De-Risk Your Agent’s Life Through Impact Programs

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Call centers and outsourcing companies always talk about how employee health and safety at work are important to them. They implement workplace wellness programs where they provide healthy food in the cafeteria and encourage their employees to exercise or take up yoga. They have regular compliance checks to ensure the work environment is up to code and everyone follows the rules to keep the workplace safe for all.

However, minimizing the risks in your agents’ lives doesn’t just entail keeping a safe work environment and promoting a healthy lifestyle. It also involves investing in impact programs that cushion them from financial shocks.

Why Protect Your Agents’ Mental and Emotional Health?

Your employees’ mental and emotional states are just as important (if not more so) as their physical health. The Mental Health at Work 2018 report revealed that two-thirds of employees surveyed stated that their mental health and well-being were affected by their personal job security (66%) and by the state of the economy (65%).

That same study also exposed the causal relationship between finances and mental health, with 34% of employees reporting that their financial situation negatively affects their mental health. They were likely to experience negative mental health symptoms, such as loss of sleep, stress, lack of concentration, and fatigue.

Such symptoms can affect an employee’s performance at work. By association, a low-performing agent will likely provide low-value work to your customers. Inversely, a happy agent feels empowered in helping customers and often displays an earnestness to be present at work, striving to excel.

A Better Health Insurance Coverage and Catastrophe Fund

A medical insurance and catastrophe fund cost more than the bare minimum of benefits required by law, but they make a huge difference to your agents. They assure your agents that no matter what happens to them they can always count on the company to help them overcome whatever problems they are going through.

In the Philippines where I first established Rethink, a fair trade outsourcing company that aims to uplift agents’ social and economic lives, health insurance is very basic. The government-mandated PhilHealth pays only a fraction of the total medical costs incurred when an agent or a family member is hospitalized.

If the cost of getting ill in the Philippines is 80,000 pesos and PhilHealth gives an agent 10,000 pesos, where would the remaining 70,000 pesos come from? This is where an HMO comes in to shoulder the costs.

Most HMOs provide anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 pesos coverage of medical costs, which include confinement, laboratory tests, and diagnostics. But, what if medical costs total more than a hundred thousand pesos? That’s where Rethink’s board of directors and I came up with the Catastrophe Fund.

Unlike PhilHealth and an HMO insurance, a company’s discretionary fund, like the Catastrophe Fund, can be used for more than a medical emergency. An agent can receive financial help through the fund to offset the cost of a catastrophic event, such as a fire or typhoon.

But, what if it’s not an emergency?

As a fair trade outsourcing company, Rethink prefers to hire workers from developing populations, not only in third-tier economies, but also in first-tier nations with populations below the poverty line. It’s part of the company’s mission and vision to pull these workers out of poverty and into the middle class.

Every day is a battlefield for these workers. Their incomes usually go to paying for basic needs. On top of that, they need the extra money to pay for children’s or sibling’s tuition, family healthcare, or personal loans. Every day is a struggle to make ends meet.

So, an unexpected expense can be debilitating to your agents. That’s why Rethink makes it easy for employees to apply for a loan to invest in a business, or buy a motorcycle to shorten travel time to work.

A small business boosts household income for agents. With extra money on hand, they don’t have to worry about their finances when something catastrophic happens.

In the same vein, a motorcycle offers protection from costly taxi rides for night-shift agents. It also keeps them safe from hooligans who may victimize passengers of jeepneys that travel at night.

Compliance and Safety at Work

Companies often see compliance policies as part of doing business in accordance with the law. But employers and managers rarely consider that compliance policies make a huge impact on employees’ mental and physical health. They only see compliance as a way to avoid damaging lawsuits.

Compliance also means inclusivity of protection. People with impaired senses or lack of mobility can work or visit Rethink without worrying about accessibility and safety.

Safety at work doesn’t only mean physical safety or protection of one’s health and well-being. It also means psychological safety, which means employees are free to give feedback to managers and share ideas no matter how far-fetched or impossible they may seem.

Each worker is valued not only for their labor, but also for their creativity and intelligence. The diverse talent pool at BPO companies is a rich source of innovative ideas.

Customers, agents, team leaders, managers, and clients from different cultures and with different social and educational backgrounds interact with one another on a daily basis. Those interactions become learning experiences for everybody.

While outsourcing providers like Rethink cannot control how customers and clients may react to issues that arise in a call center, the way agents and managers behave at work can be managed and even molded through company policies.

Managing Risks Through an Agent Bill of Rights

An Agent Bill of Rights works like a social contract that ensures the protection of workers’ rights in a BPO setting. In Rethink’s version, there are ten rights that promises workplace safety, healthcare access, income security, managerial accountability and transparency, and organizational justice.

In detail, here are the 10 ABORs we developed for our agents:

1. As Long As We Have Business, You Have A Job.

2. You Will Have Access To Programs That Will Fuel Your Success.

3. We Will Never Deny You Job Movement Or Advancement.

4. You Will Never Feel Threatened At Work.

5. Your Managers Must Listen To You, And Treat You Fairly.

6. You Will Never Be Subject To Racism.

7. You Don’t Have To Hide Where Or Who You Are.

8. Health Care Is A Human Right.

9. You Should Be Working With Friends.

10. Neither Management Nor You Shall Violate These Rights.

Follow the links to each right’s article, which delves deeper into how it came about, starting from the story that pushed us towards change and ending with how we practiced it as part of company policy.

Some stories may shock you, but that’s exactly why an Agent Bill of Rights or a similar company policy should be front and center in your corporate strategy. When you have a diverse workforce, sometimes personalities may clash and friction may appear between colleagues from different backgrounds.

It may even surprise you that some of your words, body language, tone or brand of humor may be misconstrued by agents who are not immersed in American culture and language. Yet, in the end you’ll realize that everybody wants the same thing — a stable income and a good life for their family — and that’s exactly why de-risking your agents’ lives is as important as managing the risks for your business.

Mike is the CEO of Fair Trade Outsourcing, a people-first BPO company that uses the power of the free market to fight poverty and promote moral leadership.