The latest reality TV show hit our screens last week – The Call Centre. It’s based in the Swansea call centre business, Save Britain Money. The motto of the firm is a simple aphorism – ‘happy people sell’. And in this documentary, which at first appears to be an Office-style comedy show until a creeping realisation hits that it’s actually real, the employees do seem to be pretty happy (that is apart from the ones who seem to be victims of low-level bullying). And they do seem to sell. So is Nev Wilshere, CEO of Save Britain Money, onto something?
The happiness or, as it’s more technically known, ‘positive psychology’ movement has been with us for a few years now. Its central argument is that success follows happiness rather than vice versa. There are behaviours that we can adopt, habits we can acquire, bad habits we can extinguish, that boost our positivity. These can be very simple things such as kicking off your day by doing or saying something nice to someone. And the evidence does seem to suggest that positivity has a positive impact on productivity. When your work becomes a calling then that’s when you really succeed. And the business of Save Britain Money is calling.
Once you get beyond the fact that The Call Centre is not a spoof you have a discomforting moment when you accept that this is a real work environment. Yet after some time, you then start to notice some intriguing aspects to this workplace. There is something incredibly social to it all. People do seem to get on by and large and seem to smile and socialise. This is even more remarkable when you consider that they are trying to sell products like PPI refunds to grumpy, surly, disinterested, harrassed, irritable people like, well, me…. (given I once worked in a ‘call centre’ I should be more tolerant than most though I doubt I am. It was to raise cash for an impoverished cause- Cambridge University.)
Shawn Achor, who is a leading author and consultant on positive psychology, would find much in what is taking place at Save Britain Money to be intriguing. Achor has found that positive actions such as building and deepening social bonds have a very strong correlation with happiness which, in turn, has a strong correlation with better performance. New recruits are gathered together to sing ‘Mr Brightside’ by The Killers to break their inhibitions and create a group bond. Nev even intervenes to find love for an office lonely heart. He parades potential new recruits through the office and enquires whether he should ‘give them a job’. This may not all be to everyone’s taste but it seems to work. As a Swansea lad, he knows his workforce and they respond to this approach.
It’s easy to sneer at all this. And Grace Dent did indeed sneer in her review of the programme for The Independent. The review even finishes with a direct reference to ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ as if the call centre workers were faced with a hopelessly dire existence: “Well tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you.” Sure, working in a call centre is less than perfect perhaps but then so are the vast majority of jobs. The fact is, these workers in Swansea just get on with it – and seem to thrive.
And it turns out, that the company does rather well too. In fact, it was ranked second in the Sunday Times best business to work for awards. It was 26th in the Sunday Times Fast Track awards for high business growth. Not bad at all.
So it would seem that happiness does breed success. Happy people do sell. Britain is saving money. And I can’t wait to see the rest of the series . But please don’t try to sell me a PPI refund. Or maybe I should be a bit more positive about being cold called? It will help me ‘sell’ rather better. Perhaps.