Reasons Cited For High Turnover…………………………………………………4
Call Centre Retention Policies……………………………………………………..5
Work-Life Balance & Family Friendly Policies…………………………...………14
Logging On and Off…………………………………………...…………………..20
Health & Safety………………………….……………………………...……………28
Despite widespread media attention and a series of campaigns, call centres are still regarded by
many as the sweatshops of the new millennium. While this impression is not without supporting
evidence it does not reflect the full breadth of experience in the sector. The recent helpline set
up by the TUC as part of the „It’s your call‟ campaign logged around 700 calls detailing
incidences and practices that constitute an amazing range of management abuses which many
thought were confined to the history books. Alongside this however, the CWU, a range of call
centre companies and the Call Centre Association (CCA) have been working to develop the best
possible conditions for call centre workers.
Complaints about working conditions in call centres are not new. In November 1999 CWU
members in BT call centres instigated serious reform of working practices through a one-day
strike. Since then that company and the union have constructed agreements covering many
aspects of call centre practice. In combination with the work of the CCA and other trade unions
these now form the basis for this outline of best practice in call centres.
The call centre sector is fast approaching the point where it accounts for over 2% of the working
population in the UK (Labour Force Survey 2001). From huge sales-oriented centres to banking
service centres via emergency information lines, call centres are present in almost every sector of
the economy and fulfil a huge variety of functions. This document outlines some of the best
examples of working practices in call centres and possible improvements.
One of the most important assets for call centre managers is having motivated, competent
employees staffing their centres. Companies have consistently had problems recruiting and
retaining the people they need to sustain a successful call centre enterprise. This document, it is
hoped, will provide some helpful guidance for achieving the aim of a productive, efficient call
centre industry. Highlighting some of the major issues regarding terms and conditions in the call
centre workplace, „Best Practice in Call Centres‟ also stresses the importance of training and a
supportive environment to maximise the potential of all call centre workers.
The issue of staffing is relevant to both workers and managers alike. The consultants, Blue Sky
estimate that the constant turnover of staff costs employers over £1.1bn every year. Between
20% and 33% of call centre employees change jobs every year, according to their survey, and
this has been worsening continuously over the last five years. On average staff turnover is said
to stand at 22% in call centres, according to the IDS survey, although most
observers/commentators view this as a serious under-estimation with the real figure being closer
to 33% (there is reportedly a range of between 0% and 120%); compared with 18-20% in the rest
of the economy. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have found that on
average the total overall cost of turnover per employee is £3,933 (the figure is over £6,000 for
managerial and professional staff). A notable proportion of centres try to address staffing
problems through the use of agency staff. However, this appears to be on the decline. Call
centres will have to show greater commitment to dealing with this problem in the very near
future before the costs of staff turnover spiral out of control. In the public sector, turnover has
actually dropped from 17.2% to 14%, well below the industry average (although the average may
Source: IDS 2001
be distorted as a result of the substantial increase in outsourcing in the public sector). At the
same time, public sector organisations pay amongst the highest wages: £15,400 per annum on
average for customer service agents compared with the overall average of £13,450. Also they
have a good record of introducing family friendly policies and flexible working practices
including job shares and training opportunities.
Reasons Cited For High Turnover
Source: IDS 2001
Note: total adds up to more than 100% because respondents could identify more than one ans wer.
The reasons given by staff for leaving or wanting to leave call centre employment have changed
very little in the last few years. Almost 50% of those surveyed identified the intensity of the call
centre environment as a major influence on staff turnover. However, the „buzz‟ and vibrancy of
the call centre atmosphere is also highlighted as one of the main features that staff like abo ut
their work. Poor rates of pay comes a close second in causing people to leave call centre
employment. This is hardly surprising when the average wage for a call centre agent is £13,450
compared with national average earnings of £22,484. Other reasons influencing staff turnover
include the local labour market and competition from other call centres which may relate to other
reasons given such as the rates of pay and working conditions (including the hours, monotony of
work and lack of career progression etc.).
Call Centre Retention Policies
Source: IDS 2001
Many call centre managers have introduced or changed a number of practices in order to reduce
levels of turnover among their staff. The two most common approaches taken are to improve the
pay and conditions of their employees and to increase the training and career progression
available to staff. The following are the four main categories of policy utilised by companies to
reduce staff turnover.
1. Pay & Conditions
Increasing basic pay
Increased number of pay reviews
Higher performance bonuses (usually combined with lower starting salary)
Length of service payments
Permanent contracts for all staff
Improvements in annual leave and sick pay provision
2. Training & Development
Increased availability of training
Introduction of career development plans
Introduction of multi-skilling
3. Better Management
More participatory style, improved communication
Introduction of employee forums
Increased one-to-one feedback
4. Working Conditions
Introduction of better facilities at the call centre
Adjustment of shift hours so workers could work four longer days or fixing
shift patterns to enable staff to plan ahead
The international comparison suggests that some of these moves might be misguided in
preventing high attrition, and there are many companies who are unconvinced of the benefits of
reform. Dutch call centres, for example, are much less likely to encourage staff to take relevant
qualifications and employ far more part time employees; however, they also pay significantly
higher wages (CURDS Survey 2000). Individually, however, most of the companies that have
introduced reforms have been pleased with the reduction in staff turnover that has followed.
