‘Big Brother is Watching You!’: Call Centre Surveillance

Knights, David and Odih, Pamela. 2002. ‘Big Brother is Watching You!’: Call Centre Surveillance. In: Graham Crow and Sue Heath, eds. Social Conceptions of Time: Structure and Process in Work and Everyday Life. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 144-161. ISBN 9781349430888 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

The growth of call centres in the UK has been rapid and extensive. Approximately 250,000 people work in call centres — more than 1 per cent of the working population (Datamonitor, 2000). Female part-time and full-time workers constitute 70 per cent of all call centre staff (Belt, 1999). But the industry has been beset by attrition rates averaging between 45 and 70 per cent and absenteeism at 4.7–6.1 per cent per month (Datamonitor, 2000). Part of the problem relates to ‘work intensification’ and an endemic ‘culture of surveillance’. Within academic circles and in the media, call centres have often been described in distinctly Orwellian terms. In these ‘white-collar factories’ hundreds of employees are arranged in serried ranks to handle a seemingly endless flow of customer telephone inquiries. The new generation of monitoring technology is extremely powerful. It can analyse ‘keystrokes’ on terminals to determine whether employees are making efficient use of their time between telephone conversations. Employers can tap phones, read e-mails and monitor computer screens. The possibility, and in some cases the coercive use, of surveillance techniques for call centre personnel is dramatic, intense and secretive. This surveillance can involve not only a constant measurement of performance but also other pressures associated with an intensification of work.

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Book Section

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Customer services; call centre; service encounter; process orientation; emotional labour

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Date Deposited:

29 Aug 2023 12:21

Last Modified:

29 Aug 2023 12:21



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