An outsider’s view
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Urban India has been witnessing a radical social change these past few years due to the arrival of a new breed of professionals called the BPO employees. The rest of the society is astonished at the rapid growth of this group of people who sleep in the daylight and work at midnight. They stare in wonder at these hip, trendy and independent youngsters who wear designer jeans and speak in an accent alien to them when they are just barely out of their teens. But are their lives truly as glamorous as they seem?
In a country like India where unemployment is a huge curse, an industry like the BPO industry is God sent. It provides an easy opportunity for the young, educated and tech savvy youngsters in India to earn good money at a very young age itself. This was previously unheard of and these youngsters are changing the social landscape of urban India.
They are now more independent than ever before. In a country where the average income of a person is around Rs.2,000 (US$ 47) an entrant into the call center industry may get anywhere between Rs.10,000 (US$ 234) to Rs.15,000 (US$ 351). The money is a big lure for the youngsters as all it takes to make a career in the industry is a good command over the English language, some communication skills and some affinity towards technology. In some cases they are not even required to complete their graduation.
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This sudden growth in the number of call centers has brought significant changes to Indian society. These changes can been seen either as good or bad depending on the viewpoint of each individual. What is undeniable though is that the changes were sudden and drastic; be it in the mindset of the society or be it their attitude towards life in general.
One of the major changes has happened in the night life of Indian cities. There are a whole lot more pubs, discotheques and other all night hangouts which now cater to these professionals. Also the stigma of women working late at night has also been removed. Now young girls all over the country can work late, take on graveyard shifts without the fear of being ostracized by the society.
Another significant change that has been brought about is in the values and culture of these youngsters. What was earlier frowned upon is now looked as cool and hip. Earlier a youngster in India lived with his parents until he got married and sometimes even after that. His studies and other expenses were being taken care of solely by his parents. Now the youngsters have financial independence from an early age itself. This helps them to move out of their parents control sooner than they normally would. There are some who take care of their parents, thanks mainly due to their call center jobs. There are even those who work in the industry for a short while so that they make enough money to pursue higher studies on their own.
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Another advantage is that they get to handle real life problems from an early stage itself. They get to understand how a corporate environment works. They experience work pressure, internal politics and pressure of achieving targets and deadlines very quickly. Those who are able to survive the initial stages of their career gain a lot of self confidence which helps them later on in their life.
But there is another side to all the glamour of this life. In most case these guys do not have a life in the first place. Having spent most of their night at work these guys barely get time for anything else other than to sleep. They rarely get the time to interact with others as others might be involved in their own work or other activities at the time. In a way they get detached from the very society they live in. They sometimes barely get the time to interact with their own families.
As an offshoot of this detachment they begin to form relationships with their peers and co-workers itself. Most of these relationships are futile and superficial. Some have even started lamenting about the erosion of Indian culture from these youngsters. To them it all just seems a bit too westernized for their liking. They sometimes forget what is good for them and tend to go with the crowd.
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Sometimes the youngsters are exposed to this kind of money a bit too soon in their life and there is a good chance they might lose their way. They might be getting hold of this money when they are passing through those rebellious phases in life which all of us have gone through. I have seen people who have let it all go to their heads and become completely different from what they were before. They become all materialistic spending their money on things which they believe will buy them happiness.
Sometimes independence at an early age is not that great either. They have nobody to be accountable to and just completely lose control of their lives. Early independence, especially after being brought up in a controlled and protective environment as most Indians are, could lead to trouble as the line between freedom and misuse of it gets blurred rather quickly.
Their work environment can sometimes be a bit too stressful. Their clients or customers vent their frustrations about the product or services on the poor guy who takes their call. The agents are subjected too much abuse from their clients who use four letter words and call them names quite regularly. Sometimes these clients forget that it’s a human who is listening to them at the other end. And the call center agents are not even supposed to lose their composure!!! They are also pressurized beyond belief to meet their targets and deadlines almost to the brink of being harassed. It’s a wonder that many still opt for this career even after all this.
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The debate on call centers and the lives of their employees could go on forever. But I believe that it should be left up to the individual. You can make the best out of any opportunity or you can succumb to its evils. We as part of the society would do well to give them a fair chance by not judging them before getting to know them. After all at least we should remember something that their clients forget so often; that they too are humans.