addition to this India have some other
advantages like cheap labor, flexibility in working hours and time zone difference. This is the reason why a number of MNCs are outsourcing their business activities to India.
Call centres are comparatively a recent introduction to the world of career options in India. The career avenues provided by Call centres is one of the best suited and growing option which even a fresher can opt for. With the opening up of the Indian economy and the advent of globalisation more and more companies from abroad are basing or outsourcing their call centre services to India, a trend started by GE when it established a call centre near New Delhi in 1998. A call centre is a service centre with adequate telecom facilities, access to internet and wide database, which provide voice based or web-based information and support to customers in the country or abroad through trained personnel. Call centres exist in all sectors of business including banking, utilities, manufacturing, security, market research, pharmaceuticals, catalogue sales, order desk, customer service, technical queries (help desk), emergency dispatch, credit collections, food service, airline/hotel reservations etc. The wide area of services provided by the call centres makes it a lucrative career with a range of opportunities.
UNDERSTANDING - THE CALL CENTER “INDUSTRY”
There has been some dispute amongst researchers as to whether it is appropriate to refer to such a thing as the “call center industry”. As Bain and Taylor point out, “despite similarities in the integration of computer and telephone technologies, centers differ in relation to a number of important variables—size, industrial sector and market, complexity and length of call cycle time, nature of operations (inbound, outbound or combined), the nature and effectiveness of representative institutions including trade unions, and management styles and priorities”. To this list of variables, Callaghan and Thompson would add the “degree of product complexity and variability and the depth of knowledge required to deal with the service interaction”. Bain and Taylor argue that it is more appropriate to use the term “sector”, as call Centers are found across a wide range of industries and may be similar primarily in terms of their core technologies. They do note, however, that there is a professional literature and a collective identity that is maintained and developed through conferences and forums. Belt, Richardson and Webster (2000) agree that call centers are not an 'industry' as the term is generally defined, but rather represent certain ways of delivering various services using the telephone and computer technologies across traditional industry boundaries. However, these authors provide three strong reasons defending the practice of referring to call centers as an industry:
First, the call center community often defines itself as an industry, with numerous national and international call center conferences and workshops taking place each year, industry journals and call center forums organized at local levels. Second, the labor force requirements of call centers are often the same across sectors. This means that many, though not all, call centers share a common labor pool. Third, the organizational templates and technologies used tend to be very similar, regardless of the sector.
To this one might add the remarkable similarities that international researchers have found between technologies used, work practices and key issues including monitoring, control, training, and labor demographics for workers in countries as diverse as Germany, Japan, Australia, Greece, Canada, the US, the UK and the Netherlands.
STRESS IN CALL CENTERS
Stress exists in every call center. Call centers are stressful work environments. The demands of serving the customer in real-time helps to lay the foundation. Add to this factor things such as job repetition, potential job dissatisfaction, poor ergonomics or low pay and the stress level climbs higher. If stress in the workplace (i.e. the call center) is not on the agenda the results of stress are revealed through higher absenteeism than other parts of the company, higher Worker's Compensation claims and ultimately in reduced customer satisfaction. This Operations Topic focuses on various approaches to managing stress. Raising the pay isn't necessarily the solution. There are many other creative means of managing stress in your call center.
• • • •
Factors that Create a Stressful Call Center Emotional Labor Stress Levels, Staff Turnover and Some Suggested Solutions Customer Centric Attitude and Stress
Recommended Solutions to Solving Stress in the Call Center • • • • • Involve Front Line Staff in Creating Solutions Attention to Ergonomic Factors Helps Reduce Stress Develop an Internal Ergonomic Program Employee Assistance Programs Can Contribute Consider Massage Therapy Services or Yoga As Possible Solutions Resources • • Wake Up Your Call Center: Humanizing Your Interaction Hub Managing Workplace Chaos: Workplace Solutions for Managing Information, Paper, Time and Stress
Tele-Stress - Relief For Call Center Stress Syndrome
HUMAN ISSUES IN CALL-CENTER INDUSTRY
For many employed in call center sector, “ daily experience is of repetitive, intensive
and stressful work, based upon Taylorist principles, which frequently results in employee “burnout”. Brown characterizes work as “repetitive brain strain”. These descriptions are hardly surprising, in a way, given that call centers are established by organizations to “create an environment in which work can be standardized to create relatively uniform and repetitious activities so as to achieve economies of scale and consistent quality of customer service”. In other words, that workplaces are organized in ways that weaken employee autonomy and enhance potential for management control, and “a loss of control is generally understood to be an important indicator of work-related stress”. There is almost universal consensus that call center work is stressful. Even in studies that report the observation that some staff actually enjoys their work, mention of stress is still the norm, and a significant portion of the call center literature is devoted to detailing the sources of stress in call center work.
