Call centre work : characteristics, physical, and psychosocial exposure, and health related outcomes

University dissertation from Institutionen för systemteknik

Abstract: Call centres (CCs) are one of the most rapidly growing forms of workplaces in Sweden. The overall aim of this thesis was to describe work characteristics, physical and psychosocial exposures, and health related outcomes, for CC operators in selected CC in Sweden. The purpose was also to study the test-retest reliability and internal consistency of questions, and the inter-rater reliability of observations and measurements in studies of CCs.This thesis is based on two projects, where study I was a cohort study and studies II-V were a cross-sectional survey. Fifty-seven CC operators were compared with a reference group of 1459 professional computer users from other occupations, study I, and 1183 operators (848 women and 335 men) (response rate 77%) from 28 CCs were studied in studies II-V . Questionnaires covering organisation and work characteristics, physical and psychosocial exposures, individual characteristics and symptoms during the previous month was used, studies I-V. Structured observations in accordance with an ergonomic checklist were used to assess workstation design during the subject’s ordinary work, study I and II.Operators at external CCs spent longer time on customer calls and had less varied tasks. Additional remuneration, call logging and monitoring was more common at external CCs.There were deficiencies in workspace, keyboard- and input device placement. External CCs showed somewhat more problems in the work environment compared with the internal CCs. The CC group spent longer continuous time in front of the computer than other professional computer users.Emotional and cognitive demands and time pressure were reported considered high. Emotional demands and limited decision latitude were dominating features in CC work.A higher proportion of the CC group reported musculoskeletal symptoms compared to other professional computer users. Three out of four operators reported symptoms in the Neck/shoulder or Arm/hand region, with no major differences between internal and external CCs. Comfort of the work environment showed the strongest association with symptoms in the Neck/shoulder or Arm/hand, in both types of CCs. Other exposures associated with symptoms in the Neck/shoulder or Arm/hand in either type of CC were: low complexity of work, long total time of customer calls per day, continuous computer work without a break, high psychological demands, low decision latitude, lack of social support from colleagues and lack of support from a supervisor. The thesis confirms previously suggested associations between unfavourable work characteristics and management, as well as poor physical and psychosocial environment, and musculoskeletal symptoms in computer-interactive tasks. Among operators at internal CCs, symptoms were particularly related to the nature of calls during work, whereas at external CCs critical exposures were the time spent seated with continuous computer work.About half of the questions were classified as having fair to good or higher testretest reliability and can be recommended in further analyses. Other questions should be used with care. A majority of the variables on the ergonomic checklist are classified as having fair to good or higher inter-rater reliability.

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