|Back to the future: Older
additions, Kosha Wagh, 39 (left) and Sabina Hill, 38 (far right),
hit it off with the BPO smart-set
you are on the greyer side of 35... or 40... or older... and are
serious about switching professions-or even thinking of entering
the workforce for the first time-then don't let age hold you back.
A new career path has just opened up. In call centres.
The good news is that you would be welcomed.
Kosha Wagh, 39, mother of two teenage sons, made the transition
from teaching to working the telephones for a living, and is much
the happier for it. "I have no problems gelling with the young
crowd and with young guys teaching me the ropes," confesses
Wagh, who works at EXL Service, a Noida-based call centre that pioneered
the recruiting of older people in an industry crawling with twenty-somethings.
'Age No Bar' said the ad in the newspaper.
Sabina Hill, 38, took it at its word, and joined EXL. "I'm
38, a divorcee and have a married daughter," she says, by way
of introduction. Hill, who also has a 16-year-old son, joined the
company to earn a living. Period. And believe it or not, she actually
counts a mother-daughter-son trio as her colleagues.
The interesting part is that BPO units are
actually beginning to prefer tufts of grey rather than black hair
under their call-response headsets. Older folk are in demand. "The
attrition rate in call centres is absurdly high," reasons Rajarshi
Sengupta, Executive Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), "So
these companies are trying out new things to see if normalcy can
be restored to the proceedings."
Job hoppers pose a big headache to recruiters.
They play havoc with manpower planning. For all the industry's retention
efforts, the call centre average rate of attrition remains alarmingly
high at about 40 per cent every year. With expansion taken into
account, that means having to train more than half the staff from
scratch every 12 months. For people above 35, however, the attrition
rate barely touches 8-10 per cent. Granted, this figure is not calculated
for a large enough base to be significant, but there are intuitive
reasons to expect older people to stay put for longer.
"These older people know the hardships
involved in getting a new job, so they are a lot more stable,"
says Navanit, coo of the Mumbai-based call centre Epicenter. "They
don't hop, skip and jump for that extra grand in pay," adds
a team leader at a call centre.
"Basically, different BPO firms are trying
to experiment with different models, whether it's hiring older people
or part-timers," says Prakash Gurbaxani, CEO of Transworks,
which employs more than 2,200 people at its centres in Mumbai and
But the pioneer puts a slightly different spin
on its efforts. "We decided on the 'age no bar' policy to expand
the talent pool," says Deepak Dhawan, Vice President, hr, EXL
Service. "The job is all about competencies, and not about
age," he adds. The skillsets of older recruits include maturity,
empathy and the ability to smoothen ruffled feathers.
|Older recruits bring in skillsets such as
maturity, empathy and the ability to smoothen ruffled feathers
Chaos And Chemistry
But what about workplace chemistry? Are older
employees comfortable working with, and reporting to, colleagues
half their age? Wagh recalls her embarrassment at being called 'aunty'.
"My name is Kosha," she shot back, "and I would appreciate
you calling me by my name." Nonetheless, Wagh has since emerged
as the agony aunt of the team, and finds herself advising her younger
colleagues on "guy problems".
Hill's experience was slightly different: her
team-mates helped her gain confidence. "When I joined after
three months of rigorous training," she says, "my team
leader looked apprehensive, but today, there's relief on his face."
And the team leader's account? "According to the feedback I
had received," he says, "she was shy and kept to herself.
Since the team is like an extended family, it's important for members
to get along." Hill now enjoys working with a crew of average
Dhawan concedes cases of older folk taking
unkindly to being pulled up by younger team leaders, but adds, "Indians
understand and know how to deal with their elders, and this translates
into equilibrium in the workplace."
What about efficiency? "In terms of performance,
there is no latitude given for age," says Dhawan, "just
a natural regard for their seniority." Says Navanit, "They
may take some time to actually become productive, but once they
get there, they are much more stable and can handle pressure and
stress much better. They also have a stabilising effect on youngsters."
Wagh "could hear her brains creaking" during training,
but is comfortable now.
So, would you like to sign on? "Most of
our older employees are people who've taken VRS from PSU banks or
oil companies," says Navanit, "We also have housewives
applying for jobs." The money's quite good, too, and salaries
can double in three years for star performers. Of course, the fun
of it could be reason enough.
|Trouble-shooting: Pros like Shikha Sharma
are in demand
honchos need specialised advice all the time, especially when they're
so busy feeding their minds that they neglect what they're stuffing
their bellies with-and end up with acidity, blood pressure and diabetes.
Pre-emtive opportunity for nutritionists? You bet. "Because food
can retard disease and alter performance," says nutritionist Naini
Setalvad, who takes the client's genetic details, stress level and
metabolic rate into account before offering her dietary counsel.
Thankfully, CEOs are learning to manage their bodies too, and are
talking calories, fibrous intake and so on. How to become a nutritionist?
Get professional training, advises nutritionist Shikha Sharma, and
keep in touch with developments. Read. Remember, body-conscious
CEOs will be reading too.
I am an area sales manager with a machine tools marketing company.
I am 44 years old and have a masters diploma in business administration
along with a degree in mechanical engineering. I see little opportunity
for growth in my present place of employment. One reason for this
is that I do not get along well with my department head. I rarely
agree with him on anything and feel he does not have the strategic
vision his possition requires. Recently, I also came to know that
a subordinate is being paid a salary that is higher than mine. When
I took up the matter with my superior, he told me I could leave
if I had a problem with the way things were. What should I do?
