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A Study of Job Stress in Call Centre Employees





In all walks of life, people suffer from some degree of stress due to factors known and unknown. The causes may be the increasing complexity of modern living, insecurity in work environment, growing confusion regarding the future, etc. Stress may be lead to psychological, social and physiological disorders. Individuals need to learn ways and means of effectively copying with stress.

The work place has become ever more demanding of our time and effort. With the increased efficiency and productivity brought to us by the computer and communication innovations of recent years, you would think that life would be easier. But we have been carried into an increasingly frantic work-day by the need to master ever more complicated technology; to be quicker, faster and more innovative; and to advance and make more money. There is less time for lunch, for leisure, for family. Even when we are away from the job, we can be reached or hooked into a weekend project by computer and the internet.

With work demands more and more intrusive in our lives, we may experience subtle but progressive symptoms of physical and psychological stress.

In today’s world, stress has become a common phenomenon and it is so widespread that people and organizations should be concerned about how to manage it more effectively. Pressures to perform in a climate of rapid economic and technological change, especially in developing countries like India, cause stress. It is a fact that stress affects individual and organizational productivity and strategies to cope with stress requires greater attention.

“Everybody talks about what stress is, but nobody knows what it is”

What is Stress?

Stress refers to physiological, psychological & behavioral reactions to events appraised as threatening or exceeding one’s level of coping responses and options.


An important part of one’s life is that there are various causes that lead to a great deal of stress in one’s job or work. Work related stress is of growing concern because it has significant impact on the productivity of the employees, resulting in economic implications for the organization.

Work stress may be due to both ‘on the job factors’ and extra-organizational factors’.

On the job factors are as follows:

1. Poor working conditions, workload & monotony.

2. Role conflict and role ambiguity.

3. Lack of promotional opportunities, policies and job insecurity.

4. Poor relationships at work.

5. Poor organizational culture.

Over & above these, there are extra-organizational stressors that interact with ‘on-the-job factors’. These are family problems, personal problems and social problems.

Stress can cause a disturbance in sleep, loss of appetite or libido. You might stay up all night worrying about the project that’s due in two weeks. Food no longer tastes good, or it tastes too good and you’re eating all the time and starting to gain weight.

The total amount of stress emanating from theses sectors will depend on the tolerance limit of the person.

1. Euphoria on getting a new job: The person’s appointment to a new job is accompanied by an euphoric feeling of excitement, enthusiasm, challenge and pride. Dysfunctional processes at this stage would include the depletion of energy reserves in coping and adapting to the new environment.

2. The full throttle stage: Gradually vague feelings of loss, fatigue and confusion may arise because of the rapid depletion of resources. Other symptoms include dissatisfaction; sleep disturbances and escapist tendencies such as overeating, drinking coffee/tea/alcohol, or even smoking.

3. The chronic symptoms stage: Fuel shortage could gradually lead to the development of chronic and more pronounced physiological symptoms. Chronic exhaustion, physical illness, anger and depression may overpower the person.

4. The crisis stage: As the symptoms persist the person enters the crisis stage. He develops as escapist attitude and feels oppressed. Chronic backaches, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia and even peptic ulcers and asthma develop.

5. Hitting the wall stage: No person can continue under strain for too long as one’s energy resources are not infinite. Under the pressure of constant stress couples with the physical and mental effects, one may reach the end of one’s professional career. In other words, burn Out Stress Syndrome (ROSS) may occur. At the other extreme, i.e., under conditions of extreme stress, Rust out Stress Syndrome (ROSS) may be seen. This is most likely to occur when the gap between one’s capabilities and environmental demands becomes too wide.

Reactions or effects of excessive work stress take an exacerbated form in some occupations. In service oriented jobs, or for instance, in which one is forced to constantly engage in interpersonal dealings (which are referred to as people oriented jobs) a stage is reached when one starts feeling that enough is enough, the job has become impossible. This stage is called burnout and can be likened to the burnout of an electric bulb, which has had to glow constantly over an extended period of time. In much the same way, when an individual is forced to “put on a smile”, in other words to “glow” constantly, the eventuality can be burnout. People working in customer-oriented services such as call centers, are more prone to such burnout effects. The chief cause of burnout is unrelieved work stress which results in emotional and / or physical exhaustion, lowered job productivity and increased dissatisfaction and pessimism at work.The utility industry has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade. Local markets have been deregulated, while at the same time local and regional firms are rapidly disappearing as ownership becomes more centralized.

