On my arrival at the call centre Monday morning I spotted a colleague sat on a chair among the pallets and assorted industrial debris which littered the cracked surface of the yard having a morning cigarette break. This sight brought back a few memories; If there is one thing I miss about smoking it’s the cigarette breaks. Once upon a time, elsewhere, I was part of the 10.30 club a group of people who would congregate around the side door of the office roughly around 10.30 brought together by the peak in our collective cravings. It had the vibe of a 10 minute social-club and was the only time you’d ever speak to people from other floors of the building. Eventually the practice was stubbed out by our employer issuing a diktat instituting a blanket ban on cigarette breaks during working hours. We defied this for a while, but eventually those with greater control of their habits fell into line stayed at their desks whilst those of gripped by the claws of nicotine scattered further from the building to evade detection by anyone senior enough to cause a problem. The 10.30 club was over.
For my employers the demise of the club was a cause of celebration. Firstly they gained at least an extra 10 minutes out of all of us and secondly it enabled them to feel they had done something not to oppress us but conversley to liberate us from the tyranny of our cravings. Along with the withdrawl of tacit permission to smoke on work time my employer offered extra help to stop smoking as if that was what the 10.30 club was really all about. It was about far more than that to begin the 10.30 club was an opportunity to sound-off, to speak freely, to set our grievances out, to moan, grumble and shake our heads reassuringly.
At the call-centre it seems to be the smokers who are the best informed. It’s the only place staff from warehouse and call-centre mix, the warehouse staff rarely venturing into the canteen they share with us, allowing gossip to cross-polinate. Outside the risk of being overheard by the wrong person is also much lower. For those of us who lunch in the canteen its cardboard walls create an ever-present risk a manager or one of their associates may be lurking nearby. Free speech is efinately not a feature of the call-centre and dissent, however mild is not-tolerated and may cost you your job.
Lately though pressure has been building, the 20% cut in hours has led to us losing 25% of our calls. Rather than re-instate our hours our manager has placed the blame on us for not working hard enough and issued a memo calling on us to work harder. How much harder can we work when already we are taking calls constantly without respite? If our manager showe at least a willingness to don a head-set and help out when the going gets tough rather than keeping her eyes glued to her stats feed as five of us try to placate customers who have been waiting 20-30 minutes to get through then I may take notice of what she says…. This is what I talked about to my colleague as they puffed on their cigarrette, our heads nodding in agreement. It felt good to get it out thee, to be able to share what we were really thinking. It may have been smoky, but at least the air felt clearer.