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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 11:06 GMT
UK call centres branded 'satanic'
Call centre worker
Call centres 'provoke anxiety', the study found
Some UK call centres deserve to be compared to Victorian 'satanic' mills, a study has said.

Low wages, poor working conditions and repetitive tasks were common gripes, according to research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive.

"People felt very depressed and demoralized," Christine Sprigg, the report's author, told the BBC.

Workers in telecoms and IT call centres showed the poorest job satisfaction and highest levels of depression.


The research, carried out by the Health and Safety Laboratory based in Sheffield, concluded that employees in the worst UK call centres felt powerless and tied to their desks - a familiar story according to the union Unifi.

The comparison with satanic mills is very disappointing - most of our members are trying to empower their workers
Anne Marie Forsyth, Call Centre Association
"Automated systems mean workers only have a couple of seconds between calls. This isn't long enough, particularly if they have just been sworn at by a frustrated customer," Liane Groves, a Unifi spokesperson, told the BBC.

"Workers should be able to choose when they are ready to receive a call - it is no surprise people working in the industry only stay in it for just two years on average," she added.

Call Centre Association chief executive Anne Marie Forsyth, said the industry - which employs an estimated 790,000 people in the UK - was misunderstood.

"The comparison with satanic mills is very disappointing," she said.

"Most of our members are trying to empower their workers and create career paths for them.

"However, there are bad employers in all parts of UK industry."

The boom in UK call centre employment has recently come under threat, with some firms moving their operations to countries such as India where labour costs are much lower.

Your stories:

I agree that the job itself in a call centre is frustrating, boring and strictly monitored
Miss P, Nottingham

I agree that the job itself in a call centre is frustrating, boring and strictly monitored. However, some organisations balance this out with providing brilliant staff discounts, team outings and the general atmosphere with other colleagues can keep you going and help dealing with erratic customers. You always have a choice whether you want to work in a call centre and see if its for you - are you motivated by the money or job satisfaction?
Miss P, Nottingham

I have been working within call centres for 5 years, from training staff to actually being on the phones. The 'control' factor is at times overwhelming, you are tied to your desk, with two 15 minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Most of the staff I have worked with are upset and frustrated with the sense of no real appreciation of what it is they do. Call Centres are at the front line of any company reputation, so why do they not do more to help there staff feel comfortable with their role?
Mark Hawkes, Oxford

I started off in a UK call centre four years ago upon graduation and have stayed with the company ever since and now live as an expat manager in Hong Kong. It is down to the individual and their motivation and ambition. Call centres are like any business environment - you get extreme scenarios. Anyhow if you believe the press all the UK call centres are relocating to India and China so we have nothing to worry about. Right?
Richard, Hong Kong

The technology was very good; the wages very very poor
Edoardo Meli, London

I worked for the Qualiflyer Group in London and this was a brand new call centre. The technology was very good; the wages very very poor, the working conditions were worsening day by day. There were very skilled people working - able to speak up to four or five different languages. It was a real disgrace. This was a few years ago and obviously nothing changed, if anything got worse.
Edoardo Meli, London

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments in this article. I worked in a call centre in the collections department. More often than not we had people throwing abuse at you which at times can unsteady you. We had to have an average idle time between calls of 15 seconds. How do you recover? You end up having to leave the industry!
Prad, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

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