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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Health Talk: Call Center Agents Health Risk

In most third world countries in Asia, one of the most lucrative jobs is connected to BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). These are jobs which 1st world countries like the United States, Canada and other European countries get from 3rd world countries in Asia mainly because they are cheaper in cost. You may not know it but job as like being a Customer or Technical Support Representative commands a higher pay than some white collar jobs in these Asian countries.

Call centers began in the Philippines as plain providers of email response and managing services, these have industrial capabilities for almost all types of customer relations, ranging from travel services, technical support, education, customer care, financial services, and online business to customer support, online business to business support.

The call center industry is an up-and-coming industry in the Philippines. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is regarded as one of the fastest growing industries in the world. The Philippines is also considered as location of choice due to its less expensive operational and labor costs. In 2007, The Philippines remain as a top BPO destination for the estimated $150-billion business process outsourcing industry.

According to the Call Center Directory of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), the Philippines now has 788 call centers over 20 key locations.

The job isn't pitiful although most people don't realize the health risk involve with this kind of jobs. Most of the time call center agents need to work in night to graveyard shifting (11pm-6am) schedules 5-6 days a week. The work isn't a simple walk in the park either. As a call center agent you need to tough it out when face with angry or impatient customers. Some call center agents even quit the job because they couldn't stand the emotional gravity involve in it. Well let's face it, some customers don't give a damn to the person they are talking to. They don't care about the feelings of the person as if they are talking to a voice box!

Health diseases like high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, low blood pressure due to lack of sleep, insomnia and other stress related diseases can endanger the career of any call center agents who don't care about their personal health. Late night shifts and periodical changes in schedule may disrupt one's biological clock and may cause related diseases like insomnia, migraine, headache, tension and fatigue. This will further lower one's immune system that could lead to other serious illnesses.

One must be aware of these impending threats to one's health before entering these types of jobs. Yes, it may bring you and your family extra cash to buy things but it may also bring you disease that could potentially ruin your career and stash away your life's savings.

Among the top 12 illnesses on the list are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression/boredom respiratory problems, ear infection, voice problems, anemia, insomnia, UTI, ulcers, malnutritions and carpal’s tunnels syndrome.

1.      High blood pressure/ Hypertension

     Many customer services representatives as young as 20-26 years old old and above already have this kind of diseases after subduing themselves in heated verbal conversation with erring customers.  Most have a blood pressures of 160/120, 190/100 and other alarming Bps. Contributing factors are the lifestyles of most call center agents where trace from the stress brought by work, smoking, unhealthy habits and lack of exercises.

2.  Anxiety

This commonly happens to most call center agents since all of them are being monitored in terms of their work performances. A low score means memos pasted on the agent’s desk. More memos might cause someone’s job so it causes anxiety to most of call center agents. This happens probably because it’s really hard to get hired in the Philippines and losing a job is one of the things that should not happen to most Filipinos.

3. Depression and Boredom

Have in mind that an agent’s job is pretty much repetitive – answering calls, addressing complaints, providing solution, ending call and then after a few seconds, another call would come in. Due to this routine, call center agents become more bored and it sometimes affect their social and personal life. What attitude they gather from their work place is what they unconsciously apply in their world outside work. Even worse, because this kind of attitude produces less brain exercise, it might lead to loss of memory and brain power.

4. Respiratory Problems

     Most respiratory problems encounter by call center agents are due to bronchitis, pneumonia, Asthma and allergic reactions primarily because of frequent smoking and exposure to 2nd and 3rd hand smoke. It may be due partly with the environment of the call center itself being subdued for longer working hours in centralized air conditioned, carpeted floors, and proximity of each agent’s to each others are the breeding grounds for any communicable diseases. 

5.  Anemia

      Studies show that bone marrow produces more blood at night and working during graveyard shift in a call center resulting in anemic body. Thus, many call center agent are more prone to iron deficiency anemia. Many women also collapse or faint due to deprivation of oxygen in the body.

6.  Ear Infection/ Acoustic Shock

       According to the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) the basic cause of acoustic shock is a sudden, unexpected noise, often delivered at a very intense frequency. Call center operators subject to this noise from a variety of sources. Telephone equipment used in call centers produces electrical feedback, latent sonic energy spikes, together with faulty telephone lines, non compliant switchboards, turrets, and headsets. Obvious causes are the caller’s abuses such as screaming, shouting, blowing, whistles, background interferences at the caller location, or ambient noise in the operator’s location.

7.  Voice Loss

      Call center agent are prone to suffer from voice loss, resulting in increase of absenteeism.  According to the Royal College of Speech and language therapist, increasing numbers of call center workers have been referred to speech therapist because they are losing their voices. Long hours and little opportunity given time to rest their voices, drink water or pee are some of the contributing factors. In severe cases, vocal strain can produce inflammation of the larynx, swelling of the vocal chords, or the appearance of vocal nodules, tumors or ulcers and removal of gall bladder. Other causes includes Sore throat and severe cough.

8. Ulcer

     Long hours of working deprive call center agent to eat on time. Even miscellaneous break are often disallowed until the shift is over. Their should be an allotted time given for short nap or stretching the body or having a back or neck massage in a few minutes before heeding to work as this would lessen the stress by giving ample time which is non-existent in most call center company where the time is very valuable and any delay is detrimental to the company reputation and customer satisfaction as the first priority over the welfare of their employees where in fact they are the main assets and should be given due care.

9.  Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

A ten-minute break allows an agent to do all the things he needs to do like urinating. However, having this ten-minute job interval every few hours is not enough for a typical employee. Well, an agent can get used to this routine eventually but what they don’t realize that their system might adjust to the break but their bladder won’t. That’s why there are common cases of UTI on some call center agents, especially women.

10. Malnutrition

One gets exposed to junk food and poor diet because most of the workers are in a graveyard shift, 24-hour stores, bars and QSR restaurants are the only options when one craves for something to eat. What most agents don’t realize is they are abusing their body by consuming unhealthy food almost everyday. Not to mention other unhealthy vices and beverages like cigarette and coffee.

11. Insomnia

The inability to sleep on the normal time could lead to insomnia. Especially when one have no choice but to follow the tight working shift schedule. This could affect the body biological clock as the normal sleeping pattern are lost.

12.  Carpal Tunnels Syndrome 

Longer time spend in front of the computer and using a mouse for a long time result in fingers numbness or carpals tunnels syndrome where median nerves is pinched within the tunnel causes pain to the the fingers, numbness of the wrist or hand which is a result of repetitive motion such as painting or typing. Also other causes of absenteeism includes, fever, cold, flu, and severe headache

Working in a business process outsourcing firm is not that easy. Aside from the stressful work that one has to deal with, there are a lot of things that should be passed through like shifting lifestyle and adjusting body clock. If these problems are not provided any solution, many call center agents will suffer in the near future.


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