Where have all the Factories Gone?


It’s often said that call centres are the post-industrial equivalent of the factory.

There is a lot of truth in this. I remember on my A-level business course learning of ‘speedy Taylor’ and the foundations of what was known as scientific management: Basically factories were places where workers could be monitored and through this their actions controlled. Taylor was one of the first to really start rigourously applying this to the production line in the name of efficiency.

Likewise the call centre is a place where technology is used to monitor the minutae of individual workers actions. Call-times, wrap-up times, toilet break times; all logged by the telephone; at once a tool-of-the-trade and management informant.

Both factory and call-centre jobs have been associated with drudgery: Monotonous, repetitive, soul-sapping work. In fact one of my first experiences of a workplace was stepping into a call centre in the early 1990s aged 12. I was immediately struck by the sheer repetitive monotony of it. A room crammed full of people in headsets repeating the same phrase again and again “Hello Eagle Star Direct how can I help…… I’ll just put you through..Hello Eagle Star Direct…”. I told myself I’d never work in an environment like this.

There is one crucial difference however, the call-centre, unlike the factory is an emotionally demanding place.

There is no doubt that if a machine could be developed to empathise then call-centre employees would all be replaced. A major part of my job consists of measuring the customers mood and providing an emotionally appropriate response. Their angry their order has been delayed, their product is faulty, or something else has gone awry… then I’m very sorry, I adjust my tone to suit.

Sometimes however, emotion spills over and I become an emotional punchbag. “I know it’s not your fault” they cry but, you’re the one here so let me take another pop at you.

My training and experience lets me ride most of the punches, but the occasional one strikes and leaves me shaking, cortisone pulsing through my organs. Then I wonder; wouldn’t it be nice if there were still factories?

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