To date there has been far less attention given to the impact theses changes have had on workers in the utility industry. Far less is known about the workers who remain, their jobs, their working conditions, their joys, and their struggles. Given the tumultuous changes in the utility industry, theirs are not the same jobs that existed five or ten years ago.

This paper focuses on one group of workers in the utility industry – call center representatives. These are the women and men who assist residents and businesses in establishing or changing their utility service and troubleshooting problems that customers might have with their service, their billing, and a host of other issues. While perhaps less visible than the men and women who work on poles or read meters, call center representatives are an important part of the workforce in the utility industry.

While there has been considerable research on customer service representatives in the telecommunications industry, [1] there has been virtually no research on call center representatives in the utility industry. Thus there is a need to know what causes stress to call center representatives and if their company helps them to overcome it.

Turnover rates in call centers around the world are extremely high. Some facilities exceed 200 percent.

Although there are a variety of reasons for employee turnover, call center managers must look to a major psychological factor called burnout.

The conditions of the call center and the job of the TSR/CSR cause stress in call center reps. It is a fast-paced, high-stress job that can become very repetitive. Continuous repetition without change or the chance leads to boredom or anxiety. Without a release for these negative feelings, reps experience stress.



Call Centers are defined as Operational Centers set up to utilize telecommunication and computer technologies to automate various high-volume inbound and outbound telephone activities and services. Inbound call centers are typically characterized as cost centers. Outbound call centers are generally characterized as profit centers. These days all call centers are becoming both inbound and outbound by taking advantage of blending technology and hence their characterization into one of the categories is becoming increasingly difficult.

Most call centers successfully operational currently are fairly large and have some experience in the form of promoters having worked abroad or previous experience with such ventures or as subsidiaries of foreign companies.

Call centers are typically mixed mode centers used for customer support and service. Two primary reasons why captive call centers are implemented are cost reduction and enhanced customer service.

There are two kinds of technologies available for call centers – Traditional EPABX based and Server based technology.

Traditional EPABX based call center: Historically, call centers evolved from being a place with just telephone lines landing on agent’s desks. Then a PBX was added to distribute calls coming on common lines. Over time, Predictive Dialers, IVR systems and CTI were added to create a full-fledged call center.

Server Based Call Center: A server based call center integrates all the components of a call center into server as software components. Server based call centers offer three main advantages. One dramatically lower cost. A server based call center costs far less.

Standard hardware and software components rather than proprietary systems and the elimination of expensive and difficult due to the need for integrating proprietary systems from different vendors the total cost of ownership upto one fourth of the traditional architecture. Other advantages of server based call centers is, they provide in increasing the sale of operations. Most of the information delivery is moving towards the web and hence web integration becomes very important for providing good access to customers. The multimedia handling capability of server based systems will become crucial in the coming years as communication will be through rich “Hypermedia”, which will seamlessly integrate video, voice and data.


Both telecommunication and computer equipment must be sized appropriately to handle call loads projected for a call center. A certain number of incoming PSTN trunks will be required to handle a specific load. PBX/ACD and IVR units must have an appropriate number of network connections. Appropriate sizing of each of these components is essential for efficient call center implementation and operation.

Server based call center architectures are generally non-blocking, hence the complexity is reduced to estimating the call load, which is used to derive the number of PSTN ports required. A general rule of thumb is that the ratio of PSTN ports to number of agents for effective agent utilization should be between 1.5 to 2.

Telecommunication equipment is generally sized based on peak loads and desired performance levels. Various formulas and queuing algorithms are used to determine line and port configurations for incoming call center operations.

Call Centers initially recruited employees with minimum educational qualification, with a good command over the English language. A basic graduation degree will no longer be enough to land a call center job. The slow down in securing

customers for basic call centers is making existing call center operators move up the value chain by repositioning themselves as help desks.

Several players are already gearing up to offer both services under the same roof. The transition from call center to help desk will also spur the demand for better qualified professionals, software engineers for instance, since a help desk’s basic function is to provide customers with quick solutions to specific problems.

According to Harsh Manglik country managing director of Accenture India. “A typical call centers is perceived to be made up of low end operators answering customer calls. But we are moving up the value chain to position the call center as a help desk for telecom and health care companies”.

India has traditionally been used by multinationals to offer help desk services. IBM out sources its support and helpdesk services to its facilities in Bangalore for its operating system OS2. Now independent companies are also getting into the act.

