Powering that back office...

DQW Bureau
26 Sep 2003

India stepped into the uncharted waters of global technology services on a simple premise. That it was really about people, a resource we had plenty of.

Those pioneers didn’t know how right their premise was. On one hand, globally, Indians would rapidly become visible, from Silicon Valley to East Coast to Dilbert strips, as well as back home, in the back office of the world. On the other hand, if an industry were so much about people, then you could be quite sure most of its problems and issues and concerns would increasingly be about people, too. 

BPO is a young industry that’s amazingly large. It’s just over five years old in India, and the top 15 firms we’ve surveyed already add up to 46,000 people. Compare that with 67,000 pros in the top 15 IT firms–after 15 years of growth for software. In BPO, scale really matters. GE is larger than Wipro Tech, and nearly as large as Infosys. And over half the call center people we surveyed for this issue are in the 21-25 age group; over 85 percent are 21-30 years of age. 

Clearly, it’s an industry that has expanded at breakneck speed. Which has led to its many unique HR problems, with hundreds recruited weekly at some firms. That and the age profile. We found far fewer aspirations for ‘dream companies’, and low awareness about other BPO companies-thanks to a very young population that does not intend to make a long-term career out of answering phone calls. We found more ‘satisfied’ workers, than those in IT services - but this satisfaction quickly dropped off as we climbed the experience ladder by a couple of years. 

Stress was an area not quite charted before in India. Stress? Well, ever tried handling caller after irate caller and being yelled at while being amazingly polite for a full shift? Globally, stress management is a major area of concern and gets unusual and special solutions, from small things such as breaks allowed after handling an angry caller, to other techniques. For India-based call centers, the big reason for stress is different: the odd hours, and disturbed sleep patterns and family life. This needs not just innovation and creativity to tackle (small steps like night crèches help) but research, and even health care and counseling. 

And as ephemeral careers and high attrition, stresses the heck out of HR and they try innovative ideas such as recruiting elderly and retired people, bringing a different kind of organizational split-personality problem to the BPO Janes and Johns, you can be sure, there will be bigger HR challenges and mergers, ‘consolidation’ and more, amidst the growth in the year ahead.

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