FOUR KEY STRESSORS
- ‘Can we get off the phone for a while?’ The primary source of stress reported is inherent to the nature of the job: spending all day on the phone dealing with people one after another, day after day, is difficult. Doing it under constant pressure to keep call volumes up, with no time between calls to “recover from an awkward call or from ‘customer rejection’” is even more difficult. And doing it with “very little authority or autonomy to rectify problems” that arise is perhaps the most difficult of all. Many studies report agents as wanting to ‘just get off the phones’. For example, Belt and colleagues note “agents in all three sectors [financial services, IT, and third-party services] spoke of the phenomenon of ‘burnout’, caused by the pressure of working exclusively ‘on the phones’”. In the same study, the authors mention that the issue of ‘burnout’ was also recognized by some managers: “It was pointed out that managers face an
inherent conflict between the need to reduce staff boredom and labor turnover, and the pressure to concentrate staff energies on telephone based work”. “The question of how call center employees deal with stress is an important one, particularly in view of evidence that a build-up of stress leads to illness, absenteeism and turnover,” writes Houlihan. Many authors agree, and there are a variety of individual coping mechanisms described in the literature. Tricks to circumvent control mechanisms, such as those discussed above are sometimes mentioned as attempts at stress reduction, although they are unreliable in this role as they may also increase stress.
Others mention social interaction squeezed into brief moments--Callaghan and Thompson describe agents using humorous (or rude) gestures towards the phone, or making faces at colleagues to defuse stress over angry or abusive callers, and making jokes to combat the tedium of the day. Lankshear and Mason describe a similarly social approach to reducing tension in one of the sites they observed, where staff often laughed and joked with one another in intervals between calls, with management’s approval. More formally, some call centers include stress management as a component in training programs, and many have, or claim to have, team de-briefings which permit staff to vent frustrations while discussing difficult calls or dissatisfactions with elements of work.
Knights and McCabe take a different approach to stress in the workplace. They note that although much organizational analysis and most of the call center literature tends to conceptualize stress as an individual problem, it is actually located within “a framework that emphasizes the interrelationships between structural relations of power and the subjective interpretations and actions of employees”. This more nuance positioning may provide more insight into call center conditions, as it allows a researcher to consider the response of employees “forced to interpret the often contradictory demands management place upon them” including “contradictions…over service quality versus the quantity of work output”. “Clearly,” these authors write, “staffs face some fundamental contradictions over unity versus conflict, uncertainty versus certainty, quality versus quantity and these are at the heart of the reproduction of stress, resistance and control”. This focus on the “contradictory”
nature of demands strikes at the heart of the second inherent sources of stress in (primarily inbound) call center works: the quality/quantity conflict.
Typically, organizational rhetoric in inbound call centers is concerned with ‘customer care’, or ‘keeping customers happy’ (providing quality service), yet these goals are juxtaposed with an ongoing pressure to keep call times down and call volumes up. Call centers are rooted in contradictory tensions and structural paradoxes, and confront a number of trades-offs on that basis. These set a context for attitudes towards the organization and can impose conflicting role requirements on agents. A core example is that of the pressure for quantity versus the aspiration for quality, the guiding logic of which is the conundrum of trying to get closer to the customer while routinising, centralizing, reducing costs and prescribing standards. The dichotomy is not completely straightforward, it is important to note. Part of providing quality service from a management perspective is making sure customers do not wait too long for their calls to be answered, even though the push to keep queue waiting times short is typically categorized as part of the pressure towards quantity. As Bain points out, “efforts to attain what is perceived to be the desired balance between the quantity and the quality of calls presents a perennial challenge”. The practice of ongoing work practice modification and target revision as management swings from one side to another of the quality/quantity debate is a major source of stress for call center agents. As Houlihan notes: “The practice of putting a ‘drive’ on particular targets for improvement (for example, the collection of renewal dates, the upselling or cross-selling of products, the quality of data input, or the intensity of sales push) and continual reprioritisation means that the ‘goalposts’ are constantly shifting”. Virtually all of the call center authors who write about work conditions mention the difficulty of dealing with these competing goals. Korczynski and colleagues suggest that this dilemma is particularly difficult for front-line workers because they may be likely “to identify with embodied individual customers, for interactions with specific customers may be an important arena for meaning and satisfaction within the work”. They contrast this customeras-individual orientation to the managerial goal of balancing customer orientation with
efficiency, which they suggest leads management to prefer workers to identify with a generic category, ‘the customer’, since “such a disembodied image of the customer will encourage workers to deal with individual customers efficiently because they will be conscious of the concerns of other customers waiting in a queue”.
