Stressful Call Center Allegedly Kills Verizon Employee

I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of increased numbers of heart attacks at call centers due to stress, but here’s a local new story from WYFF so now you know it’s true:

“She was sitting at her desk and all of a sudden, ‘bam,’ her head hit the keyboard on the computer and she was gone,” another former co-worker said. Young’s daughters said they believe job stress caused their mother to have a fatal heart attack at the call center last year. “She said every day, that she was going to drop dead at her desk, it was so stressful,” Beth Young said. “She did. That’s exactly what happened.”

EMS has been called to this Verizon call center six times in three months, with chest pains being the most frequent reason. So the lesson here is to be nice to you customer service rep. They’ll probably help you out more, anyway.

Sometimes, Good Jobs Can Have Dangerous Effects [WYFF] (Thanks to Christy!)

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. ThunderRoad says:

    Maybe if the call centers would actually pump in fresh oxygen, their employees wouldn’t keel over so often.

  2. Amazonian says:

    My mom works for AT&T Wireless, and they’ve had two heart attacks at their call center in the past week. You’d be more at risk, too, if you worked at a place where you got yelled at for 10 hours and never got a chance to de-stress because everything is so stat-orientated.

  3. bohemian says:

    Gateway had the exact same problem back when they had state side company run call centers. The big spike came when they hired some AT&T call center gurus. They came in and changed everything to a high pressure stats based pressure cooker.

    One guy I know that was working there had a nervous breakdown. They said it was due to work not personal life. At least two other people I know had “heart episodes” or full blown heart attacks. My spouse had a heart episode working there and ended up in the hospital. He decided he needed to quit after he was so stressed he blew up at someone at a formal party. He ended up taking six months off to destress and found another line of tech work.

  4. sassydeerrun says:

    I would be nice to them for the simple fact that I could understand them and they would be more likely to help me.

  5. hekyll says:

    I’ve worked at call centers for 3 different companies and they are all the same. They’re electronic sweatshops. Management can say all they want about focusing on “quality” and “helping the customer” but they only care about 2 things: how fast the calls are answered and how much time each call takes. Employees are penalized for spending too much time on individual calls. Call centers are Kleenex companies, meaning management treats the employees like Kleenex: use them up, throw they away.

  6. Parting says:

    Many call centers put too much pressure on its employees. Then they wonder why so many people quit. If the stats were lowered, then money would be saved in training and hiring costs.
    I’ve seen call centers where 40% of employees quit every 6 month. And it was a reputable company. I imagine telemarketing is even worth.

  7. Parting says:

    @sassydeerrun: If each person who “suffered” from outsourcing filed a formal complaint with the company, then we wouldn’t have that many outsourced call centers.

  8. BigElectricCat says:

    The Japanese actually have a word for this.

    [en.wikipedia.org]

  9. zarex42 says:

    Perhaps if she had taken better care of herself, and learned to handle “stress” better, she wouldn’t have this problem.

  10. marchhare22 says:

    @zarex42: Go work at a call center, come back, THEN post that. Jackass.

  11. boss_lady says:

    @zarex42: Prepare for the backlash from everyone who’s ever had to take a shitty call center job to pay the bills because no other job was available in 3… 2… 1…

  12. unklegwar says:

    If this is the case, then maybe this outsourcing CS to India thing will work itself out. They’ll all kick the bucket, and they’ll have to move the cc back to the US (or more likely China).

  13. unklegwar says:

    You know. Blame the CC management. Maybe the job wouldn’t be so stressful is they properly trained their people, or hired qualified help.

    The reason it’s stressful is because NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE HELL THEY’RE DOING.

  14. apotheosis says:

    On one hand, a great many call center reps are good people just trying to make a living and working crappy hours in crappy conditions for crappy people.

    On the other hand, if I get hooked up with a dismissive, rude call rep and I have a chance to make their aorta pop like a scene from Scanners, I’m rollin’ the dice.

  15. Daniel-Bham says:

    @BigElectricCat: The Germans have a word for what I feel: schadenfreude.

