The BPO industry has provided jobs and livelihood to lakhs of young graduates, but, at the same time, it has also led to ill-health in a significant number of them. Since a majority of call centre employees are young, it is important that they are aware of the health issues that could affect them. It is also noteworthy that a lot of these employees use the call centre job as a stop-gap, and move on to other, bigger job opportunities later in life. Therefore, it is important that they are aware about the health issues that could affect them during their call centre days, as these could leave a lasting impact on their later health.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Basic Medical Science, call centre employees of a company in Bangalore were given questionnaires to answer on their health; in particular, their physical and psychosocial health. Some of the findings and their likely explanation are given below:
Physical Health Issues
1. Vocal Disturbance: Nearly a third of the respondents complained of hoarseness of voice, apart from sore throat, and even voice loss. Obviously, long hours of talking to customers takes a toll on the vocal cords, resulting in voice fatigue.
2. Visual Problems: More than half complained of visual disturbances. Staring constantly at the display equipment with glare can cause visual fatigue and problems related to sight.
3. Auditory Problems: About 12.5% complained of ear blocks, pain and reduced hearing. Apart from these, repeated sharing and prolonged wearing of ear phones can lead to ear infections.
4. Musculoskeletal Disorders: More than 70% of them had some problem, most notably neck and back aches and pains. This comes from the posture that they have to maintain at their workstations. Repetitive stress disorder that causes soreness or stiffness in those parts that are constantly overworked – such as wrists that rest on the table while typing – is increasingly being recognised in call centre employees.
5. Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Gastritis was a common complaint in the study, perhaps owing to the fact that apart from sleep, eating patterns also vary in those working in shifts.
6. Obesity: About 12% of respondents were either pre-obese or obese. Sedentary work activities, lack of exercise, odd hours of sleep, and eating junk food can lead to weight gain, which can have cardiac health implications in later life.
1. Social Interaction: About a third in the study said that their social life, including interacting with their own family, had suffered due to the odd hours and demands of the call centre job.
2. Stress: Meeting targets and deadlines, losing sleep, lack of opportunities to offload worries and tension could lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.
3. Drug Abuse: Substances such as cannabis and sleeping tablets are consumed frequently in an attempt to reduce the effects of stress. This of course has a further deleterious effect on physical and mental health.
3. Sleep: Frequent changes in sleeping hours due to shift work could not only reverse sleeping pattern but also result in reduction in sleep duration and quality of sleep.
4. Safety: There are obvious safety issues for those working in the night hours, especially women employees. There have been innumerable examples of sexual harassment at workplace and sexual assaults while travelling to and from the call centre.
What Could be Done?
Even in the study quoted above, only about two-thirds of the employees responded to the questionnaires. Larger, multi-centric studies are required in order to identify the problems plaguing call centre employees. In the meantime, awareness about the health issues, regular built-in breaks from work, scheduled vacations, supervision and counselling at workplace and regular health checkups should help reduce the impact of some of the issues discussed above.