What these factors indicate is that, for some time no w, standards have not been particularly high
in these areas. Call centres require proper facilities from the outset. It shows a certain short-
sightedness when issues such as ergonomic working conditions and employee consultation
procedures are only addressed when management realise they can not recruit or retain good staff.
Best Practice - Benefits:
Some of the more imaginative benefits that some companies have introduced
travel season ticket,
free web space,
extra annual leave,
In the financial sector it is now becoming more common for employees to be
able to choose from a range of benefits. By far the most popular benefit in
terms of take up is extra annual leave (if available). The best employers will
learn from this and increase their basic annual leave provision.
Overall, imaginative and extensive benefits are popular with employees but it
should be remembered that some employer provisions should be automatic, not
part of an optional extra. Childcare assistance for example should be seen more
as an automatic provision, not something that has an opportunity cost for the
employee in terms of not allowing them to benefit from more annual leave.
The effect of under-staffing is one of the main causes of stress among call centre workers.
However, addressing this with a regular influx of temporary staff is not sufficient. There need to
be clear reasons for staff being employed through agencies rather than on permanent contracts.
Many call centres (almost half) function without any need for agency or other temporary staff.
Overall, however, 10% of call centre staff are employed on temporary contracts, although there
is a wide variety within the sector with some companies employing over 80% temporary staff.
Source: IDS 2001
BT's criteria for deciding whether the appointment of an agency/temporary member of staff,
instead of a permanent worker, are laid out below. However, it should be emphasised that where
it is possible, irrespective of these conditions it is advisable that permanent employees are hired.
BT’s Use of Temporary Staff:
Approximately 26,000 people work in BT call centres and an additional 18,000 are
recruited through agencies as temporary staff. The criteria BT uses to determine
whether to use temporary staff are as follows:
One Off Campaigns Marketing events or to cover a short term increase in
workload for the centre that can not acceptably be handled
by the existing staff
Emergencies Storms, civil emergencies or other exceptional events that
can not reasonably be dealt with by the existing staff alone
Absence Coverage Covering for staff who are absent as a result of illness,
special or annual leave or exceptional training
Peaks of Work Specific workloads that can not reasonably be met by the
redeployment of permanent staff
Backfill To fill positions in closing sites
The most recent pay surveys show that salaries in call centres range from the lowest paid junior
trainee agent at around £6,000 p.a. to the highest paid call centre manager at over £100,000 p.a.
Salary Ranges p.a. Lowest Lower Median Upper Highest Mean
Customer Service Representatives
Starting Salary £7,500 £10,000 £11,200 £13,050 £21,605 £11,850
Mid-point/Standard £8,000 £11,350 £13,000 £14,950 £26,000 £13,450
Maximum Salary £8,500 £13,000 £15,050 £17,500 £34,000 £15,700
Source: IRS 2001
The next grade above the customer service agent is usually a team leader although this grade can
also be called team manager although for the purposes of the IRS survey the term 'team manager'
refers to a grade above the team leaders. The average Team Leader is responsible for between
nine and twelve customer service agents and has a starting salary of £15,000 p.a. rising to
£17,750 and ultimately earns a maximum of £20,000. Team Managers however, start on
£20,400 progressing to £27,500 with a midpoint of £17,750 p.a..
The amount earned by employees in the UK‟s call centres is largely dependent on the sector and
region in which they work. Call Centres in the technical support sector pay the highest wages on
average. The public sector too is among the highest payers; in particular those run by local
authorities pay on average higher than other employers. Business and telecoms sectors are next,
all averaging between £1,000 and £2,000 per year above the average midpoint salary for call
centre agents. Finance, voluntary and utilities sectors also pay above the average. There is a
considerable discrepancy between the transport sector pay figure and the next on the list, the
outsourced sector who are paid just over £1,000 a year less. The leisure and outsourcing sec tors
pay about the same, £11,700, which is still noticeably more than in the retail sector where the
average midpoint salary for an agent is £11,200 per annum.
