Stress in call centres and operational centres

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2018 Energy Service Group Conference
27 February 2018

Conference notes that many energy members work in call centres and operational centres where they take calls from operational colleagues and customers. While most callers are reasonable, there is always a proportion that are unreasonable and some who are extremely abusive. In workplaces with generally high levels of stress, this can be intolerable. Members who are particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, can be particularly affected by this.

Other front line staff energy are also at risk of harassment from the public or contractors. LGBT staff can be negatively judged not just for the way they speak but also for the way they look, the way they walk and so on, and treated without respect.

Research from 2017 by the TUC – ‘The cost of being out at work’ – showed the continuing high levels of discrimination facing LGBT+ workers, with 39% having been harassed or discriminated against by a colleague, 29% by a manager and 14% by a service user or member of the public. Digging deeper into the findings, of the whole LGBT+ sample, trans workers are much more likely to experience discrimination than non-trans workers. Young workers and those in insecure employment are the least likely to have the confidence to be open about being LGBT at work.

Research from 2017 by UNISON confirmed that LGBT members are unlikely to report discrimination because they fear that their manager will not take either them or the issue seriously.

UNISON has long recognised the need to tackle stress, including in call centres and for other front line staff. In 2012, UNISON launched the Call Centre Charter, to seek to establish a decency agenda for these members, allowing them to work effectively and efficiently in safe work environments. This followed research for UNISON into call centre work which found high levels of workplace stress, bullying and harassment, leading to higher than average levels of sickness absence.

In 2017, this conference resolved to review and refresh work on the Call Centre Charter. The conference called for a survey to check how many employers have adopted it and for equality, specifically including anti-LGBT harassment and abuse, to be a key part of implementation.

In the past twelve months, levels of stress among energy members have certainly not improved.

Conference therefore renews its call on the Energy Service Group Executive, working with the business and environment equal opportunities working group, to:

1. Survey energy branches with call centre members on whether their employer has signed up to the charter;

2. If so, investigate:

a) how it is being implemented and

b)Whether it makes specific reference to tackling anti-LGBT abuse;

3. Work with branches where the employer has not adopted the charter to negotiate its implementation;

4. Urge training for managers and staff on LGBT equality issues and combating harassment and bullying across all energy employers and for all staff.