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Call centre bashing: 'A case of sour grapes'

November 04, 2005

The call centre culture has always been shrouded in controversy.

image A recent report by the V V Giri National Institute of Labour, an autonomous body under the Union labour ministry, compares the working conditions in call centres to those in Roman slave galleys.

Author Chetan Bhagat in his new book One Night @ The Call Centre exposes the murkier side of this otherwise glorified business.

We opened the debate to our readers and asked them to share their experience with us.

We also asked them if the call centre culture was a boon or a bane for India.

This is what they had to say:

Part I: 'Cons more than pros'

I am a mechanical engineer from Hosur, Tamil Nadu. I started my career with the largest corporate training house for software industries in Bangalore after a brief stint with a major automotive ancillary in Hosur.

Though I have never worked in a call centre personally, I have been in the IT services industry for a little over four years and am presently managing a family business in manufacturing.

I don't see any reason for people to complain about the call centre work as I am pretty well informed about the working conditions there. I would like to address individual points specifically.

Salary: It is only lately, with the advent of the services sector, that people see a starting salary of Rs 1.2 lakhs /annum or even 60K per annum at the start of their career (talking here only of the call centres). Six yrs back when I started my career with a manufacturing company as an engineer, working shifts, I was paid a salary of Rs 3K pm.

The need for people in the services sector has seen a seemingly unsustainable raise in the salary levels, which could probably explain the slump three years back. Also, a lot of undeserving people get paid unreasonable amounts. Taking this into account, the salary standards of the services industry and BPO in particular are pretty good.

Working hours: I noticed Umesh mention that night shifts have been around in all sectors since the beginning. I would like to add that not only have night shifts been around since the start, the other sectors have rotating shifts that change each week. This type of schedule affects health more than a regular night schedule as offered by the call centres. I have had a personal experience of rotating shifts by working in a reputed automobile firm, in my early days.

Monitoring and CC cameras: The promoters put in a lot of money into the firms and pay the employees to work. So it is only natural that they expect work to be done and there should be no complaints about being monitored or needing to use cell phones. Also call centres provide all comforts from air-conditioned offices, ergonomic desks and chairs, comfortable headphones and mics in case of voice based call centres and not to mention the additional work-based perks.

In addition, a lot of money is invested in the employee in terms of training, entertainment, parties, and other HRD activities that are assets that a person in a call centre takes with him. S/he is provided with four wheeler pick up and drops from their homes, while people at other places have to find their own means of transport and be present at work no matter rain or shine.

Now top this all up with the mind blowing attrition rate in the call centres, and it is simple math as to how much money is being spent on these fresh graduates who still have no sense of responsibility.

On a closing note, I would like to ask the youth in the call centres to just take a look at what their parents earned at the end of their career, after 25-30 years of hard work, and what they earn at the start of their career. Factor in the qualifications and inflation, consider the perks and benefits, comforts offered and you can clearly see the difference to decide if there is something to complain.

Moreover, it is an accepted agreement made by the employee to work in the said conditions, so as long as the company keeps its promises, which all these call centres do and do more. I feel the call centre professionals must stop complaining.

-- Santosh Kumar S R, 28, is a mechanical engineer

I am a middle level manager from a large BPO firm in Bangalore. Here are my thoughts:

Like someone said, there seems to be vested interests (or at least distorted interests) in nipping this growing industry in the bud. An industry which has become the hope of lakhs of young graduates for respectful employment is being unduly targeted for wrong reasons.

Night shift: As some readers have already pointed out, people come into this profession very well knowing that fact. They are not forced into this profession, nor stopped to exit from the job if they can't find it suitable. Aren't night shifts existing in the traditional industry of manufacturing, service industries like transport and government jobs like police/ telecom. Why should call centres be alone targeted for this?

I myself worked for four years in manufacturing industry during my early twenties and never cribbed for doing that. Neither the unions made fuss that a company is being run in the night.

Moral questions: There is this god-send talk that morality has come down with call centres with both girls and boys working together in the night. I wonder if there is any feminist who accepts that because they work in the night, boys are exploring inner instincts. We expect the people who take this logic to grow into men and women, not otherwise.

On the other side, women are being accepted with open arms in this new industry. Traditional industries, for whatever reason, have been hesitant to do this. We should appreciate this fact. This is visible in the ratio (industry calls it diversity) that can be seen in any ITES firm.

Career and growth: No BPO employee or call centre agent is stopped from pursuing higher studies and realising their dreams. Moreover they have strict 9-hour schedule on one hand giving ample time to pursue their goals and money to actually realise them without depending on parents.

My own personal experience has been that when I worked in night shift in a fertilizer factory we worked more than 10 hours, with high physical rigour and less pay.

On top of this, most of the BPO firms are encouraging employees for higher study and actually bearing a part of those expenses. What else one could ask for? Yes there are differences between the firms, but with industry growth standardisation will set in.

At the end, we need to be constructive in the growth and not to put spokes in a growing industry. Who knows what shape this industry can take if we allow it to blossom?

-- Sekhar J S is a mid-level manager in a large BPO in Bangalore

Call centre is simply not good for the future of India. Reasons are explained below:

Working late nights/ odd hours/ over time in front of the computer and telephone has a profound affect on the mental ability. It will have a psychological impact of massive proportion. India does not have healthcare that can handle such situation. This will impact the family and the future family.

