Call center hangover

Published by rudy Date posted on June 29, 2009

There is life after call center. And for Shawie Bernaldez, who is currently living her dream, it may not be as financially fulfilling, but it couldn’t be any sweeter.“ I’m currently working as a writer for online publications.” Bernaldez told The Manila Times. “I don’t make as much but being rich isn’t necessarily my goal. I’ve always been in love with writing so I can’t complain.”

Like a lot of Filipinos, Bernaldez had to temporarily quit school due to financial reasons. Looking to earn easy money, she decided to find a part-time job that would allow her to pay for her education. Since her field of interest delves mostly on communication, she decided to try out the then-fresh industry of call centers.

Working for four call centers in three years, she admits that the money was good. Getting paid P14,000 a month, she was able to save up for her tuition and even provided some cash to spend on leisure. But while her tenure in call centers gave her the chance to finish school and have a little money to spend on the side, it also exposed her to a different kind of lifestyle.

“I had an idea of what it would be like even though it was a new industry,” Bernaldez told The Times. “But my preconceived notions were absolutely no match compared to the experience I went through.”

According to Bernaldez, she thought that working for a call center would be easy—that it would merely be a good exercise for her English skills. Not once did it cross her mind that the job came with hardships that she wasn’t willing to face.

“I remember my first day working for a call center,” Bernaldez relates. “My teammates and I were all panicking because there were a lot of technical terms that we had to learn. Mangiyak-ngiyak kami [We were all on the verge of crying.] Then we also had to deal with irate customers [and] irresponsible team leaders.”

“I learned a lot from it,” she added. “I learned to be more professional, more courteous and to be more patient. But it really wasn’t for me. I just needed the money so that I could finish school. I’m sure a lot of people are still happy working for a call center. But I was not one of them.”

Mostly operating via night shifts, the call center industry also created a different kind of “nightlife” for numerous Filipinos. From resetting the usual 7 a.m. alarm to 4 p.m., to making dinner as the “first meal of the day,” a number of call center agents expressed that it is something that you really have to get used to.

“I got addicted to chocolates and Starbucks,” said Bernaldez laughing. “I needed them to keep me awake. Thankfully, the job offered enough money for that addiction.”

“It took quite some time for me to get the hang of it,” said Dennis de Leon, a call center agent working in Ortigas. “Before when I used to be an [undergraduate] I would wake up at around six, go to school and sleep at around 10. Now, everything is upside down.”

According to de Leon, during the first few weeks when he started working, he had to sleep with his mobile phone beside his ear. He also had to change his eating habit from “breakfast, lunch then dinner” to “midnight meal, breakfast and meryenda.”

But besides the awkward changes forced upon a person’s body clock, both de Leon and Bernaldez admit that the worst thing about working for a call center is the fact that it deemed them to miss out on several special occasions. Because she works in the night shift, Bernaldez recalls missing New Year’s Eve celebrations she’d often have with her family. As for de Leon, he states that his girlfriend nearly broke up with him because his work, its unique schedule, made him miss her birthday party.

But like Bernaldez and a number of other call center agents, de Leon also believes that working at a call center, is a temporary phase that he needs to weather. As she was before, he too is also saving up for his last two years in college.

“I definitely think that it’s a respectable job,” de Leon told The Times. “I learned a lot from it naman and I made a lot of office friends, so leaving [this industry] would be hard,” said de Leon. “But to be really honest, it’s toxic because it’s not what I really enjoy working on. And if you don’t enjoy your job, I doubt that you can last in it.”

“I met a lot of people who think that working for a call center is temporary,” Bernaldez told The Times. “I had co-workers who were taking up their Master’s degree. I even worked with nurses who were either waiting for the board exam or waiting for the results. In our [office], there were 48 of us and after a year, only six of us remained. Some left for other companies, some left for other industries and some went back to school.”

But life after call center is not that easy to take in either. Again, adjustments have to be made and hangovers need to be taken care of.

“When I left [the call center industry,] it was almost the same as it was when I got in it,” said Merly Fernandez, a newly-wed housewife who used to work at a call center agency for the last four years. “It’s so hard to sleep at night. And knowing that I have to wake up early to make breakfast for my husband and my in-laws—stress.”

“There are times when I would be up at 2 in the morning and I still have energy to clean the house,” Bernaldez told The Times laughing.

They added, however, that since they were able to adjust their lifestyles before, there was nothing that could stop them from doing it the second time around.

“You have to get used to certain things,” said Fernandez. “But the best way to go about it is to think positive. At least now, while your family would be having dinners outside the house, you would be able to join them. And at least you don’t have to deal with foreigners who yell at you on the phone for things that you don’t have any control over.”

“All I needed was a little time,” Bernaldez told The Times. “Plus, I had to let go of certain things like the luxury of being able to go to Starbucks every night since the pay in my work is not that big.”

“But you know, these things don’t really matter that much,” Bernaldez added. “At least now, I know that I can welcome the New Year with my family again. Plus I get to live my dream as a writer. I’ll be alright.”  –Angelo Cantera, Reporter, Manila Times

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