Regionally it is unsurprising that call centres in London and the South East pay on average
£1,500-£2,000 per year more than the UK average. However, the rest of the country is far less
predictable. This year for example, the West Midlands has become the worst paying region for
call centre work with agents on average earning over £1,000 per year less than the national
Sector Pay Averages
Technical Support £15,550
All Sectors £13,450
Transport & Travel £12,850
£11,000 £11,500 £12,000 £12,500 £13,000 £13,500 £14,000 £14,500 £15,000 £15,500 £16,000
Source: IDS 2001
Regional Pay Averages
South East £14,850
South West £14,500
All Regions £13,450
East Midlands £13,250
North West £12,950
North East £12,700
Northern Ireland £12,600
West Midlands £12,350
£11,500 £12,000 £12,500 £13,000 £13,500 £14,000 £14,500 £15,000 £15,500 £16,000
Source: IDS 2001
As indicated above, pay for trained customer service advisors or agents working in today's call
centres can range from £7,500 p.a. to £34,000 p.a., with an average of around £13,450 p.a. At
the lower end of the scale in particular, which is especially prevalent in retail, leisure and
outsourced companies, it is almost impossible for workers to make adequate pension provision
for their futures. For these people in particular, it is vital that their employer makes tangible
contributions to the workers' pension funds. Without membership of good occupational pension,
many of today‟s call centre workers will face serious hardship when they leave.
The Government introduced the Stakeholder Pension Scheme in order to help low to middle
wage earners (£9,000 - £18,000 p.a.) make provisions for the future. As Stakeholder relies on
the contributions of the worker, it is unlikely that those on very low incomes will feel able to
sustain payments into a Stakeholder pension. Even though there is a legal obligation on schemes
requiring a minimum monthly contribution that does not exceed £20 (some, like the TUC
scheme have a minimum of £10), for most, if not all, this alone will not result in a sufficient
pension on retirement. On a positive note, Stakeholder is imbued with a degree of flexibility that
can help the call centre worker who changes jobs every year or two.
The best employers of course already have an occupational pension scheme but if they do not
they must now provide access to a Stakeholder Pension. Again, due to the low pay of many call
centre agents, it is important for employers to contribute to their pension schemes. This
approach by employers increases staff loyalty to the company in the long term as this is an
indication that the business shows loyalty to them.
WORK LIFE BALANCE & FAMILY FRIENDLY POLICIES
The value of a good work- life balance should not be under-estimated. Whether companies
introduce wholesale changes or individual reforms the benefits are likely to be tangible to both
employees and employers. Dex and Scheibel, in the Journal of General Management said that:
"We have found a sizeable body of studies, taking different approaches, b ut all are
finding that there were considerable business benefits from adopting family-
It is very difficult to quantify the benefits accurately but, after implementing work- life balance
initiatives, businesses regularly report:
Reduced sickness and absences;
Improved morale and loyalty;
Improved recruitment ability.
Alongside these benefits, around three-quarters of managers say that making these flexibility
changes involved little or no costs to the company.
Case Study - Abbey National
In an effort to reduce staff turnover, family- friendly policies were enacted.
By 1999 the company had 5,000 staff working part-time and offers of job
shares, career breaks, voluntary reduced hours, 40 week maternity leave and
gives a £90 per month bonus to returnees for two years.
Of course, the introduction of family friendly policies alone will not provide an instant cure-all.
It is vital that the environment of the call centre is conducive to utilising the practices to the full.
"Even in forms where much has been achieved, some employees still felt guilty about taking up
family- friendly policies because of concern that they might appear less committed than their
colleagues." [Bevan, Dench, Tamkin & Cummings, DfEE]
Employers can use many different approaches to working arrangements that result in benefits to
their employees and through them back to the business. Various ideas have been proposed
involving when employees work, the environment in which they work and the facilities they
have at their disposal. These ideas range from the conventional (full-time and part-time options)
to those that are perhaps less familiar (job-share or term- time working).
Flexi- time On site fitness facilities
Compressed hours Financial packages
Annualised hours Savings schemes
Shift swapping Self-rostering
Extra hours Home working
Career breaks Creche facilities
Paternity leave Varying shift patterns
In the last year, IRS have found that substantial increases in lea ve allocation have been occurring
throughout the call centre sector. The minimum leave entitlement has increased from 15 days‟
leave a year to 20 days (excluding bank holidays) and now 85% of those surveyed offer between
20 and 25 days‟ holiday. Around one quarter of those surveyed have some form of service-
related leave. This tends to increase annual leave by approximately five days over five years
service. As more and more companies improve their annual leave provision and adopt
attendance arrangements that incorporate a good deal more flexibility than was previously the
case, it is now not unusual for employees to start with an entitlement to 25 days annual leave
which will then increase in line with length of service. Sufficient annual leave provision is vital
to the pursuit of a viable work- life balance which in turn is essential to a healthy workforce.
As important as the provision of annual leave is the ability of workers to take the time off when
they wish. It is counterproductive and perceived by many as deceitful, to provide workers with
annual leave if they are then prevented from taking the leave to which they are entitled because
of management restrictions. Obviously systems must be devised to accommodate the
organisation of leave but these should be flexible and appropriate, taking into account the
circumstances of the individual as well as the needs of the company. The best way to reach a fair
system is through consultation and the involvement of the employees/union representative in the
decision making process.
