No, this isn’t a sob story. No, this isn’t a scathing indictment of the call center industry, nor is it a how-to-survive-working-in-a-BPO guide. It’s a reflection on an unprecedented but dramatic career change and how I’ve adapted so far. I don’t quite have the hang of it yet, but I’m getting there.
A little backstory: After about a year in my dream publishing career, it became abundantly clear to me that I would be losing my job (due to circumstances out of my control). I was living in a shoebox apartment in Pasig and couldn’t afford to lose a steady income for even a few weeks, so I jumped the gun and applied to a BPO in Quezon City, whose ads I’d seen floating around my Facebook groups for a while. It promised a compensation over three times my current salary, and the job description seemed simple enough (to avoid a breach of confidentiality, I can’t say anything more). After a month of interviews and competency exams, I landed the job. I was relieved to fall back into financial security but anxious to see what would come next.
Eager to make a good impression with my new superiors, I put my best foot forward during my training and nesting periods. I got to know my TL (team leader, an agent’s direct supervisor), my teammates, and my other co-agents. But when I was finally in production (read: doing the actual job without the close supervision of a trainer), hard truths began to reveal themselves. For one, call centers are sticklers for keeping to schedule, down to the second. Your competence is largely based on how well you show up. If you’re even one minute late coming back to your station from lunch, you’ve violated the Code of Discipline. Anytime you need to use the restroom, you have to secure permission for a ‘bio break’ first. You also have no control over your schedule—in most BPOs, rest days shift constantly. In publishing, schedules were flexible and I always had weekends off, so getting used to the rigidity was difficult.
Your competence is largely based on how well you show up. If you’re even one minute late coming back to your station from lunch, you’ve violated the Code of Discipline.
It’s likely you’ve heard of the dreaded night shift. For three months, I had to work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and go to bed while the rest of Metro Manila was having lunch. Attempting to fall asleep at high noon was impossible, so I would go to work rest-deprived, and my performance would suffer. In the BPO world, your performance is measured in numbers and stacked up against your own teammates. It’s an unspoken competition, making the stakes even higher. I relied heavily on sleeping pills and would use my lunch breaks to take naps. I bought a sleep mask and had blackout blinds installed at home—anything to trick my body into thinking I had a normal schedule. Instead of going out with friends or reconnecting with family, I would spend my rest days sleeping like a log for hours and hours. Before I knew it, it was time for work again. Sleeping began to feel like a harsh requirement, and my social life suffered as a result.
Some people say call centers make people put on weight. Well, I lost it—10 pounds, to be exact. I didn’t have the heart to eat breakfast at 8 p.m., lunch at 1:30 a.m., and dinner at 7 a.m., so I skipped meals and ate only when I was absolutely hungry. Instead of having a snack, I would use my 15-minute breaks to huddle in a corner and listen to my favorite songs. I didn’t want to fall into smoking and drinking to get by, but boy, was the temptation high, especially when many of your coworkers do just that.
In the BPO world, your performance is measured in numbers and stacked up against your own teammates. It’s an unspoken competition, making the stakes even higher.
Lastly, call center culture can be extremely toxic. It’s a combination of the hellish hours, strict attendance rules, and inherent competitive nature of the job—gossip spreads like a freaking wildfire. In this world, secrets don’t exist; if you’ve told one person, you’ve told everybody. Choose your strategy: Either stay loyal to a clique and trust no one outside of it, or fly solo and stay out of anyone’s business. This upset me—I just wanted to do my job and not feel like I had to watch my back.
Gossip spreads like a freaking wildfire. In this world, secrets don’t exist; if you’ve told one person, you’ve told everybody.
I began to feel unhappy, but I also slapped myself on the wrist for complaining. You chose this industry, I would say to myself. You don’t get to bitch and whine about it now. Eventually I found survival tactics that worked for me. I stuck to a small circle of trusted friends and made sure my work rep was squeaky-clean. I stopped participating in gossip because it was making me petty and irritable. I made sure to cultivate a strong and full life outside of work, so that my job didn’t blur out everything around me. I also snagged a more forgiving shift line that allowed me to sleep at night. After months of trial and error, I finally found my balance.
The one great thing about my new job was how highly it was paying me. When I got my first paycheck, I could hardly believe this was all for me. Did Accounting make a mistake? Ha! For the first time in my life, I got to enjoy financial freedom I had never felt before. I moved to a much bigger apartment, built my dream gaming rig (another thing that keeps this writer sane), got to regularly funnel money into a savings account, and still had more than enough to spend on wants. I could afford concert tickets, trips, and extra allowance for my siblings. It’s great to be making this much in my early 20s, but that also makes it hard to leave the industry. Once you’ve had a taste of higher pay, you’ll never want to go back.
The one great thing about my new job was how highly it was paying me. When I got my first paycheck, I could hardly believe this was all for me. Did Accounting make a mistake? Ha! For the first time in my life, I got to enjoy financial freedom I had never felt before.
I don’t know if I’ll ever return to publishing full-time again. Entering this industry was a Hail Mary during a desperate moment, but now that I’ve settled into it, it’s not so bad. Like any job, it isn’t perfect, but as long as you realize that in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a job, you’ll have a much better handle on your emotions. Joining a call center doesn’t mean you “sold out” or that you’re a brainless corporate slave. It’s a profession that requires deft communication skills and a tremendous amount of patience—and not everyone can pull that off. My day job doesn’t define me, and neither should yours: Deep down, I still refer to myself as a writer, and I still write professionally, if only to keep that small flame burning still. In the meantime, I’m going to sit tight and learn what I can.