An inspiring first person account of employee sabotage in a pensions call centre, where workers helped customers recoup forgotten pension benefits at the cost of the company in response to bullying management.
Some years ago I worked in a call centre/contact centre as a pension/assurance call handler, with complaints handling as my main work. There were maybe 200 workmates/25 bosses on my floor. Every day at least a few people (often several people) burst into tears, for being sworn at, threatened, made anxious, etc by complaints (at the time of intensive conflict about the failure of low cost endowments - 'policy holders' vs 'financial advisors') for mis-sold policies.
In our case, the company Scottish Widows Plc had a fairly typical call centre layout: 6-12 workers per per composite table with a line manager, every few composite tables had a group of mentors (for tech advice to workers) and a few floor managers. All bosses knew very well the severe stress caused to workers, and a culture of blaming the victim was used - if a woman burst to tears "she was not suitable for the job" or "not tough enough". If men broke down and screamed out, hit their desks or cried, similar accusations were made. The standard induction course of Scottish Widows at my workplace specifically noted that call centre/contact centre (particularly complaint handler) jobs had an expectancy of not lasting longer than two years.
To keep the pressure on, Learning and Developement Plans (LDPs) were used for monthly/quarterly review, so that the company kept track of targets being met. Those who didn't meet targets went on formal Performance Reviews (a warning system which is either dropped if you return to target, or dismissal if not). One of our workmates was put on paperwork tasks because she burst into tears in the morning. We had our tea break and news came to us that she and another workmate were no coping in the morning before 10.30am. We came back from our smoke and she was back on the phone taking complaints. So a few of us confronted the line manager, demanding an explanation of why she is being exposed to calls after the morning stress. He said he didn't expect her to be around much longer and needed call handlers on call. After months of pressure we secured safer work (data entry) for her and a few others. In the meantime, we introduced our own version of "work to rule". Between us we agreed:
- we would conference calls (put calls on hold if calls were from financial advisors, or other business source which caused us stress, until callers hung up, which made a second call line available, while the first was on hold).
- while the call was on hold, we would search through our lists of previous pension calls about "gone aways/addressee unknown/return to sender" change of address entries, the reason for this is that pension companies make a fortune from abandoned pensions. We searched company information on systems and phoned relatives, friends anyone who we could find that might be able to speak with pension owners that have lost track of their money.
About pensions - if you retire early (eg. maybe a professional dancer will retire at 35 or 45 because of the workload/health ratio, your back can't take the pressure throughout your life to a 60/65 retirement). Retiring early is one of the greatest penalty calculations to a pension annuity, another high penalty at retirement is to cover a second person (spouse). Obviously many people retire at an average retirement age, but with the mature years sometimes comes forgetfulness.
In one case a man worked two jobs of about 30 years each. He forgot about his first pension when his age of retirement came about because he moved home a few years before retiring. He was in his late 70s when he actually retired on the one more recent pension he knew about. A further interesting thing about pensions is that the calculation becomes extremely favourable when you get your pension late (recovered pensions cost companies a lot). He was in a list of "gone aways" and during one of our "work to rule" calls we found someone who knew him and they would ask him to phone us. We took the call a few days later. At this time the pensioner was in his late 90s struggling on a standard pension. The fact his earlier pension was not used at retirement meant that now that he is in his late 90s it was worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was one out of hundreds of people we did this for, despite that management didn't have an idea what we were doing.
I witnessed this method being used for long over a year until I had my final conflict with the managers. Workmates I spoke to years afterwards said that this method was still used occasionally. We cost Scottish Widows millions of pounds - SW bosses are selfish bastards. We hit them where it hurt!
This account was originally posted as a comment by AES here in our forums. The formatting has been slightly edited by libcom.org.