Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Five Lessons From Working in a Call Centre

In a previous post, I share about my love-hate experience with occupational therapy. I do admit that some of this ambivalence is due to the low pay together with work conditions that I have experienced, especially here in Israel. Not long after posting this article, I was in touch with Ramit Sethi. Yes, I subscribe to his newsletter and yes, he does interact with those who read his newsletters.

Well, Ramit suggested that I focus on my creative skills. Find any job that will give me a base income and switch it up later. I tried this. The first job to come my way was part-time work in a call centre. The pay was a little low, but it was an opportunity for some income. They promised to pay health insurance and pension too. I was delighted. Here was the opportunity to follow Ramit's advice and move forwards towards my goal of earning better doing the things that I love.

The nature of the work seemed simple enough. Except that there were many lessons that I did not expect. I have not selected a specific order, but here are the lessons that I learned.

Lesson number 1:

The first lesson was a wake up call to continue striving towards developing the centre that I have been working on for years. Some of this came through the type of calls that we were making. The project that was on the go was fundraising for a specific charitable organization. In the beginning the calls were easy to make. I understood the needs of children with chronic conditions or serious illnesses. I understood what they would need both at home and when at the hospital. So I was able to add value when making the calls. However, pretty soon we were informed that the organization wanted to develop a centre. Gosh, this was hard. Much harder than I thought it would be.

Yes, I understood the need for the centre. What was hard? I had to face an important decision. Could I really turn my back on the centre that had been a goal and dream for 30 years now. OK, so setting up my centre by starting a private practice did not work for various reasons. Setting up an NGO did not work for us, but perhaps there is another way. Something inside of me stirred. I just could not give that up.

Lesson number 2:

This lesson has two parts to it. The first part is a reminder of how limited a person is when engaging in work that provides a minimum wage. I had to travel well over an hour to and from work each day. This meant that my working in a job that was supposed to be 5 hours a day, in order to give me a base income, did not add up to what I thought it would. The 5 hours quickly became about 8-9 hours. And the pay did not even cover our rent.

Now we had moved already in order to lower our rent. I can't keep on having to move every time a landlord wants to increase the rent. So not only did it not cover rent, before even beginning on other expenses, but it certainly would not help me to be able to save towards having my own home and stability. Besides, by the time I returned home and took care of unpacking and other responsibilities, there was virtually no time for my actual work. No time to do pitching for my writing, no time to make any products, no time to add content to my blogs or add any products to our store.

The second part of this was that a few people gave me suggestions of where I can work as an OT. The kind of salary they mentioned was ₪50-60 an hour. The truth is, that with my various responsibilities and goals, I need a better income than this. Besides, my experience in Israel of OT jobs is that the amount of hours you are paid for is not the hours you are expected to work. They all expect unpaid work outside of your agreed upon hours. I can't get into that again.

Thirdly, having been an OT for 27 years now, aren't I worth more than just ₪60 an hour? I believe that everyone has a right to have stability and to have their own home. No, these jobs won't meet my goals.

With this realization I thought about two conversations I had around this topic. The first was with my accountant. He felt just take any part-time job to provide a base income, don't worry what the income is. Then I remembered a conversation I had with someone a few years ago. She said when she came to Israel, she figured out a figure that was her very minimum. It was higher than minimum wage and she was not prepared to take a job lower than that. She searched for anything that would help her earn that minimum and then built from there.

Lesson number 3:

I had a hard reminder of how tough it can be in Israel when I met a few other health professionals also working in the call centre. One was a trained and very experienced nurse. Why was she in the call centre? Well, the process to convert her license to work in Israel was too hard for her. Hence, although she loves nursing, she was making calls.

Another was a speech therapist. She was in the call centre for the same reason as the nurse. She hoped to get her license in time and hoped further to begin working in a facility. She had no goal to work privately and hence, the call centre was her opportunity to earn.

Then there was someone starting to train in Mental Health and needing part-time work. And someone wanting to study to become a nurse and needing funds to help with her tuition fees.

Overall, there was quite a consensus that the pay was low and was not helping the workers, mostly women, to meet their needs to become financially independent in Israel. Once again I found myself wondering why is there such a strong push for Olim, new immigrants to Israel, to have to work in minimum wage. And why, are professionals pushed into jobs that prevent them from using their skills and keep them limited due to such low income.

Lesson number 4:

Working for two months in the call centre, I had the opportunity to experience the effects to health of this kind of work. There are quite a number. Firstly, the position of the telephones, mouse and keyboard was a risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Secondly, sitting for long periods of time without the opportunity to get up every 40-45 minutes, puts one at risk of developing back pain and of weight gain. Thirdly, since the calls were monotonous and frustrating, there was a high noise level with all the callers chatting in between. What can one do when no-one answers a phone or when the phones are busy?

Well some did find other productive ways to use the time while waiting for someone to answer a call. A number were busily drawing, a few were checking their photographs and planning what editing would be needed. Just a few of the creative tasks that take place when women have to make calls for 5 consecutive hours.

Lesson number 5:

A few women asked about what I do and what brought me to work in the call centre. So I took in my folder with some of the letters of thanks from orphans we have assisted. I also took in my book: "Healing Your Life Through Activity - An Occupational Therapist's Story". They all encouraged me to continue my own work and not to give up.

So I went back to the drawing board, so to speak and began to re-visit Patreon. I started reading more of the stories of those who have succeeded to get enough Patrons to be able to pursue their creative goals. It is inspiring to hear that Patrons are assisting those with creative skills to be able to reach their goals. The range of monthly sponsorship seems to be from $1800 - $6000. I have not yet looked at all of them, but this is encouraging. The hard part is that it takes roughly 2 years to reach these goals.

The question now is, can my freelance writing provide enough of the base that I need in order to continue building our online store and our centre? Do I need another part-time work? If so, what kind of work in Israel would offer more than ₪60 an hour and permit my time when I leave work to be my own?

Some ask whether I still treat privately. Well yes, of course I do. I have a very specific niche and I am more selective than ever as to who I work with. However, this brings me right back to where I began and where my struggles come in. I have lacked the start up funding to develop the kind of practice that I want. That means, I lack the funds for certain equipment and evaluations. I lack the funds to invest in marketing and promotion. Which is the reason I began to write my book. Hm, have I just come right around to where I was years ago? If so, what can I do differently to make my centre a reality this time around?

I really did not have a chance to come to a conclusion. As suddenly as the job came into my life, it all ended when a sponsor pulled out and 40 workers were all retrenched. I am grateful to have had some income while moving and unpacking. Just a few boxes left now and then we return to putting serious effort into pitching, working on our online store and, of course, Patreon.

This post is prepared for you by
Occupational Therapist, healing facilitator,
certified infant massage instructor, freelance
author of "Healing Your Life Through
Activity - An Occupational Therapist's Story
and co-author of "Tuvia Finds His Freedom".

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