One in four call centre agents suffers voice problems because managers are failing to properly protect their health, a leading health and safety body said today.
A new study, commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), found that call handlers had suffered one or more of a range of ill-effects because of their work, including voice loss, sore throats and breathlessness.
Around one in 10 were diagnosed with a voice problem, while a tenth said their work was now suffering because of the stress placed on their vocal cords.
Of the call agents surveyed, 60 per cent reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise and 41 per cent said they had failed to be heard by the customer on the other end of the line. More than one in three call agents said that their voice was hoarse often or very often.
And researchers identified new starters, particularly female workers, as a high-risk group of call agents who are more likely to develop voice problems.
Experts at Ulster University surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland, as part of this unique study. These included outbound customer services and sales services to the retail, finance, marketing, government, information technology and leisure sectors.
Dr Luise Vassie, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: “The results from the research are eye-opening.
“People who depend on their voices within their day-to-day role, such as actors and singers, often have training on how to control and protect their voice – call agents should be no different.
“Call centre managers and employees would be wise to heed the advice of this research and consider what benefits vocal training and a raised awareness of environmental issues would bring to their organisation.”
“By educating staff on voice-care issues, they become more aware of the risks they face and how they can be prevented – this can lead to reduced absence levels, a more efficient way of working, and, in the long run, business profitability.