The third central stressor in call center work is its intensity. As Bain (2001) argues, “far from being either in terminal decline or on the wane, Taylorism—in conjunction with a range of other control mechanisms—is not only alive, well and deeply embedded in the call center labour process, but its malevolent influence appears to be spreading to previously uncharted territory”. There is widespread consensus that “call centers are a new, and particularly effective, manifestation of the increasingly capital intensive ‘industrialization’ of service sector work, and work performed in them is highly intensive and routine”. Buchanan and Koch-Schulte quote one call center worker who describes the constant pressure graphically:
It’s almost like the army. It’s much regimented. You punch in with a time clock. You come in and you sit down, and the numbers are all computerized. As soon as you finish a call, the minute you hang up another call comes up just this constant, all day, repetitious… constant sort of like beating on a drum, but day after day. The pace of work is determined by the combination of technologies that deliver calls to the headset and account details to the screen, and workers often have no control over this process. Descriptions such as “exhausting,” “robotic,” “controlled,” and agents discussing the nature of their work often use “machine-like”. Houlihan expands on the idea of controlled, machine-like agents by suggesting that this is in fact exactly the way that the organization conceives of them: Call centers are information handling organizations. As currently characterized, the job of the agent is to be the voice of the organization, interfacing with the client or customer.
The organization rehearses the things it wants said and feeds them through the agent. The agent is largely constructed as a mouthpiece rather than as a brain.
Buchanan and Koch-Schulte spoke with a call-center worker who articulated her feelings about the organization’s expectations of its agents in very similar terms: Rosa: You are standing waiting to be used by the technology, and it’s a physical embodiment of that. You are standing, waiting until that call comes in to use you to make money. And you are simply another part of that machine. When this feeling of being a cog in a machine which never stops as it grinds on, repeating the same actions over and over again, is combined with “the cumulative emotional demands presented by the interpersonal nature of the work”, stress is inevitable.
There is a fourth feature of some call center work that may engender stress: performance targets. There are various types of targets, which may vary between inbound and outbound centers. Inbound centers typically have targets for call duration, ‘wrap time’, and daily call volume. Outbound centers often also have sales or ‘completion’ targets, which are closely monitored and upon which pay may be partially based. In addition, in some sectors, inbound call centers are attempting to introduce the practice of cross selling, where agents attempt to sell additional products to the customers who call in for another purpose. In these centers, sales targets similar to those in outbound centers are often in place. Taylor and Bain argue that particularly in the financial services industry in the UK, targets are a significant source of stress for workers as more and more importance is placed upon meeting them in an increasingly competitive business environment. Sales targets, in particular, are difficult to accept, or meet, for staff who often consider themselves as service personnel, particularly when they are set centrally and implemented locally: “Cross-selling is seen by employees, not as an opportunity to engage in creative work, but as an additional and acute source of pressure”. This is especially the case when
sales targets are parachuted in on top of service targets set originally when there was no pressure to produce sales. As a CSR in Taylor and Bain’s study emphasizes: “When somebody phones in for a balance you have to try to get a sale or get them interested as well as turning the call round in 155 seconds”. Even in centers that claim not to prioritize targets, researchers have found that staff often feels significant pressure. Targets simply intensify the stress produced by the quantity/quality debate, or, as one agent is quoted as saying, “They say that they’re not really interested in numbers. They say that they are more into quality. Well, that’s a lie. They’re usually more into numbers than anything”. It is important not to over generalize however. While most call centers do have some targets, they are a source of stress that is directly under management control. Some call centers are managed in such a way that targets are set to realistically reflect local conditions, are interpreted in light of other, more subjective information, and are not used punitively or to intensify work. In some they are even used effectively to motivate and encourage staff. For example, Lankshear and Mason describe a series of conversations with managers in their call center site where management consistently conceptualized their performance reports (for example, one commented that it’s ‘human nature’ for productivity to drop before and after a holiday), and used their stats as an excuse to praise good performance and coach those who consistently had difficulty meeting targets: “Our best bet is to develop the people we have got” one manager is quoted as saying.
Other Health issues…
The result of intense, stressful work may be an effect on workers’ health. There are often high rates of absenteeism and sick leave reported in the literature, although there is relatively little exploration of these issues, particularly when compared to turnover. Most often, authors provide a brief list of known health issues. For example, Richardson, Belt and Marshall write that “Health concerns have been expressed, including tension, sleeplessness, headaches, eye-strain, repetitive strain injury (RSI), voice loss, hearing problems and burnout”, but they do not develop the point. More detailed descriptions of the causes and effects of these ailments can be found in industry and trades union reports. For example, the Trades Union Council (TUC) in its brochure targeted at call center workers, cites the main illnesses
to which call center staff are prone: “back strain and RSI, stress, eyestrain, and voice and hearing loss”. Also in the UK, regulators have been proactive in their examination of the industry, with the Health and Safety Executive issuing a bulletin on call center regulations, health risks and best practices in December 2001. They looked specifically at health issues including stress, noise levels, musculoskeletal disorders (such as back problems) and voice loss, and also at display screen issues, working environments, requirements for work stations, daily work routines, training, organizational working practices and shifts.
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.
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. Many 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.
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. Severe Stomach Related ProblemsContinuing 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.
Globally call center industry employees are considered a high-risk group for eyerelated 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.
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.
