Health is wealth, but when money talks, it speaks of bills, not of wellness.
With the promise of good compensation from the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, more Filipinos are hired, oblivious of the demands that the job entails, specifically on the issues of health and wellness.
Despite the recent reports that the Philippine BPO industries expect a sluggish growth in the years to come, the fact remains that the country has become a global leader in providing quality services for the sector. With continued economic activities and international investments that it attracts, BPO is effortlessly deemed as the country’s ‘sunshine industry,’ guaranteeing steady—but slow—rise.
Coping with the same development, Filipinos have become strong competitors in taking over foreign outsourcing accounts. Currently, call centers are the leading BPO sub-sector, where the Customer Service/Care Representatives are employed, prominently known as ‘call center agents.’ And in comparison to other minimum-wage jobs, it is safe to assume that call centers pay better.
Aside from the higher salary, what makes call centers appealing is that it doesn’t impose strict qualifications in terms of the applicants’ age and educational background—two factors that are usually taken into much consideration in one’s employability.
23-year-old Jerome Astrera who works as a Customer Account Executive has been in the BPO industry for almost five years. Some time in his tenure as a call center agent, he was a working-student.
“I was told by my family that I wouldn’t be able to go back to school due to financial issues. It’s the only choice I had since BPO companies openly accept undergraduates,” Astrera said.
Far away from where the local call center offices are located, halfway across the globe, the foreign clients and customers of the BPO industry reside. This means that most of the call center agents follow the western schedule, thus, they render night and graveyard shifts.
“There were times when I couldn’t focus on my customer’s concerns because I was sleepy,” Astrera admitted.
To many call center agents, sleep is considered a luxury that most can’t afford, especially for those who are entitled to a night differential rate. Also, in the BPO industry, good attendance is as important as high quality assurance score, which is why many agents go to work regardless of what their body feels.
Along with the pressure of uncompromising schedule, seemingly countless phone calls, strict call handling time, monitored breaks, and sometimes mandated overtime, call center agents are prone to several health and wellness concerns. These concerns, unfortunately, usually go unnoticed, if not totally disregarded.
“Working in BPO industry, it’s very common for me to get viral infections like cough, runny-nose, and tonsillitis,” Astrera said.
With the labor code which mandates employers to provide health benefits to their employees, Astrera said that call center agents are made sure to be fit to work. But whether or not the provisions of the law are observed, the real issue lies on the conscious effort of the agents to prioritize health above all.
This has been affirmed by former teacher now a Customer Care Supervisor Diana Marie Candia, who has been in the BPO industry for almost eight years.
“The bad thing about the BPO is the stress it brings to the front liners. They have to sit all day, [working on with] clients’ demands [that] are unbelievably difficult[…] But it will always be a matter of choice and active commitment on the part of the agent to have a healthy lifestyle in spite of the nature of our job,” Candia said.
Candia added that not every call center agent immediately seeks medical attention despite feeling unwell, “Though having an insurance card guarantees payment for the medical services, the time spent in the hospital for further tests can be all the more stressful.”
Addressing this issue has become the advocacy of Johnson and Johnson (J&J Philippines) Incorporated. In collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH), the campaign called “Voice Your Care” was launched, with the hopes of creating a behavioral change that would empower BPO agents to actively seek treatment for their ailments and choose a healthier lifestyle.
“What we want to do with Voice Your Care is to be able to reach BPO agents and their families directly, because every BPO agent deserves to live a happy, healthy, vibrant life,” said Voice Your Care Project Lead, Karlo Patron.
Commonly observed in every workplace, health is undeniably one of the most underrated issues, often disregarding the severity of getting sick, and thinking of it as just part of doing the job. Voice Your Care campaign intends to remind call center agents that professional duties must not be fulfilled at the expense of compromising one’s overall wellness.
“BPOs appeal to many working-age Filipinos because of the abundance of jobs they offer. Finding and keeping well-paying jobs is a real concern for many BPO workers, a lot of whom support families and households financially. However, health and wellness should not take a backseat to keeping the job and advancing in one’s career,” Patron said.
Through health modules, on-ground activities, workshops with healthcare practitioners, and information driven digital content, the campaign also aims to reveal the causes and effects of the disruptions in people’s work-life balance, which affect the physical and psychological well-being.
Evidently, the executive and managerial people of call center companies portray a crucial role in the success of this campaign. Candia said, “The BPO industry offers hope to those who want to have full time job even without college diploma. It offers opportunities to people aspiring to earn hard earned money in an office setting. [So] as a supervisor, I need to make sure that when my agents are sick, they need to go and have themselves treated.”
The one-year partnership between J&J Philippines and DOH has options to extend up to two more years, primarily to implement key programs and activities like health caravans with healthcare practitioners, corporate social responsibility initiatives with private companies, and strategic partnerships with BPO companies, to further push for the campaign.
“As a leader in healthcare, we want to make sure that we are present in every Filipino’s life stage—making sure to care for them in every way that we can, in whatever environment they are in. Through Voice Your Care, we hope to start that change in the BPO industry,” Patron ended.