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Slaves of the System?
[size="3"][url="http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata-/BPO-blues/articleshow/10298472.cms"]BPO blues[/url] : TOI Kolkata, Oct 10, 2011

Quote:Glitzy offices, fat pay packets and apparently enviable lifestyle. But life is not that easy for BPO employees. Saibal Sen & Sumati Yengkhom look for the cloud of weariness behind those smart and young faces[/size]

[size="3"]It's a life they chose, because there wasn't any other option. Straight out of school or college, they jumped into the BPO bandwagon in the late 90s, unaware of where it would lead to. It paid well - moneywise. And with big players like Wipro, IBM and HSBC pitching in, the prospects seemed lucrative. A decade later, it is still these BPOs on which rests the state's IT dream. Every other building in Salt Lake's Sector V now houses a BPO, mostly domestic and rarely international. Smart young boys and girls make a beeline for these offices. A picture seemingly perfect unless one tries to understand what lies behind those bright but weary faces. A generation still grappling to come to terms with their work - and life.[/size]

[size="3"]To begin with, the work is demanding. For example, a 300-seat "floor" of a major Sector-V office handles inbound calls of a renowned international client throughout the night. The "floor" receives nearly 35,000 calls daily.[/size]

[size="3"]That means, on an average, every person has to receive over 100 calls per day. The duration of each call can be 4 minutes to 15 minutes. The whole process is monitored to keep tabs on the response time (or to use their jargon, average handled time or AHT) and how effectively the call is dealt. None can deviate from the laid-down script even at the cost of repeating the same thing to "customers" all through the night. And on this hinges the performance evaluation, which in turn is reflected in hikes and promotions. As a result, not for a single moment can one even think of catching a forty wink. One has to remain alert till the shift ends at 5am (which may sometimes be extended by a couple of hours) and lucky to have a bite during the "dinner break" - which usually is around 2am or later. At the end of the 12-hour shift, the eyes can't take it any longer, the mind refuses to work and you're fast asleep even before the pool car takes you to your home.[/size]

[size="3"]But then these 300 youngsters work in one of the most prestigious offices of Sector V. The condition of others is worse. The work of those who handle "outbound calls" or make calls to potential customers are target-driven. For every six calls made, two must end in sales. And that is a tough task. It is really difficult to call an unknown person and coax them into buying something. The callers' anglicized names (names are changed so that it becomes easier for potential customers in the US or UK or Australia to connect) or their trained accents notwithstanding, the sheer effort night-long is enough to leave them in a state of daze all through the time they are awake.[/size]

[size="3"]"Domestic processes" may sound better for their morning shifts and Indian clientele. But the pay packet in this sector is unenviable. The salaries for beginners in common "domestic processes" range from Rs 4,500 to Rs 6,000 per month. Whereas, in international processes it is thrice the sum. Moreover, the smaller companies here are hardly employee-friendly. "Leaves are cancelled at will and there are no medical benefits," says a senior manager, working with call centres for the past five years.[/size]

[size="3"]For Diptiman Banerjee, the priorities therefore were very clear when he started looking for a job three years ago. "I am just a graduate and have come from a middle-class family. My father can't spend lakhs to get me admitted to some B-school. So, BPO was the only choice for me. I have been here for three years now and no other job will give me this salary with my qualifications. Now after getting married, I have got used to a certain lifestyle and have to be content with my life in office," Banerjee said. He then admits how the awake-at-night pattern is telling on his health. "On weekends (he is among the lucky few to get a weekend off), I can't sleep at night. I keep awake till 5am, watching TV. I am being treated for sleep disorder and the doctor has warned if this continues further it might lead to short-term memory loss. Now I realise why I keep missing my friends' birthdays and anniversaries.[/size]

[size="3"]But then I can't (like many of my colleagues) quit and join a domestic process with a poor pay package," he says. Manjit Kaur sounds apologetic when contacted. "Yesterday, when you called I didn't feel like taking the call. I was feeling very sleepy. For some reason or the other, I am not getting leave despite my ill health. In the last two months (August and September), leaves have been cancelled - first due to Hurricane Irine and then Kolkata had to work more since the call centres in western India went on a week-long Ganesh Chaturthi leave. On an average nine days in the 22-day month had been declared 'critical days', which means all sanctioned leaves stand cancelled and the call flow becomes heavier," explains Kaur. "And then, people like us have to face a lot of problems outside office - from getting understanding landlords to getting maids. The days when I have to go to a bank, I can't get any sleep at all."[/size]

[size="3"]It is this dreariness that triggers another problem. "One has to do something to get rid of this weariness. Some sleep over the weekend, others go to discotheques or go on a drinking binge. The moodiness, often bordering on rudeness, affects relationships. I have seen a lot of breakups in my last three years in BPO industry," says Anamika Rudra. "After my college I wanted to go for a post-graduation degree. But I realised that for a very average student like me post-graduation won't be of much help in getting a job. That is why I joined a BPO," recalled Piyali Ghosh. Her first night-out was a month after working with the BPO. She was introduced to the heady cocktail of alcohol and psychedelic lights. She liked it, it was a cool way to unwind, she thought. For this girl and her friends it is work hard and party harder. But now five years down the line, Piyali wants to settle down with her fiancee, her dreadful state of finances is now a stumbling block.[/size]

[size="3"]Says another senior call centre employee, who is just 26-year-old: "As I understand, for most of those who join the BPO industry, Kolkata is the first Metro they've lived in. In addition to this, they are away from their homes - and its discipline. They have money in their hand. Which explains this flashy lifestyle. There are many who get addicted to drugs and alcohol. Life is easy here when you have money to spend." Some fall prey to performance enhancing drug. Pills like spasmo-proxyvon are abused by a good number of BPO executives. These drugs keep them going even when their throat goes dry due to the numerous calls they attend to. "Just popping a pill gives you more energy and make you feel that you can handle the clients more smartly. But soon I became dependent on the drug. My family came to know about this and I had to go to a rehab centre," said Azhar, a former call centre employee.[/size]

[size="3"]In most cases, it is a manifestation of frustration. "Every day," admits a senior HR professional, "we get close to 10 dropouts. The reasons vary from personal problems to professional issues," she says. "The attrition rate in BPO industry is far higher than other jobs. Therefore we have to keep hiring people. In the top-notch companies, the dropouts start even from the induction and training stage. After the three to four months of intensive technical training, barely 50% of the candidates stay on. The training modules are designed to bring all - from school passouts, graduates and even retired professionals - at the same level where process delivery is concerned.[/size]

[size="3"]It really doesn't matter what educational background one is from if one can speak well. Anyway, they are periodically trained by accent coaches who teach them to speak specific accents based on their customer's geographic location," the professional adds.[/size]

[size="3"]This, perhaps, isn't as easy as it sounds like. "There is hardly any regulation in the BPO sector. Leave aside the mushrooming domestic processes, even much-touted career advancement programmes of bigger companies become nothing but farce. At the end of the day, the promotion basically hinges on how close you are to the manager. There are instances galore of a person who has been promoted four times in three years, yet a deserving candidate failed to make a cut in five years. This only adds to the frustration," said Akansha Shukla, who'd been through this umpteen times.[/size]

[size="3"]And life remains in a state of daze for most of them.[/size]

[size="3"](All names have been changed)


Messages In This Thread
Slaves of the System? - by sumishi - 10-10-2011, 02:51 PM
Slaves of the System? - by sumishi - 10-10-2011, 03:10 PM
Slaves of the System? - by sumishi - 10-10-2011, 03:48 PM
Slaves of the System? - by sumishi - 12-02-2011, 02:53 PM

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