  16. bobblack555 says:

    How about getting a real job that doesn’t suck?

    That would cut down on stress.

  17. snoop-blog says:

    Yeah if the job that some people are able to handle stresses you out, you may not be cut out for that kind of work, and should find something less stressful or nothing at all! Not even money is worth dying over especially $10 per hour.

    But I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that it had nothing to do with her job and that there were probably other conditions she had that led to the heart attack. I’ve worked at a call center, sure the bosses try to lay the stress on you, but you have got to be able to take it with a grain of salt.

  18. Froggmann says:

    As someone who used to work in a call center I can tell you it’s not the calls you field it’s the requirements and restrictions the management enforces on you.

    My case in point? The place I used to work at (Computer Help Desk) said they required 30 but expected 60-70 calls a day to be fielded, all call records to be spelled and gramatically correct and each call to take less then 3 minutes.

    Yea I can see why someone would drop dead at a call center.

  19. Aphex242 says:

    Not shocked. I’ve worked in call centers. It’s not even remotely hard to believe.

  20. Corydon says:

    @Froggmann: That’s exactly it. Not only do these restrictions stress out the worker, they’re also largely responsible for the crappy level of customer service you get.

    If your problem can’t be solved in under 2:30 (plus 30 seconds for wrap-up) then you’re just going to have your call transferred away or mysteriously “dropped”.

  21. jdmba says:

    I have never worked in a call center, but Consumerist shows, over and over, that the metrics which are placed on these poor souls is awful.

    For those who say ‘get a real job’ I suspect you are just trolling. These are not telemarketers (in which case, I agree). These are the people you call when your phone doesn’t work, or your bill has a wrong charge. You need these people there.

    The part which has me most surprised is that this happened outside Bangalore.

  22. @snoop-blog: “Not even money is worth dying over especially $10 per hour.”

    If you make nothing, you will die anyway. At least that $10/hr (good pay. Most call centers operate on minimum wage) will make sure you have a roof over your (and your kids) heads.

    “I’ve worked at a call center, sure the bosses try to lay the stress on you, but you have got to be able to take it with a grain of salt.”

    So why aren’t you still working there? Sounds like a cushy job you had. :)

  23. mac-phisto says:

    meanwhile, in verizon headquarters, EMS (emergency marketing seminar) is called…

    -we need to put a positive spin on this…let’s brainstorm some themes. anyone?
    -Verizon. We die for you.
    -you’re fired. next.
    -Verizon. Our agents are dying to serve you.
    -not bad. a little too forceful. next.
    -Verizon. Til death do us part.
    -true, but not enough snap. next.
    -Verizon. DEDicated to your needs.
    -perfect! get it to copy, STAT!

  24. justelise says:

    @zarex42: I’ve worked at four high-stress call centers which were 100% stats/metrics driven; AOL Retention, AT&T Wireless, Cendant, and a small private company. Regardless of whether or not I was doing Customer Service or Tech support, the focus of these call centers is not the customers or the employees, it’s the metrics. Everything is stat driven, the amount of time you get for breaks and lunch is measured precisely, your pay and ability to advance are more directly linked to stats than job knowledge or education, and you are largely treated like you are dispensable.

    In these places I’ve seen perfectly healthy people develop anxiety disorder, depression, and various heart issues. Even if you’re healthy when you start, stress itself can cause so many other disorders that it’s logical to see the link between working at a call center and getting ill. The stress is tenfold if this is one of the only open jobs that someone could’ve gotten due to their location, transportation options, or to the crappy economy. Some people are stuck, at least for the time being, in jobs like this, and the management knows it so they work them to the bone. The stress induced by any job is not as easy to shirk off as you make it seem.

  25. BigElectricCat says:

    @Daniel-Bham: I can dig it.

  26. Flame says:

    I wonder if this could have to do with the fact that, in addition to the stress, you also sit on butt all day. (NO, i’m not doing the fat thing). Studies have shown though that long periods of inactivity are bad for your heart. They can also cause DVT. So, perhaps, it’s not just the stress, but the fact that you can’t get up and do anything.