Some other Human Issues, in Call-Centers, which need Immediate Attention Personal habits:
The young executives are getting more than five figure salaries per month in an early age. They tend to develop certain bad habits such as alcohol, smoking etc. It is not easy to identify such individuals. It is also very sensitive to talk to them. The professional counselors can conduct group-counseling, workshops, educative film shows in order to create awareness on effects of bad habits. Such actions will enable individuals to realize the
importance of good habits and they could seek one to one Counseling sessions to solve their problems.
Discipline and behavioral issues:
Call centers provide excellent working environment, free food and transportation. There is always a situation where individual or group of youngsters tend to commit mistakes and abuse the freedom. They start behaving like in college campus where they have more freedom. However, the call center executives have more responsibility and accountability, they need to follow discipline and do well in the job. The most common behavior is misuse of food, behave erratically in vans, and smoke in public places, misuse of telephones and other resources of the company. The supervisors always concentrate on performance and achieving targets. They do not have time or interest to go deep into these matters and find out the reasons for such behavior. The professional counselor can play a major role in educating the youngsters on discipline; provide advice to erring executives. The counselors with their wisdom and experience can tackle such issues tactfully and bring change within the individuals. As said earlier, to majority of them this is the first employment and they are fresh out of the colleges. Few tend to behave differently and they have the “do not care” attitude. Such executives will not take their job seriously, they indulge in teasing, and joking, talking over mobile phones, have friction within the team. These aspects may go noticed or unnoticed by the supervisors. The fact remains that such unacceptable behaviors will cause disturbance to others and overall it affects the productivity. Sleeping while on duty, reading novels and playing games on the computer during working hours brings down productivity and quality suffers. The HR representatives and professional counselors jointly have a role to bring behavioral change starting from the training days. Continuous education and Counseling will help to mitigate such problems and it is possible to prevent serious problems.
Inter-personal relationship and friendship:
Executives develop friendship quickly and sometime the friendship breaks and there will be misunderstanding among the team members and naturally affects the team performance. The supervisors and counselors can play a major role to sort out the interpersonal relationship and develop team spirit. Healthy relationship among the team
members has always helped the team to out perform. When the relationship fails the individuals will also break down mentally. They either absent for duties or fall ill or the performance will come down. It is also true that due to misunderstanding and break in friendship they change jobs quickly.
Love affair and marriages:
Few of the boys and girls fall in love quickly. They maintain the healthy relationship, behave in a matured manner, plan the future course of action and such persons have got married with the consent of their parents. They work together in the same organization for longer duration. There are instances, where lovers fall apart, start disliking, creating troubles to each other and vitiating the atmosphere. They are immature, take instant decisions to break or unite and sometimes go to an extent of damaging others reputation. The professional counselors can play an important role in explaining the importance of marriage, preparation required for marriage, how to enter the institution of marriage, which is acceptable to both parents and society and about the new role and responsibility after getting married. Counseling services can definitely give emotional support to individuals.
Absenteeism is very high in calls centers. Employees tend to be very irregular to the duty due to various reasons. Professional counseling services to such irregular employees on one to one basis will help to bring down absenteeism. Counselor can educate and explain the importance of attending duties to earn salary and also to meet organizational goals. Each individual are unique and the problem they face are also different in nature. Professional counselors can understand, analyze and provide long lasting solutions for the individuals.
Higher education and part time jobs:
It is possible to do higher education while working in BPO units. Few organizations encourage and offer support services to pursue higher education. However, time management by the executives is crucial to go forward in education as well as to maintain performance and career growth. Programmes on time management, tips to study, tips to keep fit and such other programmes can be offered. These steps would help to seek the loyalty of employees to organizations and helps greatly for retention of employees. Organizations do not grant permission to pursue part time jobs while working in BPO units. In order to make quick money and to have options open to change jobs in future will drive employees to do
part time work. Human body does not permit to stretch beyond one’s capacity. Executives need to take sufficient rest in daytime so that energy levels are maintained. Either due to lack of experience or due to compulsions, executives keep their one feet in call center and another in part time jobs. In the long run this would affect individuals health. The HR executives must identify such persons and offer professional Counseling services to them.
REMEDIAL MEASURES FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT
Understanding that the “Stress” is a major concern for all Call-Center Employees, it is a duty of HR-heads of Call-Centers to address it properly.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of stress
Although we all experience stress in different ways, there are certain signs that are most frequently reported. These signs fall into two major categories; physical/behavioral signs and emotional signs. If we become aware of our own stress symptoms, we will be more effective in dealing with them sooner rather than later. What follows is a list of some of the most experienced symptoms of stress. The physical/behavioral symptoms include; muscular tension, muscle spasms and tics, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath and high blood pressure, cold hands and feet, backaches, headaches and neck aches, stomach problems, indigestion, irritable bowel and ulcers, feeling fatigued, irritable, decreased ability to concentrate, insomnia and changes in eating behavior. Since these physical symptoms may be related to physical problems, you should consult with your medical doctor before you assume that your symptoms are purely stress-related. The emotional symptoms include; anxiety in a variety of situations not limited to the stressful situation, depression, hopelessness and a strong urge to cry without specific incident, withdrawal from social interactions and avoidance of previously enjoyed activities, powerlessness and decreased self esteem, hostility, anger and resentment, fears, phobias and unwanted thoughts. Learning to become more aware of your own stress symptoms is the first major step in the stress management and healing process. It is often helpful to monitor your daily symptoms in a stress diary where you match the stressful events with the symptom
experienced. For example; you made find that if you are stuck in early morning traffic you may experience irritability and headaches. In this case it will be important to use these symptoms as a cue that you have to begin managing that stress more effectively when it happens.