He says “Once you can convince the customer about the reliability of the telecom infrastructure and ensure that the leased lines will not go down, it is easier to get business. Most customers are aware there is trained manpower in India to offer theses services”.

Today, about four percent of the total employment in US is in support services. Most companies are now looking at relocating their support service functions to places like India, which offers a cost advantage. To capture this business, existing call center operators will have to upgrade to help desks, which is where the money is.

“What prospects does India has to have become one the major source of customer service industry?”

With India emerging as call center capital of the CRM world, many MNCs and start-ups are setting operations here. The country has become an obvious choice of the industry as it provides a large pool of English speaking professionals who are also very passionate about making a career in the field of IT enabled services.

India is well placed to handle back office fulfillment and Business process delivery systems in areas such as Internet-, HR- & Accounting Services, Transaction Processing Services plus Customers Service.

India has a large population of highly educated people, a well developed software and CTI Industry and a large unemployed workforce – cost of labor is Computer Software Integrators with a proven track record in both software development, implementation & application area.

But Call Center business is not just plug and play. You need to have an excellent understanding of the industry. You have to deal in quality and there is no second chance. Words once said by the agent are gone. The level of skill and quality required is much higher when the agents have to sell a product or service to a remote customer.

v The English spoken by Indians is a very heavy dialect. In 1981 when GE established The GE Answer Center in Louisville Kentucky, 3 months was spent researching which American dialect would best be suited for all Americans before the location was decided upon. So here we’re 20 years later and an average American are expected to understand Indian-English-quite a challenge to both the customers and the staff.

v The non-existent Customer Service Culture in India will make training of reps mandatory and difficult, since such a luxury as service is not part of everyday life in India.

v There is further need to improve infrastructure. The business culture and the mix of Government intervention will be a cultural shock for Western Business People with no previous experience.

v Add to this a lack of a Call Center Industry and very few people with Call Center experience which makes it very hard to recruit Call Centre managers with a proven track record.

It is predicted that the Indian Call Centre Boom will be short lived unless its based on Indian Joint Venture Partners with experience in handling both regulatory hurdles and ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place.

When India develops its own Customer Service Culture and has de-regulated its Telecom sector, then may be we’ll see a sustainable Call Center Industry to service the large Indian market place.

The Projected Cost savings is best realized by joining up with Indian Company with a proven track record in IT & project management. Beware of short term relationships offering “a pie in the sky”.

But the invisible factor that comes in the way of achieving the objectives of the Call Center Industry is the Stress Factor. There is a direct relationship between stress level and productivity. Particularly, stress in this industry is mainly because of its very nature of business.

In the last couple of years India has become the leader din the Call Center Services industry. With nearly 66% of the worlds outsourcing and call center services business in India, its time to step back and access the pluses and minuses of this industry that has become the panacea for the Indian economy.

Call Center Services offered by a majority of Indian companies are in the low-end of the value chain. The call center services industry essentially requires low value skills. The learning curve is low but slow. It does not require high qualification or degrees to get into call center companies. The compensation for such call center jobs is decent, compared to jobs for the same qualification in any other industry. This often results in mass complacency, where fresh graduates prefer to take up a call center job rather than study further or enter any core sector of specialization.

Looking at the industry from a long-term perspective, India can do itself more harm than good if it does not move up the value chain. India would not like to repeat American follies. America in the 50s and 60s had high school graduates who could get good jobs and a decent paycheck. This generation was caught in a kind of time warp they are struggling to get out of even now – a general acceptance of low education levels. In fact this is one of the many reasons that Asian countries have become the outstanding and call center havens for America and Europe.

On the up-side, call center services have increased the availability of jobs for fresh graduates substantially. Now, a fresh graduates has more chance of getting a good paycheck than ever before. Engineering graduates prefer to join Call Center Services operations as transit jobs before opting for more technical jobs. This has made call center job retention a major issue for the HR department of call centers.

Call Center Service operations have sprouted in India in cities like Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi et. It has been a window of opportunity for young graduates who would have been busy hunting for a job, to head for entrance tests of a BPO outfit or call center. Call Centers have created jobs for India, theirs no doubt about that.

Call Centers face a major problem though. Since call center operations do not require a stringent graduate education like an engineering degree or likewise, call centers find it extremely difficult to retain jobs. The HR department is hard at work to retain the people it has, after all, they would gladly shift for better salaries.

