The introduction of call centre jobs to deliver key services in the civil service, and non departmental public bodies (NDPB’s) is part of the government’s so-called “Efficiency” agenda, i.e. jobs cuts and privatisation. They are packaged as a modern alternative to community based services and face-to-face delivery.
In reality they are characterised by low pay, poor application of health and safety practices and aggressive management techniques. This breeds low morale and illness, and high staff turnover putting huge pressure on the existing call centre workforce. Call centre workers in both the public and private sector regularly face a variety of difficult workplace issues including attacks on pay, inflexible working arrangements, and deskilling from top-down initiatives such as LEAN -which is simply an oppressive time and motion technique. This is compounded by inadequate training, excessive workloads and a stressful and oppressive numeric target culture the jobs environment.
Lighting levels must be appropriate to the type of jobs being carried out. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 require satisfactory lighting conditions and an appropriate contrast between the screen and the background environment of the call centre.
High levels of background noise can cause significant problems for call centre staff, requiring them to turn up headset volumes to compensate. This can be a particular issue where part of a busy general office is turned over to call handling operation jobs.
Assessments should be carried out for every individual workstation. The work surface must be large enough for the work being done and there must be enough space ‘for operators or users to find a comfortable position’ in their call centre jobs.
Headsets should be fitted with noise limiters and volume controls. As call handlers will be wearing their headsets for significant periods of time, it would be good practice to offer a choice of types, including choice between single or double earpiece models. They should be fully adjustable, to enable a comfortable fit to be found in preparation for the role of their jobs.
Most issues relating to hearing are dealt with in the section on Noise above - excessive noise is the most likely cause of hearing damage. The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to limit workers’ exposure to noise at work to the lowest possible level and to keep daily noise exposures below specified action levels.
There should be free eyesight tests and employer contributions to glasses, before starting work, if needed.
Stress is seen as a major factor in call centre jobs - and part of the reason for the high turnover of staff across call centre industries. Taking a pro-active approach to stress management and risk reduction can assist employers to retain their trained and experienced staff.
Many call centre jobs rely heavily on pre-written scripts that give the call handler little or no scope to introduce their own personal approach to the tasks. This can quickly become very boring and repetitive and should be avoided, wherever possible.
Excessive workloads, tight timescales to deal with individual callers, backed by quantities targeting in call centre jobs will quickly lead to burn-out for many staff. There should be no individual targets. Equally, staff can become bored if they feel that they have insufficient work, or it is not challenging and using their skills.
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