What are the consequences of unmanaged stress?
We all know that stress is something that doesn’t feel good to us physically and emotionally. What is even more compelling is what happens below the surface each time we experience stress. Stress researcher Hans Selye, determined what happens internally each time we experience something as threatening or stressful. According to Selye, when we perceive a threat in the environment the thinking part of the brain sends an alarm message to the nervous system via the hypothalamus. The nervous system then makes changes in the body that prepare you to handle the perceived danger ahead. These changes include increases in heart rate and blood pressure as well as pupil dilation. In addition, there are hormones and chemicals secreted such as adrenaline, that give the body the necessary push to be able to manage the threat ahead. Although there are situations in which these adrenaline surges are very helpful in helping us mobilize, the constant adrenaline surges due to repeatedly perceived threats, have a toxic effect on the body. For example, recurrent adrenaline surges inhibit some of the other important functions in the body including growth and tissue repair, digestion and the immune response. Just as the thinking part of your brain is responsible for turning the stress response on, you can turn it off by changing the threatening appraisals you are making. Once you are able to determine that a threat does not exist or that it can be effectively managed, your thinking brain stops sending panic messages to the nervous system. As a result of this reappraisal, the hormones and chemicals cease to be released and the body returns to normal. Bringing the body back to an "un-stressed" state is very important since almost every system in the body can be damaged by stress. Although our bodies are adaptive and can recover from periodic stressors, chronic stress has serious consequences. We experience the consequences of stress on three important levels; physically, emotionally and behaviorally. What follows is a description of the specific consequences in these three categories.
Physically, the body is likely to develop a stress-related disease as a result of the stress toxins that are released. For example, chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease by elevating blood pressure, damaging the heart and arteries and increasing blood sugar. Respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis can result from stress-triggered changes in the lungs. When stress inhibits the body’s digestive functions, diseases such as ulcers, colitis and chronic diarrhea can occur. In addition, stress contributes to inhibited growth of tissue and bone which can lead to decalcification and osteoporosis. The immune system is also inhibited by the reduced efficiency of the white blood cells, making the body more susceptible to disease. Increased muscle tension, fatigue and headaches are additional consequences of chronic stress. The second category of consequences of chronic stress is the emotional consequences. Depression can result form chronic stress due to the constant release and depletion of norepinephrine. What also contributes to the depression is the thought that life is terrible and that it is never going to get better. What then results is a feeling of helplessness and ineffectiveness, feeling like a failure and a reduction in self-confidence. Individuals who are depressed are also likely to withdraw from relationships and isolate themselves which often increases the intensity of the depression. In addition, anxiety and fearfulness are commonly felt emotions if someone constantly perceives threats around the corner. In addition, individuals who are chronically stressed are likely to exhibit increased cynicism, rigidity, sarcasm and irritability since they believe that their situation is not likely to improve. Chronic stress also has significant behavioral consequences. Behavioral consequences often result from innate survival urge we have to seek relief, to fight or to flee. Unfortunately, these relief-seeking behaviors eventually become problematic. For example, "addictive behaviors" can result from the repeated efforts to soothe or escape the painful stress. Alcohol, drugs, smoking and overeating are often seen as tools to help manage the stress even though their effects are short lived and the consequences of chronic use are destructive to the body and mind. Unfortunately the mind’s ability to deny the long-term consequences in order to fill short-term need to escape perpetuates the problem and increases excessive use behavior. Similarly, procrastination, poor planning, excessive sleeping and avoidance of responsibility are examples of behaviors used by stressed individuals to temporarily flee from the pain. What is most significant about these behaviors is their ability to generate
additional problems that are as severe as the original stressor. For example, procrastination or avoidance of the management of a stressor only serves to increase anxiety and exacerbate the stress experience. Stress consequences reviewed above suggest that in addition to being physically and psychologically distressing, they reduce the likelihood of effective goal reaching. Rationale for properly managing and coping with the stress is for health protection in future as well as making present more productive and satisfying.
