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The Anthropology of Work and Organisations


This ethnography was researched in a local call centre for an international telecommunications company that deals with the repair side of the service. There are approximately six hundred members of staff who work as customer service advisors for the public and many more whose work is related to the mainstream objective of the company. Within the call centre are subcultures that mainly work in isolated teams such as the human resources team, the Agency personnel team, managers, engineers and also the security guards. All employees working within the call centre are required to meet the aims and objectives of the same company despite being given varying tasks and roles with which to achieve this goal. It is therefore essential that unified codes of practice and terminology is enforced in order to encourage the integration process.


In order to have a true insight into the social structure of such an organisation, it is necessary for the researcher to obtain first-hand data by using participant observation and or key informant interviewing. The ethnographer was able to conduct this study in some detail having the advantage of working for the company as an agency employee. As with any ethnographic fieldwork, the anthropologist will need to spend as much time as possible in the chosen field of study and being part of the organisation enabled the researcher to make covert observations on a regular basis. The researcher then has the opportunity to make extensive observations in note form and to use the collected data for later analysis.


If the company had been approached by the researcher and been made aware of this study, there would have been an opportunity for overt methodology to be used, this would have allowed more qualitative data to be sought and other field locations to be covered.


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In order for the organisation to meet their aims and objectives it is important that the members of the working culture are able to communicate with the other sub-cultures of the company effectively. This means that the language or terminology must be of a unified standard and that each employee has the same rewards and disciplinary systems in place.


The organisation encourages their employees to aspire to meet the same challenges that the senior management hope to and yet it is clear that the personal goals of the majority of staff in the workplace are very different from this. It is evident that the employees main concerns are for their own family’s income; to survive in a materialistic and commercial world as opposed to choosing to support an international company due to pure loyalty. Approximately sixty percent of the workforce within this organisation are contracted to the company whereas the remainder are working for an agency. Those contracted are paid significantly more than their colleagues, have job security, free shares and a pension scheme. This is often seen as a form of exploitation of the agency staff by both agency and contracted employees because the selection process is not deemed very fair and just, yet all employees essentially have the same work load, tasks and responsibilities. It is interesting to note how this system of selecting the employees affects their behaviour. Groups of workers who would normally sit as a team of friends, gradually merge into different groups following the acceptance and rejection letters after and interview. Communications break down in one area of the workplace and yet allies build up in other.


Due to the nature of the job and the organisation of the employee’s seating arrangements, socialising with colleagues is limited. Employees must aim to take calls of a certain quota per hour and talking in between calls is strongly discouraged by the parading managers. It is quite apparent that both the strongest and largest social groups to be formed consist of mainly smokers. There is a smoking room provided for staff to utilise during their fifteen minute break and during this period research found that although conversation content is often mundane, repressive and negative, it is however, fluent between almost every individual who enters that room. The most unlikely social relationships appear to develop in a place where it is labelled ‘anti-social’ by the outside western world.


Occasionally, light relief for the staff comes in the form of ‘off-line’ work, namely the hold queue, which enables the employee to take a more relaxed approach to their work due to not being remotely monitored or having to meet unreasonable targets. The hold queue is not available very often and when it is, there is not usually enough work needed for more that 0 percent of the staff on-line. This creates a competitive atmosphere whereby eager eyes are searching, bribing and even sulking at the prospect of being allocated or denied this sacred gift. It seems that the social behaviour changes dramatically at this point from co-operative to unco-operative and vice-versa.


The conditions and methods deemed necessary to conduct an ethnographic study present many challenges to the production of objective results. There can be no doubt that the information delivered by the researcher has been sifted through his/her personal biases that are inherent in individual theoretical orientation, social status and personality. In this ethnography the researcher discusses the pros and cons of being employed by the Telecommunications Company as opposed to the agency. The main criticism that arises from this is that the ethnographer is employed by the agency and therefore their personal views may colour the overall interpretation of this observation. Equally, the same could be argued when looking at the observations made about the smoke room, the researcher has a limited time frame and therefore the field location is not over generalised, consequently not representative of the whole community. Subsequently there is minimal information offered on the observations of the non-smokers and other sub-cultures such as resource, personnel and so forth.





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