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Psychosocial risk factors in call centres (!) April 22, 2009

Posted by tomcwu in Health & Safety, Stress.

It’s always good when a 92 page government report crops up to confirm what you already know, especially when said report comes with such a helpfully clear title.  Carphone Worker cannot pretend that Psychosocial risk factors in call centres: An evaluation of work design and well-being (2003) is riveting reading.  But hey, we’re the union, so we’re interested in these things, and thought you might be interested in some of its key findings too.  The following direct quotes will give you an idea.

we know that depression in the workplace is associated with lack of control, while anxiety is associated with work pacing.

working as a call handler is associated with higher job related depression than working in other roles within the call centre, though anxiety levels are broadly similar. Call handlers in this study report much higher levels of both job-related anxiety and depression than most other benchmark groups.

When compared with other call centre employees, call handlers report the lowest levels of overall job satisfaction, and intrinsic job satisfaction is particularly low.

the proportion of call handlers at risk of mental health problems is much higher than for all other benchmark occupations.

In our sample, call handlers in the telecommunications and IT sector reported the poorest well-being.

The call handlers we categorised as working in small call centres, reported less anxiety, depression and general mental strain than those working in either medium-sized or large call centres.

those call handlers who reported that they were eavesdropped on the most also reported the poorer well-being.

Call handlers report much lower levels of autonomy (control over work timing & methods, and participation in decision-making), narrow work roles with low task variety & skill utilization.

High levels of job-related depression are associated with: low skill utilization, high workload, high role conflict, low task variety, low method control, and low role clarity.

What does all this mean? For us, two things.  One is that if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, it is probably not your fault at all, but the fault of an unhealthy work environment – your work is making you sick.  (This tallies with the high rate of sickness observable in Carphone Warehouse call centres.)  The other is that “lack of control” over your work, as highlighted in the report is a major contributor to depression in the workplace.  (It also means that if you are feeling anxious or depressed, you are not alone.)

A union is a means for workers to reassert some control in their working lives – you get together with other employees, so the company has to listen to you (which their own Pulse survey tells them they don’t).  For your own health, and that of your colleagues, an active, organised union could be just what the doctor ordered.  Find out more about the union on this website.



1. Disgusted Of Tulketh Mill - April 26, 2009

And it only took 6 years for that report to be found…?

I can attest that, as a call-taking headset monkey in CPW Tulketh Mill, I have no control over my working life, whatsoever, and any attempts to acquire any such control are viewed at best as Revolutionary Anarchism.

Not that the management structure is at all geared to give anyone such control, that would involve hiring intellectual and able people, and acknowledging that as they talk to the customer, they might actually be able to tell what the customer actually wants, and deal appropriately.

It’s very much like working in a province, where all yours laws and regulations are passed by someone who at best visits twice a year, and at worst couldn’t find you on a map, and the enforcement is carried out by a Baron who has to send back the same amount of taxes every month, regardless of his own economy.

Of course, you might ask, why would you want to make decisions or have any input on how you do your work, don’t you have a cushy life sat back, answering calls like a robot and getting paid?

Well, because as we do the job, we.. er, know how to do the job? We know what works, and what tanks, and what gets right up in our face and what generates customer complaints. We can make our lives so much easier, but take some responsibility and that makes all the difference. Who can say they don’t like the “I did that, that works because of me!” feeling?

In all fairness, there are CCMs who do engage with their staff, ask what’s wrong, and try to engage us in the process, but whether they get the backing to go away and do something about it remains to be seen. Even given that, I salute the efforts, it’s a very good start.

As a closing note, this blog is aimed at someone running a software team, but it’s just as applicable to any sort of technical helpdesk as well, any managers who patrol this, please see:


2. tomcwu - April 27, 2009

Disgusted – we were obviously well aware of the report from the moment it came out. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to flag it up to CPW/TT workers.

3. John - June 29, 2009

Hi Tom,
I have just been talking to Mark Norris and he said to let you know that the health & safety coordinators have their own website that contains a lot of advice on health and safety issues.


4. tomcwu - July 3, 2009

Cheers John, let us know if you think any particular health and safety issues need to be taken up.

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