  27. RandomZero says:

    @Victo: I dunno where you worked, but that’s actually a good turnover rate. Average for the industry is 100% per annum, at least in these parts.

    And yes, justelise is exactly right. I’ve worked three call-center gigs myself, two of which were entirely metrics-driven. Not only had damn near everyone around me done time in the trenches at another center (there’s a LOT of shuffling back and forth between these places), but I can count the number of people I knew who DIDN’T have to take a stress leave or an ambulance or a squad car out of work on one hand.

    (The third one? Extremely high-end luxury service. Yes, there are call centers that are entirely customer-driven – I don’t even HAVE any QA guidelines other than “Make them happy.” here – but they’re only for the privileged.)

  28. Andr0 says:

    Hold on, Froggmann… 3 minute a call? 60 calls? What did you do remaining 5 hours of the shift?

  29. snoop-blog says:

    @Phillip M. Vector: Um because i was 18. Are you still working the same job that you had at 18?

    That was like over 10 years ago. i make waaaay more money and have waaaay more opportunity than any call center employee. Not that I’m bragging, I’m just saying that it kills me that people work the same dead end job for years out of fear of not being able to find anything better. losing all my previous jobs, fired or quit, is the best thing that could have happened, otherwise I’d still be at Mc Donalds and not here today.

    And as far as putting a roof over your kids’ head, um, if you believe the job seriously created the heart attack, I’m sure your kids would rather have you alive and live in a housing project, but I guess I could be wrong.

  30. rmz says:

    @Flame: Given that legions of office workers aren’t dying of heart attacks en masse, I somewhat doubt that is the primary cause.

  31. Rando says:

    We have EMTs at macy’s call center every day, sometimes twice.

  32. snoop-blog says:

    Don’t get me wrong I’m far from the “get a real job crowd”, as I feel a call center would classify as a real job. My point was, when I did it, I was moved up to management fairly quickly and I remember the managers feeling like either you had it or you didn’t. Those who had it, thrived. Those who didn’t stressed. Management knew they couldn’t employ an entire team of those who have it, so they put up with the ones that don’t, but also dump on them.

    My mother left an upper management, high paying salary job with benefits because she couldn’t deal with the stress. She is now a third shift – entry cna making squat, but she doesn’t have that stress. My mother quit before she even found the other job. My point was you have to make a choice. No one put a gun to your head and made you work there. YOU are the one that decides where you work. If you feel trapped, it is only a feeling, it’s not the way things really are. I’m not blaming the victim though, because in my original comment (which I stand by) I thought the heart attack was due to existing conditions.

  33. DCGaymer says:

    When I moved to a new catalog call center in the early 90’s everything was in disarray. Employee morale was low, customer satisfaction was down and everyone HATED coming to work. I immediately said, “First things first…you are enabled to do whatever it takes to keep the customer…as long as we at least break even. Not just over the individual order…but the customers overall purchase history. Add the total amount up….multiply by 20% and that’s the range you have to work with. Don’t tell the customer how much leeway you have….but do whatever it takes within that margin to make them happy. If we’re doing everything on our side to makes sure they get what they want….then they’ll keep coming back as long as we’re open. Needless to say, within two weeks my customer service rep’s LOVED coming to work because they were empowered to make things right.

    If you work in customer service and you have people constantly yelling at you….you’re probably working for a BAD company. Go find another job NOW.

  34. ByeBye says:

    @Amazonian: WRONG. You should try working there yourself, less stressful than you think.

  35. thalia says:

    I worked at a call center for a research company my first year in college, and it was the most stressful job I’d ever had. I’d had plenty of jobs before, but I’d never even come close to feeling the same amount of stress as I did at this one. I think my husband freaked out a little because every day when he’d pick me up from work I’d be near to tears and just want to go home and sleep. I think I only worked for about three weeks before we started having major issues with our server that kept us from completing our surveys, even if the customers wanted to go through with them. So, naturally, the customers get pissed off at us for having to wait on the phone, and I can’t say I blame them. After a few hours I started feeling extremely dizzy and ill, and I asked my supervisor if I could go home for the day. She said, “You’ll be reprimanded by the board. You’re not allowed to go home sick without a doctor’s note, and not until you’ve worked here at least two months. So you can go home if you like, but I can almost guarantee you you’ll be fired.”