What your boss has given you is often referred to as an ultimatum.
You need to make up your mind whether to do whatever it takes to
fit in with what your department head has in mind, or to simply
quit. Another thing you could try taking your problems up with the
top management. There is always the likelihood that they may agree
with you. If that doesn't work, start looking for another job. And
while you go about it, try introspecting a bit: did you focus as
much on your work as you did on the other issues? If not, then the
problem is not as much with others as you imagine.
I am a 25-year-old management graduate
working with a call centre for four years now. I have little prospects
for growth in my present job and am thoroughly dissatisfied. I want
to move to a BPO firm that offers better opportunities for growth.
However, many of the big companies in my industry have formed a
cartel to discourage job-hopping. This policy, I feel, is unfair
to poorly compensated execs like me. Should I leave the sector and
look for a job in a different industry?
Employers forming a cartel of the sort you
mention is unfair, but frankly, there is little you can about it.
However, it would still be premature on your part to think in terms
of leaving the industry. You need to look for BPO firms other than
the ones that have formed a cartel that would be willing to hire
you on much better terms. Then again, it may not be such a bad idea
to explore your options in other sectors with a view to diversifying
your own skill sets.
I am a first-class graduate from an engineering
college in Nagpur. I put in seven years with an IT firm as a customer
support engineer, after which the firm shut shop and left me jobless.
Since I could not land a suitable job, I decided to try my hand
at an IT business with a friend. We did well for six years, till
my friend decided to quit the business. Since my friend had been
handling the front end of the business, I found it very difficult
to retain my client base. My financial position has become increasingly
precarious. I am now considering looking for a job. Will I get one
after having run my own business for almost six years? Or should
I go in for additional educational qualifications?
Instead of being a handicap, the experience
you have had running your own business will be considered valuable
by any it or it-related company worth its name. So it would not
be very difficult for you to find a job in customer service, sales
or any other related function where you have had prior experience.
An alternative for you could be doing an MBA from a good B-school.
With your experience and the MBA degree, your job prospects would
I am a 45-year-old engineer working with
a telecom PSU for the past 25 years and am fairly senior in my organisation.
Recently, I got an offer from a private sector telecom major to
work as a senior consultant with them. The salary, perks and the
position they are offering are all that I ever dreamt of. My colleagues,
however, are discouraging me to make the switch saying that post-retirement
benefits and job security are greater in PSUs. What should I do,
considering that I cannot afford to remain unemployed any time within
the next five to seven years because of family liabilities?
There's no such thing as a perfect job. To
get the pay and perks of the private sector, you have to give up
job security. You have to decide whether you are suited personality-wise
for the private sector after working in the public sector for 25
years. You also need to consider whether the increase in salary
would compensate for the relative lack of job security. Moving to
the private sector is not necessarily such a bad thing, but if security
is your greatest need, stay put in the PSU.
Answers to your career concerns are contributed
by Tarun Sheth (Senior Consultant) and Shilpa Sheth (Managing
Partner, US practice) of HR firm, Shilputsi Consultants. Write to
Help,Tarun! c/o Business Today, Videocon Tower, Fifth Floor, E-1,
Jhandewalan Extn., New Delhi-110055.
Finishing schools for
|Stooping to conquer: Look ma, I've got
What's grace got to do with business? Lots, it turns out, in this
globalised era. A Harvard study, in fact, grants it a big role-bigger
than technical skills-in career advancement and the clinching of
business deals. And it's not as simple as knowing not to reserve
vermouth wines for after dinner, or following HSBC's 'local knowledge'
campaign to avoid being offensive in an unfamiliar setting.
No surprise, then, that etiquette consultants
are in demand-for top execs. "Their need for secrecy can often
push the training sessions to five in the morning or well past midnight,"
says Pria Warrick, Executive Director, Forever Spring, an etiquette-training
school in Delhi. And what is it that they mostly lack? Dining etiquette.
Dress sense, too. Some even need help on how to convey condolence
messages. It costs some Rs 5,000 to 10,000 per session, and clients
can structure their own training packages.
Sabira Merchant and Gautam Reddy are among
the other names offering etiquette workshops for corporates. Clubby
as it sounds, it does help-though try catching a ceo admit it. That
would be beyond decorum.
Training call centre
agents to get tickled.
|Tickled pink: They're kinda gettin'
you find mirth levels in some quarters louder than normal-don't
be aghast. It's probably a BPO training session: on cottoning
on to the American sense of humour (part of the Voice and Accent
training module at many a call centre). The reason? Being accent-okay
is not enough; rapport counts. "Most Indians have neutralised
accents," says John James, Manager (Training), Global Vantedge,
"but they need to know the differences and similarities that
they have with another culture."
Recommended homework? Watching wholesome
American entertainment-from Friends reruns and Jay Leno to films
like Jerry McGuire, Dogma and Catch Me If You Can (this one educates
agents on social security checks and frauds, too). Watching CNN?
Well, that too, for broad familiarisation. So when a caller goes,
"Hey-what's that noise, are ya in Vietnam or Iraq or somethin'?"
or "You sound kinda young-like you're n-n-n-n-nineteen",
you had better get the reference(Vietnam war, silly). And a "Gee,
no, we've already been liberated-by a G for Gandhi, not G.I.,"
will not do by way of response.