Provision for special leave and compassionate leave should always be available to all workers in
a call centre. Furthermore, positive arrangements in regard to parental leave are also indicative
of a caring workplace which in turn combines with other features to inspire commitment in the
workforce. From 2003 legislation is likely to be in place giving newly adoptive parents and
fathers rights to leave when their child arrives. Some call centres have already started to
introduce measures to pre-empt the legal requirements, meaning that their staff have been able to
benefit from this change.
Basic Leave Entitlement:
26 + days
Source: IDS 2001
BT Annual Leave Policy
Length of Service (years) Under 5 10 20
Annual Entitlement (days) 25 28 30
From 1st April 2002, 18 years service will lead to 30 days leave entitlement.
In recent years, BT has introduced a new method of overseeing annual leave. A
database has been introduced which will assess each individual's request for leave
and authorise or reject it. The database is updated on an hourly basis (between
9.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m., Monday to Saturday) and covers twelve months on a
rolling basis from the current date. Appeals against the database decision are
made through the employee's line manager. This system provides transparency
and has proved popular and effective since its introduction.
Priorities when formulating attendance arrangements should include unions (where appropriate),
the customer, the Government‟s „family friendly‟ policy agenda and the views of the individuals
currently working in the centre.
The proportion of call centres operating on a seven-day week basis is approaching 70%. This
figure is likely to grow. A further 20% operate on a six-day a week basis, leaving only 10% of
call centres functioning on the basis of a five-day week.
Most call centres are also open for long hours: 36% now operate on a 24 hours-a-day, seven
days-a-week basis whilst 95% open for more than 10 hours a day. The first centres to be open on
a permanent, full time basis were those providing forms of „emergency‟ services including the
utility companies, vehicle breakdown services or emergency repair ser vices. Currently, the 24-
hour approach has been embraced in all sectors, in particular in the finance sector where most
banks now operate telephone banking.
Just under a half of call centre staff work a 35 hour week (44%), while a further 44% work
between 35 and 38 hours per week. The longest working arrangements are 40 hour weeks which
tend to be operated by smaller centres; and 12% of call centre agents work over 38 hours per
week. A 24 hours a day-seven days a week culture has firmly descended on call centres in the
UK particularly in the finance, retail and utilities sectors. This style of working is now growing
in the public and voluntary sector although they are hindered by an inability to pay shift
premiums for anti-social hours as tight budgets tend to mean that above average wages are at the
expense of shift premia.
Call centre employment is a stressful occupation and although the fast moving pace is seen as a
plus by some of those employees, continual stress over a long period of time is bad for the health
of the workforce and the productivity of the workplace. In light of this, many call centres
operate successfully with a 35 hour working week. Fatigue and tension are major causes of
mistakes and accidents so it is in everyone‟s interest that a call centre‟s workforce is alert and
focused. This is best fostered in an environment of flexibility within a framework that places a
high priority on a good work-life balance.
In France the national adoption of the 35 hour week has generally been viewed as a success,
despite the uproar that first greeted the proposal. The 35 hour week is now compulsory for large
companies and will be universal from the beginning of 2002. The resultant increase in
flexibility, it has been argued, may explain France‟s recent gains in productivity. Alongside the
shorter working week, the French have also incorporated new systems of weekend work and
shift lengths. The economy and business can be said to have benefited and over 66% of workers
affected say that it has improved their lives.
Examples of Best Practice
Flexible shift planning - allowing staff to swap shifts as and when required
Provision of child care vouchers and/or facilities
Return to work bonus for new mothers (equivalent to one month‟s salary)
Provision of nursery facilities
Maximum 35 hour working week
Travel assistance for unsound shifts
Notice of changes to shift patterns (min 2-3 weeks)
The best companies gave all their trained workers equality of opportunity to overtime work.
BT’s Overtime Premiums:
First six hours Time and a quarter
7 – 12 hours Time and a half
13 hours and over Double time
Logging On And Off
Another of the main complaints workers in call centres routinely make is that they are harshly
penalised for tardiness but are expected to log in and set themselves up at their desks in their own
time. This generally means that many of the people working in call centres have to clock in to
work ten minutes prior to the official start of their shift and invariably end up leaving a minimum
of ten minutes later than the time their shift is due to end.
Staff should not be forced to account for every second of their day. Features such as Close Key
Walk Away Codes that ask workers to account for any break from their computers/telephones
and time the period they are away contribute to the feeling of „big brother‟ that many call centre
workers highlight as a negative element of their job. Around 10% of employees explicitly
referred to this type of monitoring; a further 35% complained about the lack of respect shown to
them by their managers. The lack of trust demonstrated by constant monitoring demoralises staff
and is a contributing factor in the high turnover figures experienced by many call centres. In the
last two years, BT has abolished the use of Close Key Walk Away Codes in its centres and
morale has benefited as a result.
An IDS survey of call centres found the feature of work most commonly cited as negative is the
targetary workers are set. The pressure relating to targets and the setting of unachievable targets
was cited by 39.5% of operators as the main negative feature of working in a call centre.