    So, I quit right there, walked right outside, burst into tears, and tried not to throw up. My husband came to pick me up and said I looked so awful he could have sworn I was going to have a heart attack or faint any second. I can honestly say that I’ve never been that stressed in my entire life. Want more proof? I also gained 15 pounds in just three weeks working there every day! And no, I’m not one to gain weight easily! Stress can really screw your body up. Too many people don’t believe in the affects stress can have on the body, but look at what it did to this poor woman in the post!

  36. snoop-blog says:

    A woman gets a medium coke instead of a large, 106 comments and counting….

    A woman dies from “too much stress “from work”” (I had to double that one), 34 comments.

    What does that say for the average consumerist reader?

  37. moorem2 says:

    @jdmba: How do you suppose that we call someone when our phone doesn’t work?

  38. trujunglist says:

    Wow, that’s exactly how I’d like to go out. Slaving over my desk everyday until it kills me and I die right there at the keyboard. What a great life.

  39. Froggmann says:

    @Andr0: Update procedure manuals, review your own trouble tickets and wait for the next call. Oh yea and they wanted a 70% closure rating even though some hospital networks (Yes it was for a national hospital network) disallowed even looking up the reqired information to identify the caller, much less resolve the issue.

    As for the 3 minute “suggestion” they used to give us, that was a pipedream by the management. You try to talk a user through a computer issue when you are diagnosing everything over the phone with someone that practicially just arrived from the Philippines yesterday.

  40. Comms says:

    “So the lesson here is to be nice to you customer service rep.”

    The problem isn’t the callers, it’s the management.

  41. sventurata says:

    @bobblack555: How about retiring so I can have yours?

  42. ahwannabe says:

    @snoop-blog: Well, we are talking about the same crowd who decided that crappy cable service is a bigger problem than poison in the food supply…

  43. sleepydumbdude says:

    I work in a call center. Hint, its not for verizon or sprint. Some people can’t handle the job and I don’t see why. Its not our money we are messing with and its over the phone so its not like they can come punch me in the face. I even filled out a form with my manager that allows me to give them a last name that is not my own. I just have to use it on every call that they ask.
    EMS is called everytime a new group of employees come to take calls. Usually from panic attacks or passing out.

  44. Bob Knight says:

    Zarex42 & BobBlack555—I’ve worked for AT&T, Pacific Bell, Verizon, and Bell Atlantic…all in call centers…guess what, its a real job that pays over $30/hr not including 100 per cent free health care for me and my family, no matter how many I have. In the old days, it used to include my dependent parents and grandparents, too. Working at the phone company is a great gig…the pressure is unbelievable because of many factors, including union/management relations, regulatory requirements, etc. Very little of it is because of crabby customers. Most customers are pleasant, or at least indifferent. Most of the stress at the phone company is self imposed due to bad lifestyle or poor ability to deal with conflict.

    BUT, it is definitely a real job, probably pays better than many of your jobs.

  45. speakmymind says:

    I worked in a Verizon call center and it was the most stressful job of my life, not so much because of the customers, but because of Verizon’s horrendous and outdated computer systems, their obsession with stats that are humanly impossible to meet, and management who only cares about pushing their employees to the brink and their bonuses. And there are many more reasons too, but I’d be here all day don’t want to waste any more of my time on them.

    There were so many sicknesses, emergencies, and even a few deaths during my employment, including this really nice man who took an insane amount of calls each month just to keep management off his back, then died of a seizure while on vacation with his family. And because I witnessed the stress he was under first-hand, no one will ever be able to convince me that his death wasn’t stress-related.

    Whoever would describe working in a Verizon call center a real job is someone who has never really been in the position, or someone who has the life of a really bad movie outside of work, so anything would be a step up.