Work dysfunctions and their consequences as experienced by call centre agents

Werner, Ann (2006-12)

Thesis (MA (Industrial Psychology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Overview of previous work: Previous research on call centres has identified the inherent stressful nature of the call centre agent job. In fact researchers have gone so far as to name call centres ‘sweatshops of the new millennium’, (Crome, 1998; Fernie, 1998). Comparative studies between human service work and burnout have often featured in current literature as have studies concerning the correlations between call centre work and job satisfaction, the effects of shift work, and stress in the call centre environment. Purpose: However, the purpose of this study, avoiding a comparative approach, is to focus on one organisation in particular, in order to assess the varied work dysfunctions present in its call centre. The study is particularly important in the light of the proposed development of the call centre industry in South Africa at this time. A more comprehensive understanding therefore, of the pitfalls of call centre work, would be beneficial to those currently running call centres as well as those planning their implementation. At the outset, stress was considered a pivotal dysfunction within the call centre, from which other maladies often ensued such as substance abuse, depression and eating pattern disruptions. Work challenges too, manifest in the field data, namely insufficient training and managerial / system problems. The research therefore includes the exploration of these factors serving to highlight both the more socio-cultural and emotional issues, as well as on-the-job grievances encountered by call centre agents. Design / methodology / approach: Owing to the exploratory nature of the study, a focus group methodology was used, allowing for in-depth qualitative research which catered for a far reaching and comprehensive understanding of current work issues. As the study concerns only call centre agents, the roles of supervisors and managers were not included. The sample comprised four different groups, of randomly selected call centre agents, with a total of 27 participants. Demographics revealed male and female participants of differing marital status, educational qualifications, but with tenure at a call centre between 2 and 6 years, and aged between 20 and 40 years. Findings: Support was found for the following dysfunctions in the process, with stress as primary harbinger of other dysfunctions, many exacerbated by the stressful nature of shift work, and the resultant work-life imbalance. Stresses encountered due to ineffective systems, training processes, and call centre management were also significant. On a positive note, of interest was the unanimous agreement that within this particular field study, workspace ergonomic considerations were thought not to add to call centre dysfunction. Research limitations / implications: Even though four groups from two different call centres were observed, they were part of the same organisation, in Cape Town in the Western Cape. In this way commonalities in terms of reactions to systems, policies etc were thought likely to be similar, however owing to the shift work nature of call centres through out South Africa, it is believed that significant correlations could be determined, in any organisation. A comparative study across various differing organisations and locations therefore could be investigated. Originality / value: Owing to the very stressful nature of call centre work, the focus groups revealed themselves to be cathartic in nature as participants thoroughly embraced the process, and personal experiences were often disclosed by participants which facilitated realistic discussions. In this way, meaningful qualitative data was collected, and can be used to ameliorate current call centre conditions, and to allow better planning for future implementation. Furthermore, the research has exposed a number of further study options, as e.g. owing to their significance, each dysfunction could be investigated further and covered individually in separate research papers, as could the role in management, and training within the call centre milieu.

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