Since stress is an inevitable fact of life that we can’t always prevent, our efforts need to be focused on coping with stress more effectively. What follows is a description of a three pronged approach to stress management which includes behavioral/practical techniques, relaxation techniques and cognitive/thinking techniques. The behavioral/practical approaches to stress management include exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet, which includes selections from the basic food groups. In addition, it is recommended that one avoid the excessive use of alcohol, caffeine and sugar, which contribute to fatigue and vulnerability to mood swings. It is also important to allow the body to rest and replenish to help inoculate the body against future stress. Building this stress resistance also includes scheduling time for leisure and pleasure, which provides for a more balanced, fulfilling life. Anticipating and preparing for recurrent stressors by managing time, setting priorities and limits, delegating responsibility, and not procrastinating are helpful stress reducing strategies. These techniques are effective stress management tools because their utilizationis within our control. The relaxation approaches to stress management include a variety of techniques designed to help you effectively manage the body/mind tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is an active form of relaxation where you individually contract the major muscle groups of your body for about five seconds and then you relax the individual muscle groups for a five second holds. The contrast experienced by this exercise relieves muscle tension and relaxes the body. Some of the more passive relaxation approaches include listening to music, reading and using saunas and hot tubs to relieve tension. Techniques used to relax the mind include meditation and visual imagery. Meditation teaches you how to clear the mind of stressful and distracting thoughts by focusing the mental energy on positive coping thoughts. Visual imagery is designed to help the individual visualize him/herself coping
effectively with a stressor that was previously experienced as overwhelming. The behavioral and relaxation approaches described above are necessary but not sufficient conditions for stress management. The third prong to stress management, the cognitive or thinking approach, is essential to effective coping with stress.
The cognitive or thinking approaches are an integral part of coping effectively with stress and now the primary focus of many stress management programs. Since it has been determined that we can turn off the stress response by changing our threatening/dangerous event appraisals to appraisals that help us view these events as manageable challenges, we have a direct link to controlling the stress response. The first step in the cognitive approach is to identify our thoughts or internal dialog that is negative, perfectionist, black and white, rigid and demanding. In other words, you are more likely to experience stress if you believe that you, the world and other people "should or must" behave in a manner consistent with your demands and standards. For example, you are likely to experience stress if you believe that the world and your life should be stress free and that you do not have the resources to handle stress if it does occur. In addition, demands of perfection on yourself and on others important to you, increases the chance of feeling stressed since these expectations are unrealistic and rigid. After identifying your stress producing thoughts you are then able to move onto the second step in the cognitive approach; recognizing the consequences of this negative, rigid dialog. The motivation to change the stress-producing dialog comes from the determination that there are serious consequences that result form these negative, rigid thoughts. When you talk to yourself in a defeated, pessimistic or rigid way, you deny your ability to cope and are not likely to manage situations effectively or meet goals you set. In addition, perfectionist demands are experienced as appropriately unrealistic and contribute to a "why bother" attitude. This attitude reduces the likelihood that you will address these demands since it is a realistic fact that no one or nothing is ever perfect. Once you are convinced that the dialog is negative and counterproductive, you are ready to move on to the third step in the cognitive approach; challenging and replacing the negative internal dialog with a healthier, more productive internal dialog. This important step in the reappraisal process requires that you challenge your rigid dialog by asking yourself a series of questions about that rigid dialog. For example, "Why
must I perform perfectly in order to believe I am a valuable human being?" In addition, "Does that demand for perfection increase my anxiety and reduce the likelihood that I perform well at all?" "What would I feel like and would I be more motivated if I changed my demand for perfection to a desire to do well?" Another example of this reappraisal process can be seen in the area of criticism and rejection. A negative internal dialog that would create stress in this area is "I am worthless because I was rejected and this proves that no one will ever love me." A healthy challenge to this belief would be, "How does the opinion of this person reflect my personal worth?’ "How does it follow that this rejection will lead to future rejections?" It is also important to add, " Even if I were to get rejected repeatedly, could I work to make desired changes in my personality without condemning myself or feeling worthless?" By replacing the negative, rigid dialog with more realistic, flexible dialog, you are more likely to feel healthier emotionally and behave more rationally and productively. The behavioral, relaxation and cognitive techniques described above have been determined to be effective ways to manage and cope more effectively with stress. The techniques give the control back to the individual and empower him/her to manage the inevitable stressors that will occur in life.
FACTORS THAT CREATE A STRESSFUL CALL CENTER
Stress in the Call Center will affect the agent, manager, director, or anyone in the call center when they let stress gain control. When this happens, they lose self control and have the feeling of being overwhelmed. The first step in gaining control is and identifying what the stressors are and understanding the causes and effects. Stress is caused by many things. Time pressures, high expectations, lack of communication, high call volume, inexperience, illprepared, to name a few. The effects are decreased productivity, anxiety, low morale, poor customer service levels, and increased turnover. When faced with these stressors, training is the tool to resolve the issues. You must go to your training programs and processes and ask yourself if the training you are providing the call center employees delivers the tools required for them to accomplish their goals without the negative stress. Approach dealing with the stress in the Call Center with assertiveness and confidence. One of the most effective things I have done, in my own call center experience, as well as seen in other call centers, is to have a specific workshop covering stress. Let employees voice their specific stressors and develop actions to overcome them and resolve what is inhibiting their performance. Their minds are then clear and mentally prepared. It will then be motivated for training to make them a more confident and capable call center employee.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION This is a call center disease that some call centers just gravitate to simply because
everyone is too busy with their job duties and with doing someone else's jobs that we simply forget to communicate. Sounds harmless but if you don't address it could slowly but surely drag down your center's morale, employees' self esteems, work life balance, job security, employees' productivities, etc.
