Sukanya Jacob, who graduated from an engineering college, in 2008 missed out on the companies that came for campus recruitment because she did not meet the academic eligibility. Keen on entering the IT industry, the BPO sector was, for her, the immediate choice. After a two-year stint with a company providing technical support, she says a recent job offer by an MNC for a testing profile was almost a dream come true.

“For those like me, the IT dream keeps us going but others often leave for higher education or communication related jobs. The constant night shifts and the never changing work are a pain,” she says.

The drastic rise in the attrition rate of BPO and KPO employees was recently confirmed by a study by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) which estimated the figure to have risen by 55 per cent this year. Many city-based BPO heads also admit that tackling attrition has become a daunting challenge.

C.A.S. Shankar, director (new initiatives), Infosearch BPO Services, says that many employees leave within months of joining. “Sometimes, they wait till they their resume is barely marketable to shift to another company for a mere Rs.200 increase,” he says. Expectations of a quick pay, eagerness to get into companies with global presence, and lower salaries during the probation period are some reasons for attrition, he adds.

Promotion patterns in the industry are part of the problem too, say experts. “Senior work profiles are mostly filled internally. So when a new recruit realises that there are almost a dozen people waiting, he immediately thinks of changing the company,” says Mr. Shankar

“People still consider BPO to be ‘low brow', thus making it difficult to attract the best talent, and more importantly to retain it,” says Abhirami Sethuraman, an HR professional with an ITES.

Besides erratic working hours, sedentary life styles, psychological stress and strict target deadlines, the lack of general clarity on skill continue to discourage people from continuing in BPOs, say experts.

NASSCOM regional director K. Purushottaman says Chennai being the second largest employer of ITES faces increasing attrition levels, but certainly lesser than most other cities. “We have more over 1.6 lakh employees in the ITES sector, and in Tamil Nadu, the employees prefer moving around the industry than leaving it.”

Internal job postings, prompt grievance mechanisms, opportunities to study further, family engagement programmes help retain employees, he adds.

However, speculations regarding the promised opportunities still continue to plague youngsters. Ever since, M. Karthik, a B.Sc graduate from the University of Madras, who got recruited by a top notch ITES company for its software excellence programme, he has been flooded with suggestions. “My family is not keen on me working for a BPO, but the prospect of getting a degree from a reputed institute and also a work experience of four years is definitely worth considering.” The contract of being paid just Rs.12,000 a month till four years, is what is still making him think.

“The orientation of BPO employers should be to recruit the right kind of employees. We have seen that attrition in BPOs catering to healthcare and publishing are relatively less,” says S. Sridharan, managing director of Takesolutions.

Restructuring the working culture by providing counsellors and mentors to help employees achieve targets and helping fresh recruits get rid of the myth that the job does not enhance their career would certainly help, adds Ms. Sethuraman.

“The work ethics and rules are different here. It is about being more efficient than original, and this is where many fail to perform,” she adds.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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