Measures should be general and any assessment should be made on the basis of a variety of
targets, not individually. Poor performance should not be raised unless an employee has had
sufficient training and coaching and has significantly and consistently under-performed on a
basket of measures. When targets are set over time, there must be a degree of flexibility to allow
a re-calculation of targets in the light of time spent on leave or absent due to illness. These
periods of absence should not mean that employees are further disadvantaged through the bonus
scheme. Any changes to the system of performance measuring should not be introduced without
prior consultation and debate with the union/employees.
Call Handling Time
Call Handling Time is one of the key measures used to assess performance.
Consequently, it has a great impact on the appropriation of bonuses and the
assessment of employees‟ effectiveness. Literally, it refers to the amount of
time spent by each agent online to the customer. There are two central issues
associated with call- handling time. Firstly it is imperative that the focus of any
good call centre is the quality of calls rather than the quantity. Secondly,
performance measures should be team based rather than individual to provide a
Optimum customer service is not likely to be reached by the setting of strict call
handling targets. Each customer is different and requires a different level of
attention to provide the best service. At a BT call centre in Stoke,
measurements have moved away from call handling time to „true handling time‟
where the limits are set by the customer‟s requirements not an arbitrary figure.
The nature of call centre work makes it comparatively easy for manage rs to observe every move
of an advisor at work. Using certain types of telephony equipment, managers can collect a whole
range of statistical data relating to the actions of each of the call centre‟s agents. The temptation
then is to use exclusively these so-called „hard‟ measures to assess performance. This means that
performance is measured on the basis of: the number of calls handled, the time spent logging
information, the duration of calls, gaps between calls, numbers of call waiting and the number of
calls abandoned. What none of these statistics can tell the manager, however, is the quality of
the calls handled.
One to One Appraisals
One to one meetings between agents and team leaders are now increasingly
becoming a common way of improving performance. Typically the agent and
team leader discuss the evidence of some randomly monitored calls with the
team leader giving evaluation and feedback, these meetings are normally held
on a monthly basis. Conducted well, these sessions help both the immed iate
performance of the agent and should provide an accessible support structure.
BT Performance Measures
Performance in BT is measured through a collection of targets taking into account the
different aspects of the role. The system is based on quadrants, each focusing on a range
of issues relating to the following areas:
The contents of each quadrant are as follows:
1. Personal Quadrant
Measures relating to every employee: attendance, sick record, health and safety and
2. Custome r Quadrant
Measures relating to the customers' experiences: satisfying customer requirements. While
this is difficult to measure accurately, remote observations and quality call reviews may
be used in addition to compliments or complaints from customers.
3. Shareholder Quadrant
Measures relating to the company's revenue, the direct financial contribution the person
has made. This will include assessing both Call Handling Time and sales achievement,
among other features.
4. Development Quadrant
This sector enables training and personal development to be included in the measurements
There are two dimensions to the training responsibilities of call centre businesses. Firstly, it is
imperative that the induction training given to employees is comprehensive and thorough. Many
surveys into call centre training show that new members of staff do not feel they have been
properly trained when they start their work 'live' for the first time. It is profoundly unhelpful for
both the employee and the company if staff are not properly prepared to deal with the aggressive
or abusive customers they might face.
Furthermore, the training of the employees should go far beyond the ind uction stage. Training
should be ongoing so employees always have the most up to date company and product
information and are able to make best use of the newest changes in technology. A trained
workforce leads to a productive workplace. Consequently, a ny company wishing to adopt best
practices would necessarily place a demonstrably high priority on training.
Usually conducted over a period of weeks, the induction training should ensure that, as a basic
minimum by its conclusion the trainee has sufficient knowledge and skills in the following areas:
Health and safety - in particular relating to VDU use and acoustic shock;
Aims and structure of the company;
Trade union involvement;
Relevant company products and procedures;
Dealing with difficult callers.
It is important for all companies to evaluate regularly their training processes to ensure they meet
all the company‟s requirements. Staff should be encouraged to provide feedback on their
training in order for the company to ascertain the effectiveness of their training processes.
The need for training does not stop after the initial induction. Training must be ongoing, not
only to keep staff abreast of the latest developments in terms of product and technology but also
as part of each individual's career development. Staff should be encouraged to take up courses,
such as NVQs or MBAs. Each individual's training needs should be assessed separately and kept
entirely distinct from any performance measures or disciplinary procedures. Training procedures
should also encompass those skills that might be needed for jobs in other areas of the call centre
so that employees feel that they have a long-term future with the company.
There is a widely acknowledged skills shortage in the UK. Suggested short-term solutions have
included international outsourcing and, alternatively, inskilling. Neither seems particularly
satisfactory – why preclude UK employees from acquiring the skills? Ironically, anecdotal
evidence suggests that a surprisingly large proportion of staff in basic call handling roles have
good quality university degrees. It would seem natural that these employees be given every
opportunity to train at a much higher level.