This one is a little tougher because the causes could be variety of different issues. The
more common symptom of high volume is poor workforce mgmt. Put, workforce team needs to be very proactive in correctly forecasting your volume two weeks in advance
(within 98% of the actual volume) and be ready with a staffing analysis of how efficient CSR schedules are by day for you. If this is every week from your workforce team, you will be well aware of your holes every day for the next two weeks and you can make staffing decisions before the day happens. If your workforce team is good, then you will better prepare to handle spikes/lull in your volume. Another symptom of high volume is poor attendance/retention - if you consistently don't have the reps that you planned for, then you might as well stay home too. Issues like these are harder to address because the root causes are never the same. You have to go the employees and find out why they are not coming to work or why they are leaving you. Once you have an idea of the root causes, then you and your team can creatively find solutions or create new policies to address them. High volume is a self feeding animal - if you don't get control of it, it will surely brings down your operation. Your frontline supervisors will have to help out on the phones all the time and they can't work with their CSRs. Employees are constantly going from one call to the next without much breaks in between. Your boss is constantly on you for high ASAs and Abandon %s, blah - the story goes on and on and the picture doesn't look pretty.
Common causes include understaffing, impossible service levels, inappropriate or
oppressive management style, mis-match between agent skills and job requirements, mis-match between the stated aims of the job and the actual work being done (e.g. a sales centre that is swamped with technical service complaints), jobs that require no thought on the part of the operator and that could/should be automated (directory enquiries, bank balance requests etc).
"Emotional labor is defined as the effort expended (and the concomitant physiological arousal) to manage or regulate oneÂ’s emotional reactions at work. This effort is necessary for exhibiting those performance behaviors valued by the organization, and suppressing the expression of less acceptable behaviors. Service employees are particularly vulnerable to a demand for emotional labor, because their jobs generally require maintaining a friendly and positive demeanor despite job characteristics that may engender negative emotional reactions (e.g., irate customers, complex problem solving, or hectic work pace). Any work setting which engenders negative emotional reactions from employees, while requiring the suppression of certain behaviors associated with these emotions (e.g., yelling, abruptly hanging up the phone, or scowling), is fertile ground for emotional labor. The stereotypical customer service call center is such a work place."
HANDLING THE ABUSE
Agents handle an average of 110 calls a day, and 80 percent of the calls that come in
have some level of emotion. Usually a caller is calling in because they're frustrated, angry, upset, concerned—something has happened and they're not happy. Therefore, it is crucial that agents and especially the call center manager note these occurrences and become better prepared and informed on handling them for the sake of their workers and their callers. In these situations the task should become how to handle this type of emotional call rather than instantly labeling it "abusive" and not acceptable.
• JOB ROTATION
We instituted job sharing/intern program in our call center. CSRs who meet or exceed job expectations are eligible to do a rotation for three months in other groups. CSRs work half a day on the phones, the other half in the Correspondence Dept, or in the Research Dept, Work Force Management, or Quality Assurance. This breaks up their day, teaches them new skills, & provides us with a pool of trained staff whenever we need it. have a job rotation program that alternate telephone staff to do administrative tasks to break up the day to day grind.
• SPORTS ACTIVITIES
In our call center, what we followed recently is that we organised a sports week where we asked the agents and their supervisours to organise and also take part in the same. This has brought a change in their working performance as far as we can see. I personally
feel that you should organise something that will allow the agents change their daily routine and do something routine.
• BUDGET FOR ACTIVITIES
If employee turnover is a major problem, you may want to budget money for employee activities / incentives. I have a activity commitee that plans birthday decorating, holiday potlucks, contests, etc. Involve the staff to join and participate in the commitee.
• WEEKLY EMPLOYEE FOCUS GROUP
Any employee can come to a weekly or bi weekly focus group with the call center manager and human resource manager. Questions from the employees are posted publicly and the date that the issues were addressed. Over time, I have seen focus groups that started with very serious issues slowly evolve to sessions that become more like rap sessions - more fun and less serious.
MONTHLY NEWSLETTER FROM THE COMPANY Yes, this is a time consuming endeavor but if done right and done consistently, could
be a great medium to communicate new/revised policies, reward employees/teams, train your employees, and build strong team spirits.
