This post tells much about my brief stint as a call center agent (still in training) in Makati, but I also include some basic information about working the night shift and its pros and cons.
The struggle of having to work at night is real. It’s more than just trying to keep yourself awake and drinking coffee to combat sleepiness, as well as dealing with a lot of stress and some dangers. Welcome to the night shift, also known as the graveyard shift, the nightly equivalent of a typical day job.
Shift work is an employment practice designed to make use of, or provide service across, all 24 hours of the clock each day of the week.^ So when there’s morning shift, there’s also night shift. In other words, some companies are taking advantage of dividing shifts in order to sustain its round-the-clock operations, particularly in hospitals, police stations, fire stations, broadcast stations, newsrooms, and some business establishments such as BPO companies and convenience stores.
The advantage of working on a night shift is that you don’t need to deal with traffic, as well as the busy crowd of people on the streets. Also, you’re entitled to a time differential pay (the percentage rate, however, depends on the country you’re working in). But it has a lot of disadvantages too, concerning mostly with safety, health, and relationships. For starters, night shift workers are the common target of the bad guys. And then there’s the health risk caused by stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy food and lifestyle (from fast food, caffeine, and smoking), and sleep deprivation (due to the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm). And at times, you’ll be working on weekends and holidays, meaning less bonding time with your family.
Night owls may have a hard time resetting their body clock, especially if they’re used to it in the long run. It’s like forcing yourself to use a new smartphone without familiarizing yourself with all of its features. Preparing your body for a change in circadian rhythm is necessary in order to avoid problems.
It was October 2, 2013, when I started my training at a BPO company in Makati. Considering how far my workplace is to my residence in the north, I wouldn’t mind accepting the offer since I badly need a job (well, at least after I was drawn to the booth during a job fair). And since I’m on the graveyard shift, I don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic and, at times, I don’t have to worry about missing the last train too (since MRT/LRT operations are until 10:00 PM that time). It only took me about an hour and a half to get there. And of course, since I’m applying as a customer service representative, I need to be prepared as well, both physically and emotionally.
At first, it’s kind of weird to go to work at night, since there are fewer people in the streets and most of the shops are closed… not to mention lack of transportation too. Upon reaching the building (where the training area is), I was a little tired so I took a seat. I almost fall asleep, considering that it’s already past 10:00 when I got there, but someone noticed me and asked if I’m all right. Of course, it feels kind of awkward since I’m not supposed to do that in the workplace, not even in the lobby.
All of the trainees, trainers, and even the security staff are speaking in English. I’m not surprised at all since they’re all supposed to speak in English as most BPOs strictly enforced EOP (English only policy) inside the premises, and this also extends anywhere inside the building, particularly in the elevator and restroom (this only applies to us call center employees).
During the orientation, there are a lot of rules and regulations we trainees are expected to follow. Of course, one of them is we have to speak English at all times, and we’re not allowed to fall asleep during the training and at work (but we’re allowed to stand up and do a few movements in order to combat sleepiness).
Everything went well in my first day of training, but not by the time I got home. I find it difficult to sleep during the day, and I tend to get up just as I was about to fall asleep. At this point, I feel frustrated since I really need to rest up for the following night.
Of course, I also need to comply with the requirements so we were given a day off just to prepare the following documents needed for employment. We also need to undergo the pre-employment medical exam, one of the requirements for employment. That was the time when I actually fainted during a blood test. They checked my blood pressure and it was below normal (below 90/60, I assume). I had to rest for a while until I can finally get up and walk.
A few weeks have passed and I’m starting to adjust to a graveyard shift lifestyle. I’m getting used to the strong smell of coffee and the not-so-bright lighting of the office building, as well as the extremely cold air conditioning and conversations in English. And of course, the sight of trainees watching TV (usually HBO or Star Movies) in the pantry or the lobby. While most of the shops are closed during the night, there are a few dining establishments (fast food chains and convenience stores) open 24/7. Of course, there’s the office pantry, but they’re usually closed on weekends and holidays, so you’ll be relying on fast food a lot (unfortunately). To be honest, I had an aversion for strong coffee as I tend to get jittery after drinking it (with a lot of sugar and some cream), but I really need caffeine to get through the night. So I stick to drinking tea and hot chocolate. Now come to think of it, I even tried having instant arroz caldo on my tumbler, since there’s hot water in the pantry too.
My communication skills are somewhat poor, but I managed to do well during the call simulation, applying what I learned during the training. Of course, there are times when I got nervous and did a lot of mistakes during the call simulation. Eventually, I passed the first part of training, which is the Global Communications Training. I was looking forward to the next part of the training, which is Product Specific Training.
Later on, I started having mixed emotions about continuing my call center training, but I went on anyway. From here on, it’s serious training and we’re supposed to do better at this one. I also get to sit in with some of the call center agents, and learned a few things when it comes to customer service.
And that’s where the stressful part begins, taking calls from customers. I don’t know, but I actually break down after a few calls and one of the coaches helped me calm down. Eventually, I’m getting used to handling irate customers and escalated calls, as well as being calm and cheerful despite having such rough moments. I can really do well in being friendly and respectful to the callers, but there are times when I feel like I’m going to scream and talk back at them for being rude. But of course, we’re not supposed to do that. It’s kind of difficult, to be honest.
Later on, the graveyard shift lifestyle and the stressful life of being a CSR is making me feel even more depressed. Sometimes, I couldn’t wait to finish my shift so I can feel the much-needed relief, yet I still find myself doing the same stressful job every night. Realizing that I wasn’t really happy with my job and I was close to being terminated (mostly due to my tardiness), I asked my coach for a little advice regarding the resignation, and she explained the process. Of course, there’s a possibility of rendering a few more days before I officially quit my job, so I decided to do just that. As soon as I handed my resignation letter, I knew I’m about to head back to being a freeter.
And that’s how my four-month stint at a BPO company ends. At least, I get to experience being a CSR on a graveyard shift. I don’t know if I’ll reconsider applying for the same job again, but then it’s decided that I’m officially done with it. Having experienced the struggles of being a call center agent, I truly had high respect for my friends (including my trainers, coaches, and team leaders) who are still in the industry.
I don’t know if I’ll ever appreciate this kind of life… I mean, working at nighttime and sleeping at daytime. Sometimes, I enjoy it. Sometimes, I don’t. Maybe it’s because I find it difficult to adopt a night shift lifestyle. Yes, I may be a night owl in some way, but I’m still a morning person who is struggling with insomnia and falling asleep at bedtime, as well as adjusting my body’s circadian rhythm. I really need to work on resetting my body clock once I finally have a day job.
Then again, maybe I’m still open to working the night shift, but I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy the daytime activities I loved the most. What a compromise. Well, this kind of lifestyle isn’t really suitable for me after all. Who knows, this kind of thinking might change… probably in a few years or so.