Call Center Agents need to be continually motivated to avoid those days of frustration when the client shouts at them. Employees on the telephone talking to US destinations enact an American accent, which is often stressful to maintain. Added to this, the nightshifts and odd timings can get frustrating quite often. This is where the HR and their team can play an important role. They try to maintain a friendly and helping atmosphere in office. They often have displays with the latest news from America, so that if any client got chatty on the telephone, the call center representatives won’t be in a fix. Very often an HR manager in a call center will have to contend with office romances and ask them to keep their cool. Besides trouble shooting personal problems, the HR has to handle many daily operations problems, both on a personal and group basis.

Many think that working in a call center is a monotonous job and there is a school of thought, which believes that the growth options are very limited in this field. However, says one on the HR managers of call center, it is not correct to say that the call center jobs are monotonous, in fact they are as challenging and exciting as any other career option.

There are some who believe that call center jobs are too stressful, as they require working in shifts, mostly at nights. However the companies say they do understand that working late nights can be a problem, especially for women employees. Therefore they not only provide transport facilities but also take care of snacks and other energy revitalizes. Usually call centers have five working days in a week, but if someone works during weekends, a suitable compensation is granted. To add more ‘spice’ during night shifts, the companies provide an array of activities which include aerobic sessions, dart boards and mini basketball. They also have relaxation room where an expert can rejuvenate the employees by giving massages.

While most ambitious youngsters see call center services temporary jobs, since starting salaries are often better than average engineering jobs and jobs hard to find, many prefer to enter the call center services market on a term basis but they pay

a high price for that. This study concentrates on the Stress experienced by the agents or the representatives of call centers. The sources and effects of the stress are highlighted with a few recommendations to work on the same.


Stress exists in every walk of life or work and call centers are no exception. Call Centers are stressful work environments. The demand of serving the customer in real-time helps to lay the foundation. Add to this, factor such as job repetition, potential job dissatisfaction, poor ergonomics or low pay and the stress level climbs higher. Many things cause stress. Time pressures, high expectations, lack of communication, high call volume, inexperience, ill prepared, to name a few.

Call Centers are living and vibrant workplaces where the demands are high and the need to manage and reduce staff stress is paramount. Studies have shown that staff turnover is directly link to a staff person’s ability to deal with Stress.

If stress in the workplace (i.e. the call center) is not on the agenda the results of stress are revealed through higher absenteeism than other parts of the company, higher Worker’s Compensation claims and ultimately in reduced customer satisfaction.

Raising the pay isn’t necessarily the solution. There are many other creative means of managing stress in the call centers. This paper focuses on one group of workers in the utility industry – call center representatives. These are the women and men who assist residents and businesses in establishing or changing their utility service and troubleshooting problems that customers might have with their service, their billing and a host of other issues. While perhaps less visible than the men and women who work on poles or read meters, call center representatives are an important part of the workforce in the utility industry.

These representatives experience stress from a variety of factors, but particularly from the constant monitoring, pressure to work fast, and being disrespected by customers. This stress is leading to physical problems and emotional distress for employees, which ultimately hurts their work performance. The constant pressure to answer more calls with less people has given us the Age of the ‘battery call center’.

Long hours of work , permanent night shifts, incredibly high work targets, loss of identity… are the dark clouds that threaten to mar the ‘sunshine’ call center industry in India?

Irate customers who never seem to respect to the person helping them are hard to please even when the service is at its best. Especially American customers are known for using abusing words very frequently. The representatives who are Indian by birth find it very offensive. For them, it is difficult to be immune to those abusive words.

Not finding time to spend with family members makes the respondents feel isolated, Also due to the time constraint they find it difficult to indulge in their extra curricular activities. These frustrations affect the quality of performance though the representatives are aware that their performance is monitored every minute.

Many people, between 18 and 21 years, are seeking counseling. Today, most top executives acknowledge that a steady turnover of staff is an inevitable aspect of this industry. The reasons could be boredom, seeking better prospects or a change, or inadequate training for the job. Or the toll taken by this demanding job.

High performance.Delivered.




Company Overview

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, committed to delivering innovation.

Accenture: The Growth of a Global Leader

Continuous innovation and rapid transformation have been themes throughout Accenture’s history.

Initially called Andersen Consulting, Accenture was formally established in 1989 when a group of partners from the Consulting division of the various Arthur Andersen firms around the world formed a new organization focused on consulting and technology services related to managing large-scale systems integration and enhancing business processes.

