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Racial Abuse & Accusations! Welcome To The Daily Life Of An Indian BPO Employee

Life is no bed of roses for an Indian BPO Employee in the face of daily job stress and racial abuse and accusations.

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Racial Abuse & Accusations

When they came to India, BPO jobs defined a whole new generation of youngsters seeking to find employment for financial independence. A call-center job, as it was known back then, paid good money. Yes, the hours were crazy and the jobs were demanding, but the pay and perks were too good to pass up.

But few people outside of the BPO industry know of the abuse and accusations that Indian BPO workers face on a daily basis. In addition to a crushing daily grind, Indian BPO workers have to go through a lot of abuse at the hands of the very customers they have to serve.

A new study from UK has thrown up some shocking revelations.

Racial Abuse & ‘Job Stealing’ Accusations: A Daily Affair

The study which was carried out by Sweta Ranjan-Rankin from the University of Kent, UK has revealed this daily racial abuse faced by Indian BPO workers. Not only that, they also have to face abuse and accusations of being ‘job thieves’.

Her study is based on ethnographic research carried out with two of the major outsourcing firms having call centers in India. The research which was carried out between 2010 & 2012, found that almost all the employees interviewed for the study had been abused and accused.

Ranjan-Rankin has said,

“It is a post-recession reality. Western clients are extremely cagey. If they think you are an Indian, their biggest fear is you are stealing their job and that everything is being outsourced,”

“In terms of the current context, with Brexit in the UK and Trump in America, recession, pulling back of services, we have seen a resurgence of national politics… you might see much more customer abuse, much more racial abuse.”

Complete Masking

According to Ranjan-Rankin, when global firms came to India to open their call centers in the 90s, they adopted the practice of ‘Complete Masking’. They sought to hide the ethnic identity of their Indian employees.

This was done to impress upon the customers that their services are available within the same country. Companies even went to the extent of sending them to the US to perfect their American accent and voice modulation. Employees were also expected to be up-to-date with pop-culture and sports like baseball and American football.

She further says,

“The rules of call agents don’t allow them to disclose that they are working in India, no matter what. As a result they get enormous amounts of abuse, which is often racial in nature,” said Rajan-Rankin.

The Side Effects

All this may sound theoretical and distant to us as we are far removed from the BPO industry. But the racial abuse and the resultant mental anguish are very much real. Finding no other outlet, employees often take to substance abuse to deal with this anguish in addition to the work stress.

This, in turn, gives rise to health issues, mental as well as physical. It ends up becoming a vicious circle of stress and ill-health. The burnout rate in the BPO industry is very high. Not everybody is wired to function efficiently under stress and abuse.

It is no secret that most of the call centers are based in India. According to Ranjan-Rankin, majority of the abuse is triggered by the customer’s disbelief over the caller’s identity. She says,

“Narratives around identity masking of call agents are rooted in attempts to stem racial abuse from western clients who may perceive them as ‘job thieves’,”

All in all, life is no bed of roses for an Indian BPO employee. There is an urgent need to address this issue with proper conditioning and counselling. The ideal solution would be customer education. But that seems like an impossible objective to achieve.

In the meanwhile, we can only imagine the kind of stress these employees go through daily in their quest for employment and financial independence. Irony abounds!

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