According to research by Glasgow's Strathclyde University for the Union of IT Enabled Services, which informally represents call centre workers, 1.6 million people who work in the industry in India, mostly in their twenties, are plagued by ailments like heart attacks, ulcers and insomnia which are caused by the stress of dealing with irate customers.
The Strathclyde University study found that 77 per cent of Indian call centre workers felt "very" pressurized and 45 per cent identified difficult customers as the main source of their stress, according to a report in the Sunday Telegraph.
The study will be published later in January. A recent health survey by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations has revealed that the outsourcing industry was most at risk from diseases that would hit productivity.
It estimated that heart disease, strokes and diabetes would cost India more than £100 billion in lost productivity over the next 10 years.
"Youngsters love spending the kind of money their parents only dreamt about, but I'm worried that stress and illness will turn them into zombies," Karthik Shekhar, the union's general secretary, has been quoted as saying. Staff in call centres in India, who deal with customers in Britain, have been quoted as saying that they have been shocked at the ferocity of the verbal attacks they encounter from the callers. The call centre workers are routinely called "Pakis", a term of abuse, by their callers.
One call centre operator said she was tired of wishing customers a good morning only to hear: "Oh, I'm through to India am I? Put me through to someone who can understand English, you f****** cow."
"I think they were angry that their jobs had come to India," said another call centre operator. "They were so emotional and angry, it was like instant hatred. I'd want to cry but I couldn't, I had to take the next call."