Headstart: Careers – Is it good to talk?

Accountancy firms managing or advising on the management of call centres should address the implications of recent research into working conditions and employee health.

Despite Watson Wyatt’s research that investment in employees will be reflected in market value, it appears that some industries still have plenty to learn.

Research just published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that one of the fastest growing industries in the country – call centres – has an unenviable record when it comes to managerial and employee relations.

A hotline launched by the TUC as part of its campaign to examine what it called the ‘sweatshop image’ of call centres has received almost 400 calls in its first week.

The calls have highlighted a litany of harassment of staff.

Among the horror stories revealed by the hotline so far include staff being forced to put their hand up to go to the toilet and then monitored over how long they spend there.

Another caller revealed that employees were only allowed a three-second break between calls while one member of staff was reprimanded for being idle after he left a six-second gap between phone enquiries.

A further call claimed staff were not allowed to take more than three days’ holiday at one time.

In one of the worst cases, one call centre manager took disposable nappies into work claiming that the member of staff that used the toilet the most would be told to wear one.

Many callers rang to say they were on anti-depressants and long-term sick leave because of the stress of working in a call centre.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said although there was some examples of good practice among call centres, more still had to be done to prevent further abuses. ‘These figures show there are still too many centres using bullying tactics to pressurise and intimidate employees.

According to reports on our hotline some call centres seem to be openly flouting the law,’ he said. Call centres currently employ more than 400,000 people. This is more than the coal, steel and vehicle manufacturing industries put together. By 2008 it is predicted this number will reach 665,000.

Their creation is seen as particularly helpful in kick-starting regional economies. south Wales and Scotland have the highest concentration of call centres in the country. The north west of England has the highest percentage of call centre employment, just over 17%. They are also becoming increasingly prevalent within Northern Ireland where they are seen as being at the forefront of the local economy.

Previous TUC research has shown that average pay was less than £9,000.

The largest number of calls to the hotline, 15%, came from Wales. This was closely followed by Scottish callers who accounted for 14% of the overall total.

A further report on call centres from the Industrial Society, published last year, claimed call centres could be bad for an employee’s mental health.

– More information on the report’s findings can be viewed at

– The Industrial Society can be found at

Related reading

aidan-brennan kpmg