Currently call centres have minimal incentives to upskill call handlers to IT skills, for example,
as there is often simply no immediate requirement within the company unit. In any case, the IT
capability may well be outsourced to a specialist firm and the only requirement on the call ce ntre
manager is to ensure that the IT provider meets the service level agreements.
There therefore need to be fresh initiatives with government to explore alternative sector-wide
funding arrangements. Consideration could be given to expanding partnership funding
arrangements where government training grants underpin joint employer- union partnership
education and training programmes. Many unions have worked with employers and education
providers in developing distance learning projects and workplace learning centres. Funded
projects with the CWU range from basic skills eg. literacy and numeracy, all the way through to
degree courses in IT or telecommunications.
While upskilled staff may later choose to take advantage of enhanced career prospects in other
companies, they will retain affection, and be an ambassador, for the firm that made it possible.
One result may be their return to the company with a much more responsible role in the future.
BT- Investment Time
There are three main elements to the BT Investment Time procedure:
1. Investment Time Agreement
Signed by the individual employee and their line manager, this document outlines
the responsibilities of the company, management and individual in terms of training,
personal investment and development plans.
2. Investment Time Monitoring Form/Log
A record of personal investment completed by the individual employee.
3. Personal Development Plan Tracker
This is a record of needs and required action which is reviewed jointly by the line
manager and individual employee.
Other features of the BT training and investment programme include: team
meetings, one to one meetings between staff and line managers, briefings and
One of the more hidden issues which is evident throughout the call centre industry is the lack of
career progression available to most staff. Call centres have severe problems with staff turnover
and one of the reasons often cited is the lack of opportunity to progress in the organisation. The
hierarchical structure of call centres is traditionally very flat and promotion opportunities are
rare. This leads to disillusionment for agents and compounds the problems some call centre
workers have with the status of their jobs. As one call centre worker said in an industry survey:
“The hardest part is getting on the first rung of the ladder.”
In an industry where the workforce is disproportionately young (75% of the workforces in call
centres have an average age between 20 and 29 years) the lack of career progression is a big
obstacle to the retention of the best workers. Other problems exist in the management grades of
call centres where some employees find that the flexibility that they thrived on at a junior grade
is no longer evident at management grades, making it difficult for some to take promotion even
when it is available. This particularly relates to the ability for employees to work part time when
they are promoted above supervisory grades.
Best Practice: Career Development
The provision of job-sharing for supervisory posts and other
The habitual use of career development plans for staff.
Greater provision of family- friendly policies.
Skills audit to determine what skills are already present but
HEALTH & SAFETY
A good employer will, of course, take every precaution in order to ensure the health and safety of
their employees. Health and safety issues should be at the forefront of thinking and
communication between companies and their workforce/employee representatives. The Health &
Safety Executive (HSE) initiated studies and consultation after the CWU‟s 1999 industrial action
against BT that resulted in new advice regarding call centre working practices. The Local
Authority Unit of the HSE revised guidance to local authorities specifically refers to:
relevant regulations and guidance;
indicating factors that should be considered in risk assessments;
the provision of information of risk identification and control;
length and frequency of breaks;
consultation with employees and/or employee representatives;
HSE guidance on stress avoidance.
The involvement of the HSE has ensured wider industry awareness of the potential visual, aural,
ergonomic and environmental hazards in call centres. The long-term effects of working
continuously with display screens and headsets are not sufficiently understood, however it is
generally taken for granted that they will not be beneficial.
The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) estimates that 8.7 million people, one in seven
of the UK population, suffer a range of difficulties from hearing loss to deafness. In an
increasingly noisy world, RNID are very conscious of the changing nature of work and see
people working in call centres as being in a high-risk category. Today, acoustic shock is very
much a “white collar” issue, and temporary hearing loss or tinnitus is not an unusual problem in
call centre environments. There are widespread fears that there will be far greater numbers of
people with work related hearing problems in the future.
Hearing problems, eye strain, RSI, sore throats, stiff necks, backache, and exacerbated sinusitis
conditions are common enough in call centres - but should not be regarded as an inevitable by-
product working in that environment. All are preventable provided that the management will is
there - and staff have a voice in the workplace that articulates their problems and perceptions,
and ensures that action is taken.
While it is relatively straightforward to remedy some problems with improved workstations,
seating, lighting and ventilation, other issues are not so easily addressed. For employees,
particularly in the basic job functions, the problems are numerous and varied, but can be
work intensity and management style;
training and career development;
pay and conditions.
The CBI found the average level of sickness absence stands at around 3.7% (8.5 days per year).
Call centre sickness absence however, stands at around 5.3% with a range from 1.1% to 19%.