Most of the young students have become so convinced that they do not really have to work hard as India is growing & the call centres pay huge money. What they need to understand is that education is must and call centre is no good career, not much chance of growth.

There is no easy route to success. Interacting with just machine (computer/ telephone) will make person robotic.

I really am frustrated by the statement of Mr Kiran Karnik, when he has said that BPO Industry does not have problems and laying off an employee is fine if the employee does not give prior notice or fail to notify employer. It really is making slave. It's outrageous. He is just serving the cause of Corporations. He is surely not fit to be in NASSCOM.

India needs to grow and we all are aware of that and working hard to make that dream realize, but we need not indulge in job which can impact our future growth. India is growing because of Engineer's, Doctor's, Economist & High skilled professional. India had that abundance in early 70's,80's  & 90's. The brain export is resulting in the stupendous growth that India has been seeing off late with favorable global trade rules like GATT.

We are putting a lid on young brains by luring them to such jobs and paying high salary. These young brain if had been properly nurtured would have helped innovate. Alas, some of the leading Business leaders are being selfish. I wish Mr Narayan Murthy & Mr Azeem Premji should come out and speak about it.

-- Tanvir Ansari

I work as a Team Leader with Accenture and am more than happy working for a BPO. BPOs are one of the best places where you get paid for your skills and not for what you have learnt.

Criticising the BPOs' working environment sounds as foolish as reduction of corruption in India. If it wouldn't have been call centres and BPOs, then today's youth -- amongst whom half of the lot can't afford to pay for further studies and get themselves enrolled in management courses costing lakhs of rupees -- would have been spending time working for some low end DSAs of one of the private banks in the market.

I have been through that phase of life. You can compare it to the condition of the prisoners in kaalapani or Tihar jail.

BPOs' working condition can be compared to one of the best international MNC's working condition. If you can have cameras in small jewellery shops and malls, and if you can keep your customers under strict surveillance, then why not BPOs??? It's a more sophisticated way of ensuring security and maintaining an ethical work environment.

The whole world may have sadistic views about the BPOs, I have only one thing to tell them, they are the jackal and the BPO is the bunch of grapes (remember the jackal and grapes story, we learnt in our school times???); where as the jackal isn't able to get the bunch of grapes from the tree; he ends up saying that the grapes are sour; hence he didn't get them...

The truth 'll never change... BPOs rock... 3 cheers for them.

-- Ronak Shah, 25, is a team leader with Accenture, Mumbai

I worked as an IT professional for an MNC. I also freelance and contribute articles in newspapers. I have even worked in a call centre.

I know the environment which exists in a BPO very well. I agree that the call centre agents have to work appalling hours which is not good for the health. However, one has to understand here that for, most of the agents, it's just a temporary job. Jobs that will help them save some money for the future.

The youth is definitely getting attracted to the fat salary offered by the call centres. The under-graduate youth also getting allured by this industry to get their pocket money is an issue.

The creative talent of the youth is getting hampered by the call centre culture. There is an urgent need to look for an alternative job that will enthral the youth. A job that will also be complimented with comparable salary.

The call centre boom is truly a boon for the Indian economy. No doubt about it. I think that the youth does have a choice here. They can struggle or work in a call centre to get their fat salary.

-- Jayanand Ukey, 25, consultant, Vashi, Navi Mumbai

I personally feel the entire hype relating to call centre jobs is completely biased, plainly because I feel the other sectors feel the lesser qualified individuals are drawing perks & salaries equivalent to their counterparts in some other hyped up sectors.

I would like to suggest to some of my over-qualified people that Qualifications & brains are not the only path for achieving success. The macro picture to be successful is getting work done out of a vibrant bunch of people, harnessing their talent & maturing them to perform to the client based service level agreements.

A BPO employee learns & inculcates in him right from a young age to deal with varied types of people & to get them to perform.

There is nothing in this world which cannot be grasped or learnt, but the power to interact & manage large groups of volatile people can only be learnt in the BPO sector which in the future gives us the perfect Managers.

-- Abhijit Thakur, assistant manager BT Tech, ClientLogic, BT Yahoo Narrowband


What is YOUR take on call centres?

What do you feel about the working conditions?

Are they driving our youth astray?

Have we been blinded by the call centre boom or is it truly a boon for the Indian economy?

Express your views, good, bad or ugly.

If you are a call centre employee, or part of the management team, tell us your side of the story.

Don't forget to add your name, age, designation and where you live. 



Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Share your comments

 What do you think about the story?

Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 11

Sub: My Opinion

Hi, I work with one of D best BPO\\\\\\\'s in India. Evbdy around me are jealous coz i\\\\\\\'ve got into this place. I get a ...

Posted by raji

Sub: future in call centre

i have 8 years experience as a sales officer in various companies and now am fed up all the touring and tension related to it.moreover ...

Posted by monty

Sub: call centre hype

this line from onenight@callcentre " watz so great about a young indians sitting in front of computers and telling dumb americans how to use a ...

Posted by poorab

Sub: Get Real ! --2--

<contd> But down here we see that both the software engineer and the call center representative get equal salary. This indicates the level of desperation ...

Posted by P.A.R.

Sub: Get Real ! --1--

Why this big hue and cry ! Those working in the call centers are busy boasting about the facilities and comforts their job provides them. ...

Posted by P.A.R.


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