Phone Rage

Last reviewed on 30/04/2013 14:47

What is phone page?

Phone rage can happen when a caller abuses or is offensive to the person taking the call, this should not be confused with a client or customer being angry which might be justified in certain circumstances. However, if the call descends into abuse, personal comments or offensive behaviour this is unacceptable and staff should be protected as much as possible. While it is believed that abusive calls are in the minority of the very high volume of calls received every day, the impact of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse can be significant given the attrition effect of dealing with multiple incidents involving personal insults. Offensive behaviour should not be treated lightly or excused. Over 60,000 people are currently involved in the Scottish contact centre industry. Many more individuals work with clients by telephone in offices, shops, at home or through non-profit helplines. The Customer Contact Association estimates that 26 million calls a day are made to contact centres. It is expected that increasing numbers will be employed in their own homes to carry out some telephone related work.

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Legislation on managing phone rage

As well as the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, general Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces. This legislation covers those employees who face a predictable risk of verbal abuse. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations introduced the concept of risk assessment, the removal of risk at source and the introduction of comprehensive preventative strategies to control those risks that cannot be eliminated. The key phrases are risk assessment and coherent overall preventative policy. There is other legislation which could be applicable including the Protection from Harassment Act and the Telecommunications Act, as amended

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Employers' duties

Dealing with phone rage is a workplace hazard for an increasing number of workers, the law expects employers to prepare for incidents and protect staff as much as possible from its effects. This can be done by implementing clear policies and procedures to report all incidents, identify causes and risk assess for the future. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers must assess health and safety risks associated with their business to identify what steps they need to take to reduce them. The risk of verbal abuse should be assessed in the same way as any other hazard; employers must take action to remove or minimise that risk.

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Employee considerations

Many workers regard putting up with abuse as ‘part of the job’ and attribute the abusive or offensive behaviour to the caller dealing remotely with someone they cannot see. Often this can mean that the worker may feel justified in retaliating, becoming obstructive or uncooperative which only leads to the situation deteriorating further. Employers must ensure that workers recognise that such incidents are unacceptable as is any negative response or reaction to the caller. Procedures such as queuing calls or using jargon which is not customer friendly can also contribute to making the caller aggressive before a call has even commenced. The consequences of ignoring the impact of dealing with abusive behaviour over the telephone can result in suffering and humiliation of staff which not only affects job performance but can lead to a lack of motivation, loss of confidence and reduced self-esteem. If the situation persists, this can develop into physical illness, psychological disorders or tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse and other symptoms associated with stress.

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Factors that can increase risks for telephone workers

  • Following procedures which do not provide much information to clients
  • Scripted responses or unnecessary use of jargon
  • Working under pressure created by increased workloads, staff shortages, and the absence of alternative support for the client
  • Working alone in physically isolated units or at hours when few other staff are around
  • Procedures which are not customer friendly such as queuing
  • Compensation culture for customers who complain loud enough
  • Poor communication skills within organisations and with customer contact
  • Organisational change
  • Understaffing
  • Over-managed staff
  • Equipment breakdown
  • Personal circumstances of callers at the time of the call relating to people who have a great deal of anger, resentment or feelings of failure
  • Clients who have unrealistically high expectations of what the organisation can offer
  • Dealing with callers seeking quick easy solutions to long term and complex problems
  • Dealing by telephone with people who are ill, distressed, afraid, in a panic or on medication
  • Dealing with the friends and families of clients who may be concerned or feel inadequate
  • in relation to the large organisation from which they are seeking help
  • Working with people who get what they want by expressing violence.

Staff usually face a series of combined risk factors, such as working under pressure with distressed, demanding clients, in isolation from colleagues and other support. On top of these they may experience sexist and or racist abuse.

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Good practice

Ask your employees or their representatives what they think. They may have experiences you are not aware of. Surveys are a useful way to gain information on the risk of work-related violence. Staff should be kept informed of any survey results to demonstrate that the problem is being taken seriously. Are there contributory factors which can be eliminated such as queuing, understaffing, over-managed staff, procedures which are not customer friendly, poor communication skills and methods of dealing with repeat offenders or regular equipment breakdown? Existing control measures and current ways of working should be checked to determine if they are still adequate. A combination of factors is often the cause of phone rage so ensure that your review considers all factors including:

  • the type and level of training, information and support provided
  • the working environment
  • the processes involved in dealing with callers
  • dealing with repeat offenders, e.g. logging details for future use or removing services.

A written record of the main findings of the risk assessment should be recorded and is communicated throughout the organisation. This provides a useful working document for managers and staff and should include the hazards identified. For example does it identify:

  • clients with a history of abusive behaviour
  • high risk times of the day, week, month or year
  • the call handlers exposed
  • any existing preventative measures in place
  • an evaluation of the remaining risks
  • any additional measures needed and the person responsible for implementation
  • how staff will be informed of the outcome.


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Futher information on managing phone rage

Violence at work - A guide for employers visit HSE A guide for Employers Five steps to risk assessment - visit HSE Five Steps to Risk Assessment Other Information: visit Healthy Working Lives visit Action on Violence visit Unison visit Equality Human Rights Contact us direct by Phone or Email:-


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View the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - Approved Code of Practice and Guidance L21

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