Towards an understanding of strategies employed by call centre agents for coping with work related stress : focus on GBC, Durban.
This is a study conducted in a telecommunications call centre called the Greater Brand Company; located in KwaZulu Natal, in a suburb North of Durban. I conducted fieldwork for a complete year whilst working full time in the call centre. Although the call centre had over 400 call centre agents employed at the Durban branch, I had access to 121 agents who worked a similar shift as me. The experiences of these agents are brought to life through this piece of research. The Great Branding Company (pseudonym) is an inbound call centre, which means it handles incoming calls and offers customer service to these callers. It has been argued that “since their appearance on the scene in the early 1990s, call centres have become the most important single source of customer contact in the developed information economies. They have also become huge employment generators, with jobs numbering in the millions” (Rusell, 2008: 01). The call centre industry is growing globally and South Africa is in line with this growth. The nature of the work is also very fast paced and challenging, yet monotonous, for the faceless employees who are working in this environment. The research aims to bring an understanding of these challenges and offer insight into the activities that agents engage in as ways to cope with their jobs. I carefully chose research methodologies that I believed were going to add value to the research. Writing from the emic perspective offers an opportunity to be able to be part of the study and share my views with very little inhibitions and thus offering a richer ethnography. My research was conducted using purely qualitative research tools because it examines the lives of the call centre agents and there is no better way to showcase this than through qualitative research. Participant observation being the key tool that I used to gain information in true Anthropology style. Being a participating observer did not mean I was devoid of barriers to entry; it did however put me at an advantage to gain better rapport amongst the research participants who considered me to be one of their own. In supplementing participant observation I also used focused groups, unstructured interviews and semi structured interviews for those questions that required greater probing. The combination of all these research methodologies allowed me an opportunity to gain a greater understanding into the lives of agents and thus write some detailed ethnographic chapters. The study adds to the field of Industrial Anthropology and hopes to spark a greater interest into this field thereby creating a platform for more researchers to conduct studies on call centre employment in the South African context.