Call Centre Sickness Absence Rates
10% + < 2%
8.0 - 9.9%
2.0 - 3.9%
6.0 - 7.9%
Source: IRS 2001
4.0 - 5.9%
The size of the call centre does seem to have some effect on the level of sickness absence. The
average for call centres with fewer than 250 employees was 5.8%, compa red with 4.7% in those
with more than 250 employees. Six out of the seven highest reported sickness absence rates
were in call centres with less than 200 employees.
High rates of sickness absence in call centres are not surprising in light of the general
environment of a centre. Offices are often open plan and there are demanding targets, minimal
break provision and over used equipment that may not always be cleaned between uses. The
best call centres address these problems and reduce the rate of sickne ss absence by making their
centre a healthy workplace. Others try to use punitive measures to penalise people who are sick.
Unsurprisingly both sickness absence and staff turnover remain high in these organisations.
Workshops to enable staff to cope better with the stress they are under should be employed and
made available to all a centre‟s employees.
BT’s Approach to Stress Management
BT now runs a series of workshops on stress management which
are aimed at improving its employees‟ recognition of stress-related
symptoms, methods of dealing with stress and avoidance of stress
in the first place.
These are accompanied by particular training sessions for managers
aimed at better equipping them to handle stress and to improve
their industrial relations skills.
In the competitive environment there has also been a tendency to ignore staff requests for re-
designing jobs. This is particularly the case in non-union work environments, where requests are
usually made on an individual basis (rather than a collective one) and can be interpreted by
managers, and sometimes colleagues, as a sign of personal weakness. For a largely female
employment sector, there has been too much of the macho, “it was good enough for me” attitude
by supervisors, many of whom had previously worked on the same duties with the same
problems. For example, headset sharing at hotdesks may seem an efficient way to run a centre,
but can create new problems and increase long-term costs because of the health risks involved.
To expect call handlers to share headsets is not only demeaning to their self-esteem, but
potentially exacerbates sick absence rates through ill health – the transmission of diseases, and
acoustic shock from unreported or unchanged faulty headsets. Yet unions can attest to
difficulties that their members have had in trying to wipe out this bad practice.
But, while day-to-day problems are frustrating, the greatest challenges to reducing stress involve
getting to grips with the real nature of call centre work and the fundamentals of job design.
Despite the good work already undertaken by the CCA, HSE and other industry and government
bodies, it remains to be seen whether the competitive pressures (particularly acute in outsourced
activities) can leave sufficient room for the creation of a fully humane and supportive
environment that is conducive to positive workplace relationships.
Unions can assist firms in making this possible by providing professional support to staff and
their workplace representatives in building clear representative and communication channels
within call centres. Without those channels, companies will never fully understand the collective
issues and the perceptions of their staff.
The design of the centre is vital in creating a productive working environment. As well as
operating the best practice in terms of management style, terms and conditions, it is important
that a call centre has the appropriate facilities for a modern, effective workforce. The
ergonomics of many call centres in the UK falls well below standards set in other countries, in
particular Scandinavian countries and the US. Desks and eq uipment pose particular issues in
regard to sickness, and with backache causing more absence than anything else in the UK, it is
imperative that work stations are fully adjustable and are checked to ensure they suit the user.
Each individual is different not only in terms of height but also build and proportion;
consequently desk sharing is particularly problematic and should only be considered if the work
station can be adequately re-adjusted for each user.
It should be made clear to all employees that any form of bullying or victimisation will not be
tolerated. Workers should be made to feel supported in times of work or personal difficulty.
One of the most important features of a successful working environment is two-way
communication. It should be obvious to all that employees' views are both listened to and
In terms of facilities, there should be adequate space for employees to work and take breaks
away from their work station. Obviously, health and safety rules must be obeyed but other
initiatives can be introduced in order to increase the commitment and morale of staff.
Case Study: Ventura
Open-plan site layout;
5 advisors work in each team around a carousel style desk;
Well-structured career progression;
Positive attitude to advisors taking breaks, talking to each other and walking
Extensive leisure facilities (including in some cases video games and pool
Note: Ventura's level of staff turnover is less than half the industry average.
Many companies see the introduction of call steering as a way of reducing costs, improving
productivity and providing a favourable service to customers. In fact surveys of customers show
that the reverse is more often the case. In 2000, UK companies spent over £110 million on call
centre systems aimed at automating many of the processes involved in call centre operations.
This substantial investment will ultimately account for 2.8 billion calls this year, equivalent to 60
from every adult in the country.
Despite the volume of calls with which call steering systems are prepared to receive, high levels
of customer satisfaction with the experience are not forthcoming. One fifth of customers, for
example, immediately hang up when they are confronted with call steering; a further 36% are
irritated by the music played down the line to them. Most significantly, however, 87% of
customers are infuriated by the impersonal nature of the process and synthesised voice.
