RP call centers reel from world’s highest turnover

Mar. 15, 2008

DAVAO CITY — Like zombies, they stumbled out of the elevator: haggard, red-eyed, and sleepy in shabby, crumpled clothes and disheveled hair. Some in sandals and pajamas, their hands gripping either a big coffee mug or a water bottle, they chatter away in English.

This is a typical early morning scene in one of the Philippines’ biggest call center firms along Ayala Avenue in Makati City after a graveyard shift that starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m.

Despite efforts by the country’s call center companies to glamorize the industry, call center agents are resigning, job-hopping, transferring or being fired by the hundreds as fast as they are being hired. That image of a “successful call center executive making it in the business world is lost to these call center agents who are just too glad to quit the industry.

Turnover rate in the country’s call centers has gotten so worse that it has hit 60 to 80 percent, according to the Call Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP). This has given the Philippines the world’s highest turnover rate for call centers worldwide.

Globally, it is an accepted norm in the industry to have a 30 to 40 per cent turnover. Both Australia and India call centers have turnover rates of only six to 10 percent. Top government officials are alarmed that an emerging industry that has generated around 2 billion US dollars in annual revenues is reeling from a worsening turnover crisis.

“It’s like a zoo factory over there and we’re the new blue collar workers,” says Rommel Benitez, 32, who quit his call center job last week, his eyes still bulging from dark eyebags, from lack of sleep. “You can’t relax, we’re always in a hurry. We’re always being watched.

Coffee break is barely 15 minutes and our lunch at midnight is under time pressure that we have a hard time swallowing our food.”

Catriona Wallace, researcher and industry analyst with the Journal of Service Industry Management said the high turnover oftentimes is the result of a “deliberate strategy of frequent employee replacement “to provide enthusiastic and highly motivated customer service at low cost to the call center.

“What you see here is an industry-wide policy of firing and replacing employees to keep their workforce fresh and motivated.” Wallace said.

Industry analyst Ben Teehankee lambasted this policy among call center firms to keep changing their employees to keep them fresh and enthusiastic.” This strategy is not consistent with giving good jobs to Filipinos and developing people for higher job responsibilities,” says Teehankee, who chairs the Human Resource Management Department of La Salle School of Business in Manila.

Broken promises and misleading advertising by the country’s call centers were also blamed by call agents who quit or “requested to be fired” to avoid paying penalties for quitting too early. Many call center firms are still denying this is happening.

The nation’s big dailies are filled with full-page ads with screaming headlines like: “Are you getting paid for your performance ?” “Ride your future with us!” “Great careers happen overnight!” “Entrust your dreams with us!” “Earn as much as P40,000 a month!” “Get our P10,000 signing bonus!”

Most of the call centers which came out with these advertisements either ignored or neglected the promises they made, according to Marrisa Tiongko, 25, another call center agent who quit recently.

“I was promised 15,000 pesos monthly salary and another 5,000 pesos for food and transport allowance during training—- but I got only 11,500 monthly with no training allowance. They lied. It wasn’t worth it,” says Tiongko, a masscom graduate from Legaspi City

Most call canter agents, after they passed a two-week training, usually get only 11,500 to 13,000 monthly plus benefits like SSS coverage, health insurance, housing plan,etc—– which are deducted from the agent’s salary every month. This is equivalent to less than 300 US dollars monthly in the Philippines, a far-cry from the US call center agent average salary of 2,500 US dollars monthly.

Many American call center companies made the Philippines their favorite choice for investments in business process outsourcing (BPO) precisely due to cheap labor from abundant, highly-skilled English-speaking Filipinos,” quips a human resource manager of People Support, Inc.

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