Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why is the BPO Industry Looked Down Upon?

The BPO industry started operations in India somewhere around the year 1999. Some of the major players in this industry at that time were WNS, Spectramind (now WIPRO BPO) and MPHASIS. They set up base in most of the IT hubs in India namely, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune.
The BPO boom however hit India around the year 2003, when employees were hired on a mass scale and suddenly BPOs mushroomed everywhere. In fact the growth of this industry in a way caused an economic boom in India. Besides bringing job opportunities, it brought business to small time vendors like transport facility providers, security staff providers, caterers. This industry also brought in a massive social change. The conservative middle-class Indian parents suddenly allowed their daughters to work in night shifts. Jeans and t-shirt became the accepted attire and you would find every other youngster working in a BPO. The number of college dropouts increased and also the number of students preferring long distance study over traditional college study grew in number.
Youngsters had more pocket money and women who had dropped out of the work force due to marriage or pregnancy found they had a job opportunity open for them.
What was it about BPOs that was attracting so many? There were many factors that contributed to the mass scale acceptance of this profession that involved long working hours and night shifts. One was the better pay package that was offered, better facilities. All BPOs had great infrastructure-well lighted work place, clean cafeterias, clean bathrooms, pick and drop facility and an easy life style. You did not require an MBA from IIM or a software engineering degree to work in a BPO. In fact a college dropout could work here and get a decent pay package.
When everything was so good why is this profession looked down upon? Initially when the BPO industry started knowledge of good spoken English was a must but later when the requirement for employees grew and hiring was done on a mass scale standards went down. The transport facility was a major lacuna in the otherwise excellent management of facilities. The other problem area was the food facility.
The average age of a BPO employee was around 20-30. Some of the employees were even 18 and even the management was relatively younger. This brought in age discrimination in the work force. Suddenly there were headlines about BPOs and almost always for the wrong reasons. It all started with the health problems associated with long work hours and the biological clock getting affected due to night shifts; to reports about drug abuse and sexual harassment and discrimination.
When BPOs started hiring on a mass scale they started an employee referral scheme where you were encouraged to refer your friends and family to work with you and for each referral the employee was offered an incentive. Seemed like a great idea but what actually happened was that employees would request their friends to join and split the referral fee. Later the new joinee would leave the company after 3 months (that was the period required for the employee to get the referral fee). All this went on with the HR’s knowledge as constant new hires ensured their incentives as well, however the management had to grapple with the problem of attrition.
Why were there problems in such a perfect arrangement where everybody should be happy? The problems began because there was no background check done. Often by the time background check was done, the employee had already completed three to six months in the organization.
Transport, which is a major concern area, actually caused lot of security problems. Often there were reports of girls who were molested, raped, murdered and usually it was linked to the driver of the cab she traveled in. Susan (name changed) always had to call her team leader, as the cabbie would never report to her place. She was usually alone in the cab. Anita always found herself alone or with other transport employees in the cab. Her cab was once stopped by four men and when she complained the transport department did not take any action.
Another issue was security. Many BPOs did not take the no paper policy inside the operations area very seriously and many employees used customer account information to siphon money out of the customer’s account. A major case was reported in Pune and according to other employees, the unit manager was hand in glove with the employees who took money out of a customer’s account.
This industry also brought in phenomena of permissive behaviour and binge parties, which later on spilled on to the work place. Most of this happened due to the non-serious attitude of the management towards such behaviour. Hiring youngsters and having a lenient attitude resulted in a work force that was less focused on work and more in the fun that they could have at the work place.

All these factors resulted in the BPO industry being considered a work place for social outcasts and people who were not serious about work.