It seemed such a simple and profitable business idea. Transferring call centres from Britain
to English-speaking India would save billions of pounds for big business. Many high-street
names, keen to slash up to 40 per cent off their labour costs, have rushed to "offshore" their
call centres. Forecasters predict that, by 2008, the Indian call-centre boom will be worth
5 pounds 57bn.
However, in their rush for profit, Western companies are failing to take into account the human
fallout of this lucrative shift. Recently, a massive upsurge in mental-health problems is
being reported by Indian workers struggling to cope with the complex demands of dealing
with a different culture down a phone line and high staff burnout rates are becoming a problem.
The crux of the problem lies with identity. Indian employees are trained to neutralise their
accents and disguise their nationality by adopting Western names; they are also forced to
work through the night to fit in with UK and US business hours. New research suggests that
depression, identity confusion and even drug abuse are now emerging as side-effects of the
job, along with sleep-related disorders and relationship difficulties.
Dr Sanjay Chugh, chairman of the International Institute of Mental Health in Delhi, says he
has seen more than 250 patients whose problems stem directly from call-centre jobs. Most
Indians get pre-job instruction in subjects such as listening skills and telesales etiquette.
Some are given a crash course in British culture. But learning about the Brits' love of fish and
chips and the nation's passion for football doesn't come near to equipping them for the
stresses they will face. "A lot of clients complain about problems around having to switch
their identities completely twice a day," says Dr Chugh. "They also find themselves getting
subjected to a huge amount of emotional and verbal abuse."
After doing the night shift in an Indian call centre, trying to survive on four hours' sleep a day,
call-centre worker Laksmi, 40, found she began to suffer confusion which she likens to jetlag.
"I would wake up thinking, is this the middle of the week? Do I have to get up?" She also
found the tedium hard to handle. "We had to stick to the script. We were programmed. It was
so monotonous, I found myself saying it in my sleep."
According to new research by psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud, who travelled to the subcontinent
to examine the situation, the only way Indians will learn to cope with psychological pressure
of this kind is to adopt a more Western approach. Apparently, in the UK we are more used to
compartmentalising our lives and being polite to people when working, even when we don't
feel like it. But in countries such as India this isn't the case and this "emotional labour" is taking
"There are two types of protective role-play common in the West," explains Dr Persaud, "superficial
acting, which is the kind you get when a shop assistant tells you to ‘Have a nice day';
it's insincere but part of the performance of being polite. And then there's deep acting, which
is getting fully immersed in the role - like an actor does." Dr Persaud argues that deep-acting
techniques can protect workers psychologically, but these changes in behaviour come at a
cost. "It seems you have to import a bit of Western culture into your company. You have to
ask, does this process begin to contaminate your culture? And is that something you want?”
Source: The Independent on Sunday; UK, 20 Februar 2005, p. 53
on hold - in a state of interruption primarily during a telephone call
to slash - to reduce something by a large amount
high-street names - here: major companies
bn - billion
human fallout - negative effects on people
upsurge - a sudden increase in something
crux - the most important aspect of something
to stem - from to come from
to get subjected to something - to be affected by something usually unpleasant
liken - to compare
tedium - boredom
to compartmentalise - to divide something into separate sections, especially so that one
thing does not affect the other
to take its toll - to have a bad effect on sb./sth.
Text II: Cartoon
Source: www.comics.com, 15 October 2006
Work on three tasks altogether.
Tasks 1 and 2 are compulsory. Choose one task from 3.
1 Sum up “Mind life on hold” in no more than 150 words. (30%)
2 Analyse the cartoon and compare its message to that of the text by Jane Cassidy.
3 A Referring to the cartoon, Jane Cassidy’s text and a character from literature or film,
comment on the effects of globalization on people’s lives. (40%)
3 B An Asian newspaper describes the globalized world as: “A world coming closer together,
of distances and differences overcome, of everybody sharing in the promise
of the future…” (As the world gets tight, Asiaweek, 18 February 2000).
Explain what the statement means and comment on it referring to the cartoon, the
text and other material you are familiar with. (40%)
3 C A trade union in an English-speaking industrialized country plans a campaign against
the outsourcing of jobs. Describe the design (i.e. layout, illustrations) and write the
text of a leaflet supporting this campaign and explain the reasons for your choices.
3 D One reason for the stress the Indian call-centre workers suffer from is their exposure
to different customs and traditions. Compare their situation as it is depicted in the text
to that of one or two literary and /or film characters facing similar cultural problems.
You are expected to write at least 700 words in no more than 300 minutes.
Source: Berlin: Senatsverwaltung f. Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung