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New Call Centre Community Sharing

HSE InfoLine : 01 May, 2006  (New Product)
A new approach of 'community sharing' in the call centre industry could improve their occupational health record and benefit UK industry overall, says the Health and Safety Executive today as it publishes the first major study of call centre working.
A new approach of 'community sharing' in the call centre industry could improve their occupational health record and benefit UK industry overall, says the Health and Safety Executive today as it publishes the first major study of call centre working.

This far-reaching approach, which sees employers share information to identify existing problems, assess risks and share best practice, could help to address report findings on UK-wide concerns that occupational health support in the workplace needs to be addressed.

HSE's report, 'Psychosocial Risk Factors in Call Centres: An Evaluation of Work Design and Well-Being', supports the view that psychosocial issues are a major contributory factor to poor mental health among call centre employees.

The research indicates that working as a call handler is more stressful than working in other jobs, although not all staff are affected equally, or by the same factors. The research recognised that working in some call centre environments - such as telecommunications and IT business sectors - more directly affected their well-being. Other contributing factors included:

larger call centres (employing 50 or more staff);
those on permanent contracts;
those following strict scripts; and
those staff who had their performance measured.
Researchers recognise that there are encouraging signs of action by call centre managers and owners to change not only the perception of the industry by positive moves being made to meet the needs of existing staff.

Call centres have worked to reduce poor psychosocial performance through a variety of measures, such as implementing HSE's guidance based on two previous research findings from the Health and Safety Laboratory.

This work has been produced by HSE for use in call centres around the UK. However, HSE recognises that individual call centres are working effectively on their own initiatives. One aspect of helping to improve call centres further would be to share information within the industry. This would enable employers to identify existing problems, assess risks and share best practice. This type of 'community sharing' benefits employees, employers and the industry in general.

Allan Davies, head of HSE's Local Authority Unit, is optimistic that the work on psychosocial effects on staff will have a positive outcome. He says of the report: 'HSE hope the new research will provide local authority environmental health officers with useful information to help call centre managers and employees overcome some of the psychosocial difficulties and problems they may encounter.'

The Health and Safety Commission recognise the importance of tackling work related stress and has made it a priority programme. The new HSC Strategy currently published for consultation features occupational health as a key component for future action. Guidance already published by HSE (Tackling Work-related Stress: A Managers' Guide to Improving and Maintaining Employee Health and Well-being) sets out how employers should be setting out to assess the risks that might arise from stress in the workplace. To help them tackle these risks, HSE has just published new guidance 'Real Solutions - Real People' which is a practical tool based on real case studies.

Chris Rowe, Head of HSE's Psychosocial Policy Unit responsible for work related stress, said: 'No two workplaces are the same and no two workforces are the same. It is not possible to prescribe a set of solutions for all causes of work related stress. But there are some common themes, and there will be some similarity of experiences. The new guidance we have published is designed to enable employers to work with their employees to identify and devise workplace solutions that address specific issues identified in specific workplaces. The guide does include a specific case study from a call centre and the lessons available from the other case studies could equally apply to this work environment.'

What is less clear, for employers in particular, is knowing how well they are doing in tackling this issue. HSE are therefore currently working in partnership with employers, academics, trade unions and HR personnel to devise simple management standards for work related stress. These have been piloted across a range of public and private sector employees and HSC expect to consult more widely on them next year.

The quantitative research report presents findings from a larger scale (questionnaire-based) study conducted by the Health and Safety Laboratory and includes data from 36 call centres and over 1100 call centre employees.

Today's research report forms the third activity produced by HSE into call centre working, from a research programme that started with an exploratory study and is continuing with further in-depth studies. The aim of the HSL studies is to work in partnership with industry to provide greater understanding of this kind of working environment.
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