Among all the various trends and transitions to sweep the Indian job scene, very few have come close to replicating the kind of wide-ranging reach and impact that the BPO and call centre industry has had. With the promise of attractive packages and benefits coupled with the offer of a huge range of job roles in varied functions like quality, IT, human resources, finance, training, project management, facilities management et al, BPOs in India today are attracting some of the brightest young talent in the industry.
However, it is undeniable that working in a BPO is markedly different from any other 9 to 5 job, making demands upon one that require a considerable shift in mentality and mind-set. Haphazard shift timings, high levels of stress, donning new identities these are just some of the factors that set this industry just a little bit apart.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the aspects that make the BPO sector unique in its own way.
This is the biggest challenge of working in a BPO industry – the need to operate in the time frame of a different geographical area, the majority of clients being abroad. Night shifts and erratic, unpredictable hours take their own toll, with working women being the most affected. Another factor is the safety angle, especially with night shifts.
Health problems are also an unpleasant fallout of unsystematic working schedules, and sleep disorders, heart disease, and eyesight problems are commonly recurring issues among BPO employees.
However, not everyone finds this to be challenging. The option of flexible working hours, available to most employees, is a bonus that helps them manage their personal life better. Most BPOs address the safety aspect adequately, picking and dropping female employees to their doorstep for night shifts, and having trained security guards accompanying them when required.
Indian BPOs work with organizations from countries all over the globe, and most call-center jobs involve talking to foreigners. Although most new hires are fluent in English, many have never spoken to a foreigner. To earn their headsets, they need to complete classroom training lasting between anything from a week to three months. Speaking in a vernacular tongue on company premises is often a fireable offence.
After voice and diction training comes culture training. The trainers’ intent is to impart something they call international culture—which is, in reality, no culture at all, but a muddled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The most marketable skill in India today, the Times of India wrote in 2003, is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone elses.
Call-center employees acquire their financial independence at the risk of an identity crisis. A BPO salary is contingent on the employee’s ability to de-Indianize; to adopt a Western name and accent and, to some extent, attitude. Aping Western culture has long been fashionable; in the call-center classroom, however, it is company policy.
BPOs offer top class compensation, benefits and faster career growth options than almost any other industry in India today, and consequently, they are today attracting the best talent from various industries, including hospitality, financial services, retail, travel, etc. BPOs enable youngsters to have fast-track careers, with high levels of responsibility being delegated at fairly early stages in their careers. Perks include home pick-up and drops, recreational facilities, medical insurance, range of rewards and recognition schemes.
Arjuna has been working with United e-Services for over 8 months now. Hailing from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Arjuna balked at the life that was laid out for him. In America, young people move away from their families after high school or college, he says, but not here. His family expected him to stay at home, work at the bank where his father worked, and marry a nice Indian girl they chose for him. Instead, he stunned everyone by moving to Bangalore. The quirky BPO culture was in perfect alignment with his individualist streak; culture training taught him about societies where young people lived as they pleased. He loved the fun working environment at United e-Services, as well as the plethora of facilities available, and when he got his first paycheck, he tasted the liberating power of disposable income.
In spite of the high-pressure expectations of the industry, Arjun states that the company plays a major role in maintaining an animated environment. “We have Employee Interest Groups, which organise activities such as photography, dance and music events. Moreover, our rewards and recognition ceremonies are very interactive and provide for an excellent way to unwind.” Several months on, Arjuna enjoys his independent lifestyle and is ever thankful to the industry and the company that made it all possible.
Priya and Rajiv, a newly married couple, met at United e-Services, where they have been working for 9 months and 1 year respectively. Both profess to be enjoying their time and careers at United e-Services immensely. Rajiv has recently been made a Team Leader, and Priya has bagged a solid package with several attractive benefits. Priya does not ascribe to the notion that their unusual schedules affect their married life – “Our flexible work timings give us ample time together, and being from the same industry helps us understand each other’s situation better.”
When quizzed about the popular notion that most people treat BPOs and call centres as a short-term career option, Rajiv remarks, “On the contrary, I see a lot of people who are building a long- term career in the industry. In fact, BPOs are attracting the best talent from other industries that are not able to offer similar compensation and career growth options.”
Although the BPO industry has seen many ups and downs over the years, on the whole, it is a success story. Business process Outsourcing is a marvel of our modern age, which has truly made the world a global village, and provided countless working individuals with a fresh lease of life.