Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Engaged or Not? A Comparative Study on Factors Inducing Work Engagement in Call Center and Service Sector Work

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Engaged or Not? A Comparative Study on Factors Inducing Work Engagement in Call Center and Service Sector Work

Article excerpt

Introduction

The shifting of varied and complex customer service delivery to call centers has been an economic success story. For example, Batt and Moynihan (2002) state that huge economies of scale have been achieved through office consolidation, service automation, and process rationalization. At the same time, a relatively large body of literature has shown that call centers are specific workplaces which incorporate work conditions that have the potential to negatively affect employee well-being. For the employees, the introduction of Taylorist forms of industrial engineering models in call center environments has meant the experiencing of a degradation in working conditions, the routinization of work processes, boredom, and increased stress, which are associated with the speeding up of job cycle times (Knights and McCabe, 1998; Taylor and Bain, 1999; Taylor et al., 2003).

Although various sociological studies have drawn attention to call centers as offering low-quality and highly controlled "sweat shop" jobs, these notions have also been criticized. The managerial perspective has recognized that call centers do not constitute a workplace entirely devoid of work interest (Rose and Wright, 2005). Call center work may offer opportunities to use various skills, such as communication skills, independent problem solving, multi-tasking, and technical knowledge (Belt et al., 2002; Russell, 2007). Furthermore, actively attending to customers and solving their problems may also be a significant source of job satisfaction (Holman, 2003). In fact, according to Holman (2002), the causes of stress and the levels of well-being of call center employees are similar to workers in comparable clerical and manufacturing jobs.

Although there has been a growing interest to study well-being in call centers, there are few studies that have paid attention to positive work attitudes (Bakker et al., 2003; Grebner et al., 2003; Holman, 2002; Holman et al., 2002; Wegge et al., 2006). Moreover, most studies have concluded that call centers are "unique workplaces" and have concentrated on studying them in isolation and not introduced a comparative element. The aim of this study is to compare the possibilities of experiencing positive well-being, measured as work engagement, in call centers and other service sector work. This article focuses on the prevalence of certain working conditions (job demands, autonomy, and social support) in call centers and at other service sector workplaces in Finland. We examine how these factors are related to work engagement and whether the relationships are divergent in call centers in comparison to other service sector work.

Call center management

The managerial perspective has recognized how employee well-being and especially their contribution and dedication have become critical business issues. Customer service agents are expected to provide high levels of satisfaction and convenience for customers and make customers feel valued (Kinnie et al., 2000). Customer satisfaction and organizational output are largely dependent on employees' discretionary efforts to comply with organizational goals. In trying to create more output with less employee input, the management has become increasingly interested in how to commit the "hearts and minds" of their employees (Ulrich, 1997; van den Broek, 2004). Accordingly, the attention of researchers has been drawn to examining human resource management issues and the problematic work attitudes prevalent in call center environments, such as absenteeism, low job satisfaction, low performance and turnover, as well as the factors predicting those behaviors (Bakker et al., 2003; Grebner et al., 2003; Hallman et al., 2008; Schalk and Van Rijckevorsel, 2007). Also, much attention has been given to factors that are related to the ill-health of call center employees (Bakker et al., 2003; Charbotel et al., 2009; Croidieu et al., 2008; Zapf et al., 2003). However, most studies have concentrated only on call centers. …

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