• DAILY DEPARTMENT HUDDLE
Each team/department should be highly encouraged to have this quicky huddle daily with their employees. This goes a long way in building that strong bond between employees and supervisors and yes, you can also use this time to communicate.
MONTHLY LETTER FROM THE BOSS It could be from the VP of Ops, or it could be from the CCM. The point is, the
company will have an opportunity every month to speak to the workforce.
STEPS TAKEN BY COMPANIES TO HANDLE STRESS FACTORS
“Good Call Center Training Alleviates Stress”
1. Acknowledge the Emotion
Listen to the caller and acknowledge that something has happened to make them emotional. Acknowledge it and move on to the next step before it escalates to an abusive call.
2. Take Control of the Call
Strong words choices will immediately diffuse the emotional aspect of the call. By using strong "I can" statements and proper word choices such as "Absolutely, I would be glad to help you with …", "I can look that information up for you” instead of emphasizing the "you" in statements like, "can you tell me what happened?"--where the customer immediately feels like they're speaking with the wrong person—after all they wouldn’t be calling if they knew what was wrong.
3. Transition into the Problem Solving Path
Finally, to get the caller out of their emotional state, transition them into a problem solving path. Once they have had a chance to get through the emotional part, move on so their issues can be resolved.
BPOs HELP STAFF COPE WITH STRESS
MUMBAI: Blame the nature of the job, deadline pressure or customer expectations. BPO jobs undoubtedly involve high stress. Prashant Chawla, COO, Integreon, a Mumbaibased KPO, says that there are three types of stress an employee may experience — tight deadlines, repetitive nature of the job and late night shifts. Aashu Calappa, VP-HR, ICICI OneSource, says, “Everything gets measured and this puts employees under pressure.” Companies are now making efforts to help their employees cope with stress because it is an occupational hazard. For example, night shifts are rotated on a regular basis. However, deadlines can’t be controlled. Most of the BPOs arrange ‘feel good’ activities like an outdoor picnic or an official dinner once in three months. This helps employees talk to their senior management in an informal environment. Employees are also given recognition by being designated as ‘employee of the week’ and ‘employee of the month’. Vineet Mittal, president and MD, Stream, says that they conduct in-house workshops at frequent intervals in which employees play games and indulge in activities like dumb charades and scrabble. Mr Calappa says they organise various events like family gatherings and Valentine’s Day celebrations to lighten the atmosphere in the office. According to him, an employee could be stressed because of a tough supervisor or if he is not able to perform well in his job. So, there is a lot of emphasis on the training of team leaders (TL) and supervisors to avoid a strained relationship between the employee and the TL. BPOs like Stream have appointed ‘fun officers’ whose job is to arrange a party or a movie for the entire office once in a month. Similarly, ICICI OneSource has an executive who is required to spend at least two hours daily at the shop floor talking to employees about their day-to-day life. 3Global, a Hutchison-Whampoa BPO, has also appointed an executive to arrange sports events on a monthly basis.
Shirish Kerkar, general manager, HR, 3Global, says, “We organise sports events like cricket tournaments to ensure that our employees are engaged in physical activities.” The company recently concluded a cricket tournament where 300 employees participated (10 people per team). Shilpa Shetty, a BPO employee, who heads a 200-member team says, “Our deadlines are in hours and not days or weeks. So the stress is obviously high. I’m heading a large team. So, managing it is a big challenge, which at times, may stress me out.” She has adopted an interactive way of dealing with workplace stress. She makes sure that she talks to her team members on a daily basis, which may not necessarily be about work. “I do a lot of catching up with my team members, which helps me to understand them better,” she adds. Another BPO employee, Prashant Warrier, who interacts with the company’s clients across the globe says, “People at my level are the first ones from the company to interact with the clients, so its puts pressure on us to present our company well because clients are demanding.” Sanjay Salooja, a Delhi-based counsellor visits BPOs to counsel the employees. He says generally, front-line employees and team leaders talk to him about both professional and personal problems like long working hours and family demands. Besides teaching them breathing exercises and yoga, the employees are taught to look at things from a different perspective. They are encouraged to take ownership and be accountable for their job in the organisation. Traditionally, call centres meant only voice-based customer support. But now most call centres are more of a contact centre, offering E-CRM services, that include voice based customer support as well as e-mail response, web-based text-chat services and other customer interaction channels. The call centre services can be 'inbound' where in calls are received from customers enquiring about a service or product that an organisation provides. The call centre services can be 'outbound' where in calls are made to customers to sell products or collect information/money etc. Call centre services can also 'specialised' say in business processing where in calls are made from one company to another company. Some call centres stick to only domestic businesses dealing with customers within the country called domestic call centres while others such as an International call centre mainly deal with clients from abroad say from US, Europe etc. There is a great scope for
Call centres in India, with a large population of educated English speaking people. The wide range of opportunities, comparatively well paid jobs for the minimum qualification it requires and the facilities the companies provide like to and fro transport, subsidized meals and medical facilities makes Call centres a good option.