Best Practice- Health & Safety:
Companies should nominate a senior manager to champion health and
All company decisions should reflect pre-discussed health and safety
Health and safety performance should be closely monitored and issues
addressed in a timely fashion
Information and training should be provided to all employees on an
ongoing basis and workers should be encouraged to play an important
role in identifying and resolving health and safety issues in their
Unions can prove an invaluable resource in a successful call centre. From the outset, when an
employee commences employment the role and purpose of the trade unio n should be made clear.
A good employer will have good relations with the trade union that represents its employees and
encourage communication through provision of time and facilities for union activists.
The CWU currently represents over 35,000 call centre workers making it the largest call centre
union in the UK. A large proportion of the membership work for BT and over the years the
company and the union have achieved great improvements in the way the call centres are run. It
is vital that trade unions increase their presence in this call centre industry, at the moment
membership is prominently located in the public sector, utilities, banking and
telecommunications industries, it is imperative that representation spreads throughout the
industry. A recent recognition agreement the CWU signed with Vertex shows how successful
co-operation can be, a jointly organised recognition ballot between union and company achieved
a 99% yes vote. Many of these workers fall into categories that have not tended to be regarded
as „traditional trade union members‟: students, women, ethnic minorities and part timers.
Through regular dialogue with the union, management can connect with its workforce in an
organised and constructive manner. Positive union relations help to create an impression of
concern on the part of the employer and a willingness to take employee issues seriously.
Opposition to union involvement can create the opposite perception, of an uncaring and
exploitative business that reinforces the view that call centres are the sweatshops of the twenty-
Communication Workers Union www.cwu.org
Call Centre Association www.cca.org.uk
Blue Sky Consulting www.blue-sky.co.uk
Call Centre Focus www.callcentre.co.uk
Central IT Unit (Cabinet Office) www.citu.gov.uk
Income Data Services www.incomesdata.co.uk
Invest UK www.invest.uk.com
Labour Force Survey www.statistics.gov.uk/themes/labour_market/surveys
Local Government Employers www.lg-employers.gov.uk
Merchants Group www.merchants.co.uk
Mitial Research www.mitial.com
Without good, motivated staff a call centre is little more than a technology warehouse. Trade
unions can help by expressing the concerns of the workers and working with the business to
resolve issues as they arise. The Call Centre Association and Unions, like the CWU, also
produce documents on standards in the call centre industry which provide a valuable resource for
call centre management. Attention paid to these could be instrumental in making UK call centres
the best in the world.
Call Centre Association National Standard Framework
1. Your People
Employees at all levels are given mandatory training and development to support them in
their role so as to enable achievement of their own and the organisation's objectives.
Training effectiveness is measured and the outputs acted upon.
A performance development process is in place and employees' personal development plans
are the norm.
Individual employees are aware of their personal and/or team objectives and organisational
goals together with the means by which they are monitored.
Employees at all levels are encouraged and supported in achieving recognised industry
qualifications and in ongoing learning.
2. Communication Within the Call Centre
Processes are in place to gather employees' views, disseminate information and take
A documented process is available to resolve inter-employee and employee(s)/management
A legally compliant recruitment polity exists.
There is a commitment to provide an honest forecast of potential for progression or
A development planning process in place covering all employees.
Measures are set for attrition and attendance. Plans are in place to achieve or maintain these.
Employees' benefit and welfare processes are in place and are communicated to all
Where rotas exist, the need for them and the process for their establishment is communicated
to all employees.
4. Policies & Legislation Affecting your Operation
A process is in place to ensure that developing legislative requirements are brought to the
attention of management.
Managers and supervisors are trained in the application of current legislation and are
mandated to apply it.
All employees are aware of the organisational commitment to the regulation imposed as a
result of membership of industry associations.
All employees are aware of the requirements of the Data Protection Act.
5. Service Performance & Organisational Efficiency
Standards have been set for key activities related to the call centre and are measured.
Customer complaints are logged and reviewed. Action is taken to eliminate recurring
A complaints handling process is in place with target response times. Plans are in place to
A process is in place to gather customer feedback. Measures are set for satisfaction and
plans are in place to achieve/maintain targets.
Arrangements are in place to manage call centre internal relationships with other business
areas and to identify, review and resolve issues as they arise.
Contingency and resiliency plans are in place, are kept up to date and are practised.
Forecasting and business planning are in place to manage the impact of activity of the
Call Centres Best Practice Priorities:
PAY ~ basic salary should reflect the worth of the job. Commission and bonuses
should not form part of core income;
WORKING HOURS ~ employers must ensure that there are adequate resources to
enable employees to lead normal lives away from work;
FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ~ employers should develop policies which enable
employees to combine work and family life;
HEALTH & SAFETY ~ employers should design work stations ergonomically a nd
allow hourly breaks (which are more than purely screen breaks);
TRAINING ~ employers should design career structures for their employees e.g. the
WORK ENVIRONMENT ~ employers should encourage a supportive work context
and have a positive attitude towards trade unions;
SOCIAL ACTIVITIES ~ employers should encourage social interaction between
staff and relax dress standards in order to create a relaxed working environment.