That same year Accenture formalized Business Integration, its framework for aligning a client’s people, processes and technology in support of its overall strategy to enable all components of the client organization to work to enhance business performance. During its first 10 years, Accenture evolved from a systems integrator to a global management consulting and technology services company, providing the full range of consulting, outsourcing and related technology services.

For instance, in 1991 Accenture began work on one of its first major outsourcing arrangements when the company started managing British Petroleum Exploration’s accounting, finance and support functions from a special center that it established in Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1994 the company established the Accenture Technology Labs—then known as Centers for Strategic Technology—in Palo Alto, California, and Sophia Antipolis, France. As the technology R&D organization within Accenture, the Accenture Technology Labs create a vision of how technology will shape the future and invent the next wave of cutting-edge business solutions. In fact, technological innovation is part of Accenture’s heritage, as the company traces its roots back to 1954 with the installation at General Electric of the first computer for business application.

A New Name, A New Direction

By 2000, Accenture had achieved more than a decade of tremendous growth, with net revenues exceeding US$9.5 billion and more than 75,000 professionals in 47 countries delivering to clients a broad range of consulting, technology and outsourcing services and solutions.

On Jan. 1, 2001, the company changed its name to Accenture (from Andersen Consulting) as the result of an arbitrator’s decision in August 2000 that severed the contractual ties between Accenture and Andersen Worldwide Society Cooperative (AWSC). Accenture then launched one of the largest and most successful re-branding campaigns in corporate history. The new name reinforced Accenture’s new positioning and reflected the organization’s further growth and broadened set of capabilities.

By 2001, it became apparent to Accenture’s partners that maintaining the organization’s existing structure—since its inception in 1989, Accenture had operated as a group of locally owned independent partnerships or other entities in more than 40 countries—would limit the company’s ability to continue its growth. Therefore, the partners decided to transition to corporate form, enabling Accenture to build and acquire the necessary capital to remain competitive and fuel its growth.

In April 2001, Accenture’s partners voted overwhelmingly to pursue an initial public offering, and Accenture became a public company on July 19, 2001, when it listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ACN.

Today Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, identifying new business and technology trends and developing solutions to help clients around the world enter new markets, increase revenues in existing markets, improve operational performance, and deliver their products and services more effectively and efficiently.

Company Description

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with net revenues of US$16.65 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2006. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments.

Our “high performance business” strategy builds on our expertise in consulting, technology and outsourcing to help clients perform at the highest levels so they can create sustainable value for their customers and shareholders. Using our industry knowledge, service-offering expertise and technology capabilities, we identify new business and technology trends and develop solutions to help clients around the world:

• Enter new markets.

• Increase revenues in existing markets.

• Improve operational performance.

• Deliver their products and services more effectively and efficiently.

We have extensive relationships with the world’s leading companies and governments and work with organizations of all sizes—including 87 of the Fortune Global 100 and nearly two-thirds of the Fortune Global 500. Our commitment to client satisfaction strengthens and extends our relationships. For example, 96 of our top 100 clients in fiscal year 2005 based on revenue, have been clients for at least five years, and 83 have been clients for at least 10 years.

Among the many strengths that distinguish Accenture in the marketplace are our:

• Extensive industry expertise.

• Broad and evolving service offerings.

• Expertise in business transformation outsourcing.

• History of technology innovation and implementation, including our research and development capabilities, on which we spend approximately $250 million each year.

• Commitment to the long-term development of our employees.

• Proven and experienced management team.

Our Core Values have shaped the culture and defined the character of our company, guiding how we behave and make decisions:

• Stewardship: Building a heritage for future generations, acting with an owner mentality, developing people everywhere we are, and meeting our commitments to all internal and external stakeholders.

• Best People: Attracting and developing the best talent for our business, stretching our people and developing a “can do” attitude.

• Client Value Creation: Improving our clients’ business performance, creating long-term, win-win relationships and focusing on execution excellence.

• One Global Network: Mobilizing the power of teaming to deliver consistently exceptional service to our clients anywhere in the world.

• Respect for the Individual: Valuing diversity, ensuring an interesting and inclusive environment, and treating people as we would like to be treated ourselves.

• Integrity: Inspiring trust by taking responsibility, acting ethically, and encouraging honest and open debate

• By enhancing our consulting and outsourcing expertise with alliances and other capabilities, we help move clients forward in every part of their businesses, from strategic planning to day-to-day operations. With approximately 140,000 people in 48 countries, deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance.

Accenture’s ability to help clients identify and leverage insight and innovations are key ingredients. Our deep industry expertise and insight, our

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