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BOB MOON: It’s called burnout. The American Institute of Stress says about half of all American workers suffer from it. And job stress costs employers $300 billion a year. Reporter Apryl Lundsten discovered how one industry is dealing with it.
APRYL LUNDSTEN: Robert Beaucage was an emergency communications operator for seven years at the Los Angeles Police Department Call Center. He worked the graveyard shift with about a hundred other operators. The center receives 10,000 calls a day.
ROBERT BEAUCAGE: By far the number one type of call that we would get was domestic violence. You know, someone calling in saying ‘There’s a woman screaming and I can hear her husband hitting her next door.’ Or it might be the battered wife calling us to say she had just been hit.
But the call that Beaucage remembers most was from a little girl. Her mother wouldn’t wake up.
BEAUCAGE: While I’m transferring her I hear her talking to her mom, ‘Mom, mom, wake up! Open your eyes!’
The girl’s mother died. It wasn’t the ending Beaucage was hoping for, but knowing what happened helped him move on.
Many operators don’t get the chance to move on and that can lead to burnout.
LOREDANA ELSBERRY: Burnout is long exposure to stress — physical, emotional.
Loredana Elsberry is the Communications Center and 911 Services Manager for the Association of Public Safety and Communication Officials, or APCO, an organization that supports emergency call operators. She says burnout can cause high turnover.
ELSBERRY: Poor working conditions, insufficient training, excessive overtime, poor relationships with coworkers or management, not adequate staffing.
In fact, national turnover rates for emergency call centers are 17 percent. And that can translate to bad service.
ELSBERRY: You start looking at high call abandonment rates, which means people are calling the comm center and the operators aren’t answering the phone and they hang up.
The Los Angeles Police Department Center has three turnovers a month, but they’re trying to deal with the problem before it gets to that point.
Lt. Charles Mealey is the Assistant Commanding Officer for Communications at the LAPD Center.
LT. CHARLES MEALEY: We have a psychologist that actually has an office here onsite. They’re available on a 24-hour on-call basis.
Operators can also take a “quickie”— a short timeout — to regroup.
The LAPD center recently upgraded offices at a cost of $20 million. They moved from a cramped basement four stories underground to a space the size of a basketball court with high ceilings and lots of windows.
MEALEY: We have what they call a “quiet room” if they just want to get off the floor and relax. In addition, we have the break room and we have a really nice patio and we have Direct TV.
Mealey says nationwide most call centers offer counseling and quiet rooms for their operators.
But Loredana Elsberry says many call centers don’t offer the other perks. Some centers are still in the basement.
Still, it doesn’t cost that much to make a difference. Lt. Mealey says his center’s most popular new incentive was cheap: They have Cookie Tuesdays and Brownie Thursdays so operators get a break.
In Los Angeles, I’m Apryl Lundsten for Marketplace.
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