The recent phenomenon that is Business Processing Outsource (BPO) has put a new group of workers at health risk. Its call center agents are considered an "unreached population" needing attention, according to the Department of Health.
On any given shift, call center agents will need to answer 70 to 100 calls throughout their duty. Each call must be answered in 22 seconds and settled in five minutes. Agents need to cover at least 91 percent of client calls, creating environments of high-stress, according to a study cited by the DOH.
Filipino call center agents cater to American and European clients, such that they need to adapt to their clients' waking hours, which is usually the night shift in the Philippines.
As of 2013, there are about 449,964 BPO-related workers in the country, the bulk of which was doing customer relationship activities, according to a 2013 Philippine Statistics Office (PSO) survey.
The DOH estimated that their health needs' cost reached Php 1.3 million in 2016. The BPO industry is fast-growing and the cost will be higher in the coming years, the department further noted.
"These BPO employees represent a significant portion of our country's workforce today, thus it is imperative that we address every health risk that they face in their work including lack of sleep, job-related stress qhich they try to counteact with unhealthy lifestyle, maong others," former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial was quoted as saying.
Call center agents mostly encounter headache, fatigue, eye strain, chest and back pain and voice problems.
Night shift work hours are associated with interruptions in the work-life balance and psychological well-being, and more importantly, agents report that "harrasment from irate calls" is the foremost cause of stress within the workplace.
In terms of diseases, agents are at high risk for HIV/AIDS and promiscuous behaviour. Both the University of the Philippines Popultion Institute and the Ateneo de Manila University conducted studies supporting such claims, respectively.
"The Philippine workers in contact centers, compared to workers in other sectors, faced a higher probability of exposure to HIV/AIDS... the stress they experienced in the workplace, among other factors, could encourage sexual behaviour," according to a study form the UP Population Institute. The ADMU, meanwhile, found similar findings that back the UP results.
In response, the DOH then has vowed to include call center agents in their list of priorities, calling the workers part of the "unreached" population. It has taken the initiative, in partnership with Johnson and Johnson Phiippines to undertake the BPO Healthcare Program, primarily an information campaign which will be conducted with professionals specifically trained with modules that are BPO-centred, through consultations or in digital platforms.
BPO Healthcare Program will continue until 2018, according to the DOH.
"BPO agents are among the hardest working employees. Their work makes a difference in helping the country, and more importantly, uplifting their families. Our goal is to make sure we start a conversation with every BPO agent and help them live a healthier and more vibrant lives," said Managing Director of J&J Philippines Mr Jeffrey Go. MIMS