As the stress at call centers and Business Process Outsourcing organizations becomes more evident, its repercussions become even more frightening. Executives in their early 30s are suffering heart attacks and a large number of them have frequent chest pain, high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels.
All this has alarmed rightly enough, the ministries of health and information technology. A serious IT workplace health policy to tackle the menace is being jointly formulated by Union health minister A Ramadoss and IT minister A Raja. Next week, these two ministers will meet, while by next month end a national meet with industry partners is being planned.
Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss says it is shocking to see 22-year-olds dropping dead on their desks from heart attacks. Terming Information Technology India's flagship sector, he added that it was the government's duty to protect its image and its employees.
"We are, therefore, finalizing a blueprint of India's first dedicated health policy for the BPO sector. We will finalize the policy in a national conference in Bangalore by the end of October after discussing with our industry partners. IT sector representatives will be invited to that conference," Ramadoss was quoted. The policy is expected to be in place by early 2008.
Problems associated with the BPO lifestyle of deadlines, late nights, no exercise, inadequate sleep and skipped or unhealthy meals include greater hip-to-waist ratios, higher cholesterol and insulin levels, increased blood pressure and higher triglyceride levels.
As previous studies have found , rotating and nightshift work affect the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. This also means that shift work may be directly responsible for increased body fat and higher blood pressure levels, say experts.
Shift workers are found to experience premature ageing. In addition, health specialists opine that the performance of youths working in night shifts goes down due to sleep deprivation.
Other symptoms of night shifts are frequent headaches, dizziness and fatigue.
'Youths working in BPOs lose their ability to enjoy and become irritable and unsociable', says Dr N Ramakrishnan, director, Nithra Institute of Sleep Science speaking of the behavioral consequences of this very unhealthy lifestyle. In addition, emotions such as anger, depression and anxiety are common due to low levels of serotonin associated with inadequate sleep.
The perils of the BPO lifestyle can extend to other spheres such as the institution of marriage.
Statistics reveal that in 2006 alone, 1,246 cases of divorce pertaining to those in the IT sector have landed in the matrimonial courts in Bangalore, one of the IT hubs of India. The IT sector is becoming one of the largest contributors of broken marriages. Financial freedom, lack of time at home, erratic working hours, work pressure, financial security and stress are being seen as the main reasons for this fiasco.
According to the Chairperson of the State Women's Commission Pramila Nesargi, in most cases, marital discord is due to an unhappy physical relationship. "Viewing the computer for long hours has proven to cause impotency," she adds.
Nesargi wants to inspect working conditions and also make suggestions to change the working pattern of the employees, so that they get to spend more time at home.
According to psychiatrists, the culprit is none other than stress. Late working hours affects their sexual life and hence, they decide to part ways. The need of the hour is to strike the right balance between work and family, they say.
Yet, as software professionals will vouch, that is easier said than done. Only their employers- the companies they work for, can ensure that their employees get more time at home.
Says Dr Dwarakanath, director of Mitran Foundation, who has studied stress components in 40 software companies in Chennai during the last six months: "Our study confirms that the number of suicides, divorces, heart ailments, BP and diabetes patients and mental depression are the highest in the software industry.
He goes on:"We found that the software industry has simply no routine. Deadlines hang before them and every day they chase new problems. During weekends more than 60 per cent of the vehicles are found parked in the office complexes. There is no physical exercise and new food habits favored by pizza culture fuel the problem. Cervical spondilitis and wrist problems due to uncomfortable handling of the computer mouse, eye problems and discomfort in bowel movements are common.
"The fancy salaries of software professionals are no longer something to rejoice about", Dr. Dwarakanath warns.