Is Pain a Problem?

Why do we ignore the high rates of musculoskeletal pain experienced by our call centre agents? Why has this become so accepted?

My research showed that over 80% of agents experience some level of musculoskeletal pain and of those, over 11% experienced chronic pain. That’s pain that does not go away after rest. Pain that affects their sleep, their concentration, their mood, their ability to do their job.

There is a cost to your business!

Apart from affecting our agent’s ability to work efficiently (and be pleasant to customers), agents with musculoskeletal pain affects your call centres levels of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover?

Chronic pain costs the Australian economy over $55 Billion a year; $7 Billion in lost productivity. Each health risk factor carries a productivity burden (loss) on an average of 2.4% [5], meaning chronic pain causes a significant increase in labour costs and a decrease in productivity.

If nearly 1 in 10 of your agents are experiencing chronic pain, how much is this one risk factor costing your call centre?

For every 100 agents, that’s a labour cost of around $9000, and that’s before accounting for any other risk factors such as hot desking, sedentary work, poor diet, stress etc.

Doubt your call centre has a pain problem?

Do your agents ask for on-site massages? Do you provide subsidies for doctors or physios appointments, or a gym membership?

Do team leaders report increasing rates of unplanned absenteeism?

Reducing the cost of pain and unplanned absenteeism

Finding ways to increase productivity and decrease unplanned absenteeism would provide a significant cost benefit to your call centre. One of the easiest ways to win those gains is by updating your office ergonomics training.

Our 21st-century workforce is unique. Staff no longer sit at one workstation with one screen. They hot desk, have multiple screens (some with tables, most with mobile phones), work in shifts and even use sit-stand workstations.

Is it any wonder the old-fashioned 10-min office ergonomics talk at induction and on-line checklist is increasingly irrelevant (let alone boring)? Yet simple changes that give immediate benefits are easy to find, train and maintain.

Long-term benefits of improved ergonomics training

Consider also the changing workplace. Have you moved or are you planning to move to telecommute? Would most of your agents have space in their house for a proper workspace or are they planning to use the dining table or maybe the dressing table in their bedroom?

How will you know if these workstations have been set up correctly or chair have been adjusted? A flexible and mobile workforce is increasingly appealing, but how do you know they are they safe?

Even when they are not working, how many agents spend time gaming, using laptops, and checking phones?

We all use screens almost continuously, without understanding how these add to our sore neck, back pain, headache or frozen shoulder.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) is already recognised as the most negative health issue associated with the use of computers. Now, with ubiquitous screen use and less control over your workspaces, how can you manage these modern risks and help staff avoid working in awkward static postures?

Building new work competencies

It’s time to update our view on the ergonomics, health and safety training required by agents. It’s time to consider training that builds a new and multidisciplinary range of work competencies that can transfer to any screen use situation.


For training to be effective, we have to provide more than talk and a quick demo. Managing the risks and decreasing pain and rates of absenteeism requires a behaviour change program filled with the latest research and grounded in industry experience.

Giving your agents another checklist is not going to build these modern work skills.

The ‘how to manage unplanned absenteeism’ and reducing levels of musculoskeletal pain starts by building the modern health and safety competencies your agents need to set-up and work safely in our multiscreen, hot desking, and increasingly agile workplace!

Let us know – What are the greatest ergonomic challenges for activity-based workplaces?