Mental health in call centres: Get unionised!

Call centre working is a danger to your mental health

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure, sleeping problems and even suicidal thoughts are common among call centre workers.

More than 4 in 5 respondents to a Unison survey said that work made them stressed.

In another survey [Mind], when asked how workplace stress affected them:

  • More than one in five (21 per cent) had called in sick to avoid work,

  • 14 per cent had resigned, and 

  • 42 per cent had considered resigning.



“I could barely breathe from an anxiety attack”


“I was feeling suicidal nearly every day”



So, how does call centre working cause mental health problems?

  • verbal abuse from callers – UNISON survey: 86% experienced verbal abuse

  • no recovery time between calls

  • constant pressure to work faster

  • noisy, busy, open plan offices

  • uncomfortable workstations

  • oppressive sensory environment – ventilation, temperature, lighting, etc

  • managers cracking the whip

  • targets which are impossible to meet 


“I had someone on the phone say they were going to kill me”


“There’s a real 1984 atmosphere”


“My call centre prided themselves on treating staff well, but I still felt under extreme pressure to perform to unreasonable targets to make sure my job was safe”




It seems obvious that working conditions are the problem

-> so why are the ‘solutions’ usually suggested addressed to the effects rather than the causes? eg. mental health “awareness” campaigns, patronising lifestyle advice, Mental Health First Aid, counsellors

These measures may alleviate some problems in the short term, but they add to the idea that the problem is with the worker not with the workplace.

If you were in a job where workers repeatedly had serious physical accidents – falling from heights, getting mangled by machinery, etc, and the employer suggested training more first aiders, you would say that was inadequate; that the employer needed to sort out the workplace and stop the accidents happening in the first place. The same applies to mental health. Yes, it is good for employers to provide MHFA or counsellors, but it would be better still for them to stop driving us into distress.

Moreover, it seems that some employers are using counsellors to ‘manage people out’ of the job. If, after a course of six sessions, you are still struggling, that’s it – you can’t do the job.

So, to tackle the mental health crisis, we need to change the workplace: 

  • manageable workload

  • secure employment contracts

  • decent wages

  • shorter hours (without loss of pay)

  • a comfortable working environment

  • adequate breaks

  • workers’ control over conditions


How do we get this?

The employers won’t give it out of the kindness of their hearts!

And arguments that protecting workers’ mental health is good for business will only get us so far.

We need to organise. Join a trade union and form an active union group in your workplace. Identify demands, put them to your employer and prepare to take action to fight for them.

Even doing that can improve your mental health!

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