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HSE examines life in call centres


A new report on conditions in the UK’s call centres suggests that staff should be trained to deal with offensive and abusive calls, and should be permitted a break to recuperate after talking to difficult customers.

The report from the Health and Safety Executive lacks the horror-stories of some previous surveys, and indicates that existing guidelines would cover most situations in call centres, but does highlight a few areas. It states that “although the fundamental elements of a call handler’s job are the same as a typical computer-based office job, the close combination of those elements results in a unique job often of an intensive nature.”

Sources of concern identified are stress, and a lack of movement and activity, as workers are even more likely than in other offices to remain in the same positions and looking at VDUs for nearly all of a shift. Low humidity is also a problem, potentially accentuating eye-strain. Particular objections of respondents included hot-desking (found by many to be depersonalising, though refreshing for a few), windows that don’t open, badly-handled supervision and lack of space.

Recommendations include a recognition that stress can result from staff being inadequately trained to deal with customer responses, new management standards to avoid this and to clarify standards and processes, more breaks between calls, and encouragements to exercise.

There are between 3,000 and 5,000 call centres in the UK (the variation depends on definition of a call centre), most of them in areas of high unemployment. They employ between 1.6 and 2% of the UK’s workforce, more employees than coal mining, steel and vehicle production combined. The number is growing, but the steep growth of recent years is expected to level out.

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