The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has been a major employer in the Philippines amassing hard-earned dollars for the country’s struggling economy. The National Economic Development Authority reports that from a $0.02-billion industry in 2000, this has grown 46% annually since 2006 and is projected to earn $11 to 13 billion in 2010.
The call center industry (80% of the entire BPOs) caters to the needs of customers from developed countries. They provide a range of support services, from customer care to technical assistance to travel services.
For instance, whenever a 1-800 call is lodged in New York, there is a high likelihood that the person answering the queries is a Filipino, located halfway around the world and equally adept at that distinctly New Yorker accent (i.e., they’re trained to do so). As such, Philippine-based call center agents often work night shifts because of the time difference (e.g., New York is 12 hours behind Manila). Work-related disturbance in circadian rhythms among the employees is thus expected and encouraged.
This brings me to an article published in the Journal of Circadian Rhythm, which investigated how night and rotating shift schedules may have caused Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Although Sharifian et al (2009) discussed this in the context of an automobile industry, I think an analogue exists here–comparable to the work schedules of the BPO employees in the Philippines.
The authors did a cross sectional study of 780 male assembly workers to investigate incidences of a neurological disorder, the Restless Legs Syndrome. RLS is often described as involving “abnormal limb sensations that diminish with motor activity, worsen at rest, have a circadian peak in expression in the evening and at night, and can severely disrupt sleep.” There are four diagnostic criteria for RLS: (a) desire to move the extremities, often associated with paresthesias/dysesthesias; (b) motor restlessness; (c) worsening of symptoms at rest with at least temporary relief by activity, and (d) worsening of symptoms in the evening or night.
Sharifian et al revealed that the “prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome was significantly higher in rotational shift workers (15%) than workers with permanent morning work schedule (8.5%).” They claimed that night shift work schedules have an adverse effect on the circadian organization of the body. They further added that “rotational shift work may act as a risk or exacerbating factor for Restless Legs Syndrome, which is known to have adverse effects on patients’ work performance and quality of life.”
So, does the billion-dollar BPO industry check for RLS incidence among their employees? That, my friends, is a million dollar question.
For more information about RLS, click here or watch the video below.
Sharifian A, Firoozeh M, Pouryaghoub G, Shahryari M, Rahimi M, Hesamian M, & Fardi A (2009). Restless Legs Syndrome in shift workers: A cross sectional study on male assembly workers. Journal of circadian rhythms, 7 PMID: 19747404
Clemens S, Rye D, & Hochman S (2006). Restless legs syndrome: revisiting the dopamine hypothesis from the spinal cord perspective. Neurology, 67 (1), 125-30 PMID: 16832090