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Making Employee Health and Safety at Work a Priority for Fair Trade Call Center Agents

April 28, 2017 Claire Ponsaran

Call centers, more than any other workplace, are notorious for putting the health and safety of their agents at risk. The amount of workplace stress that call center workers deal with every day is unbelievable.

No wonder absenteeism in call centers is at an all-time high. This leads to productivity losses of up to $225.8 billion, or $1,685 per employee, each year. If you added other workplace issues, such as racism and sexual harassment, then it’s even less of a surprise to see the abysmal turnover rates for call center agents. It can go as high as 33% in the United States with a lifespan of only 3.3 years. In the Philippines, the situation is even worse with entry-level agents lasting only 18 months at their jobs.

These workplace statistics deserve a second look today, April 28, which the UNILO, and other agencies celebrate as World Day for Safety and Health at Work every year. This international campaign promotes the right of employees to a safe and healthy working environment. It’s a right that’s embedded in the principles of fair trade outsourcing.


Common Health Problems of Call Center Agents

The most common health problems that call center agents experience are vision and hearing problems. Long-term exposure to computer monitors and bad lighting can cause eye strain, chronic dry eye syndrome, blurry vision, and eyesight problems like myopia and astigmatism. Because they wear headphones all day, call center agents are likely to suffer from acoustic shock disorder. This causes pain and ringing in the ears, loss of balance, dizziness, headaches, and, in severe cases, vertigo.

Call center agents are also vulnerable to muscle and joint problems, which lead to chronic pain in the neck and shoulders, wrists, and lower back. They sit in their cubicles too long and they risk experiencing intense pain in their lower back, not to mention the risk of developing scoliosis, lordosis or kyphosis. When agents forget to move their head around or flex their arms and hands, they end up with a stiff neck and shoulder pain, which can be debilitating.

Colds and flu are seasonal illnesses that commonly affect call center agents during the cold and wet season. But, these common illnesses can become chronic respiratory problems when the work areas and air quality are not kept clean. Sometimes, agents suffer from upper respiratory tract infections caused by air pollution, second-hand smoke, and chemical fumes from cleaning agents used to sanitize their workplace.


Focusing on Employee Health and Occupational Safety

A fair trade call center is all about agent happiness, and a safer and healthier workplace definitely makes employees happy and satisfied. In a caring and more flexible environment, agents don’t feel pressured to reach impossible targets, thereby reducing the effects of workplace stress on their physical and psychosocial health.

Part of the fair trade outsourcing principles is the assurance that a call center shall always have a high-level of security. This is to keep employees safe from criminal elements as well as from fires and natural disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes. Compliance with government regulations is also a surefire way of keeping agents away from harm.

In addition to keeping the work environment safe and secure, a fair trade call center considers healthcare as a human right. Agents are given wider access to healthcare and wellness programs that will “get at the root of how sickness or injury prevents [agents] from being stable economically.”

In general, a fair trade call center doesn’t rely on public healthcare services alone but gives their employees the added benefits of having HMO and life insurance. And, this requires an investment designed to improve the social and economic welfare of employees.

So, is it worth spending money for? Just ask Rethink Staffing, the first fair trade call center in the Philippines. The results have been astounding for the most part: only 1.5% absenteeism rate and 5% attrition rate compared to industry averages of 15.5% and 50% respectively. Workforce optimization is at 94% and customer satisfaction is at 85% or higher. With less than 2% error rate for back-office teams, you have to admit these stats are simply amazing. Impressed? Call us now!

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