Health Issues Plague Offshore Call-center Staff

American consumers–and Europeans for that matter—often get testy when they find their calls have been transferred to a contact center based in India. And they tend to unleash their fury and frustration on the call agents, which, according to a recent story in the Washington Post, has resulted in a rash of stress-induced ailments among India-based phone reps.

The 1.6 million people who work in India’s thriving call-center industry, mostly in their 20s, have reported health woes such as heart attacks, ulcers, and insomnia, according to research. These afflictions stem from the stress of dealing with irate customers.

A study conducted by Strathclyde University for the Union of IT Enabled Services, which informally represents call-center workers, found that 77% of reps felt “very” pressurized and 45% identified difficult customers as the main source of their stress.

The report, to be published later this month, supports a health survey by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, which found that the outsourcing industry was most at risk from diseases that would affect productivity. Health concerns such as heart disease, strokes, and diabetes would hurt India’s productivity in coming years, according to the research.

In addition to physical health problems, there have been reports of workers who were suicidal or having a nervous breakdown. This has prompted some companies to offer counseling to employees to help them overcome psychological problems, while others have set up 24-hour staff help lines.

Some concerned call-center managers try to relieve the job stress by providing cafes and gyms for their staff, or distractions ranging from neck massages to picnics. The situation is serious enough that India’s Health Minister plans to introduce a policy specifically for the call-center industry.