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The impact of the workplace environment on the emotional and physical wellbeing of call centre agents in the Cape Metropole
Call centres have become an important source for organisations to provide efficient information to their customers through cost-effective communication channels. Call centres are defined as a work environment in which the main business is mediated by computer- and telephone-based technologies that allow the effective distribution of incoming calls to available staff, and permit customer–employee communication simultaneously with the use of display screen equipment (DSE) and instant access to information. Working in a call centre is often linked with high stress levels, difficult customers, shift work, high workload demand, absenteeism and high employee turnover rates. The work characteristics of call centres include performance targets where employees are required to achieve set targets, undergo close performance monitoring, performance appraisal systems, limited task variation, repetitive work and limited autonomy. The physical environment in the call centre is often associated with open-plan office layouts and booths where noise levels and workstations are positioned in close proximity to each other. Wellbeing in call centres has become a concern and the research was undertaken to establish what effects the working environment (physical environment and job characteristics) in call centres in the Cape Metropole has on the wellbeing of call centre agents. A quantitative research method was employed in the study. A structured questionnaire was distributed via SurveyMonkey® to call centre agents from four participating call centres in the Cape Metropole. The combined target population of the four call centres was 760. A sample size of 200 was determined by using the Raosoft Incorporated® calculation tool. Although the aforesaid sample size sufficed, a response rate of 275 was received. Questions relating to job characteristics and significance of the work were based on the Job Diagnostic Survey by Hackman and Oldham. Social support questions were based on the instrument developed by Caplan, Cobb, French, Van Harrison & Pinneau in 1975. Job demand questions were based on the instrument developed by Karasek in 1979, and only the section on job demand was used. Performance monitoring and physical work environment were measured by using the questions based on these variables by Sprigg et al in 2003. Emotional wellbeing questions relating to burnout were measured using the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory. The wellbeing questions relating to vocal health, optical health and auditory health were based on the questionnaires developed by Sprigg et al. in 2003. General health was measured using the “Somatic Complaints” section of the NIOSH Generic Job Stress Questionnaire. Musculoskeletal health problems were measured using the Cornell Musculoskeletal Discomfort Questionnaire (CMDQ) developed by Hedge in 1994. Research question 1 addressed the gender perceptions of job characteristics, physical work environment and emotional and physical wellbeing. A T-test was conducted to answer the research question and the results revealed that there was no significant difference in gender perception on job characteristics; however there was a significant difference in perception of the physical work environment and wellbeing. Research question 2 addressed whether there is a significant difference in emotional and physical wellbeing experienced by call centre agents from various industries. A MANOVA analysis was conducted to determine the significance in industries, p = .015, and an ANOVA analysis was conducted that revealed agents working in the online retail as well as financial service industries were more likely to experience disengagement, p = .035. Research question 3 addressed the factors in the workplace environment that contribute to emotional and physical wellbeing problems. An ANOVA analysis was conducted and the results revealed lack of skills variety, p = .014, contributes to exhaustion; lack of autonomy, p = .040, contributes to disengagement; lack of supervisor support, p = .009, contributes to exhaustion, job demands, p = .000, contribute to exhaustion, performance monitoring, p = .036, contributes to exhaustion; and workstation layout, p = .001, contributes to auditory health problems. Research question 4 addressed whether there is a significant relationship between job characteristics, physical work environment and wellbeing. A Pearson correlation analysis was conducted and the results revealed that there is a significant relationship between job characteristics, physical work environment, and wellbeing. It can be concluded that the workplace environment does have an impact on the wellbeing of call centre agents in the Cape Metropole. It is imperative that the management of call centres understand the nature of the job and how the physical environment contributes to job stress; burnout; vocal, auditory, and optical health problems; and musculoskeletal disorders. The researcher recognises that there are essential job characteristics associated with call centre work but that there are elements of the job that can be redesigned to improve the wellbeing of call centre agents. It is recommended that management implement interventions which will redesign those elements within the workplace environment that contribute to wellbeing issues. The findings of this study add to existing literature and knowledge of the workplace environment and wellbeing of call centre agents.