Why Call Centers Are a Modern-Day Hell for the Working Introvert

IntrovertDear.com call centers introverts

Imagine a workspace where fluorescent lights illuminate a gray, open-office plan, where narrow desks are surrounded by stacks upon stacks of unprocessed paperwork. Every attempt to tackle your stack is interrupted by the din of coworkers loudly chatting about their weekend with their boyfriend, customers being served at the front-desk barely ten feet away from you, and people constantly walking up to and around your workspace. Your email inbox reveals 137 new messages barely half an hour into the beginning of your workday.

And then there are the phones.

It’s your job to handle angry parents who can’t understand the convoluted billing system and are shouting at you to waive their late fees, to deal with students panicking about being unable to register for a class due to technical issues, to calmly and kindly explain to professors how to submit grade changes, even when they’re threatening to speak to your supervisor because they don’t like to speak to people “not on their level.”

Welcome to the hell of the university call center.

I Needed a Paycheck

As my first job out of college, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was an English major with student loan debt and no idea what I wanted to do, so I was just grateful that I didn’t have to succumb to the retail fate of many of my friends. After an entire senior year worrying about the job search, $40k and benefits was a welcome relief.

And truth be told, it was not the worst job in the world — in the beginning. Perhaps because it was my first job out of college, or because I had money — real money I could even shop at Whole Foods with, instead of the chump change of a work-study job — the honeymoon phase lasted for six whole months. At times, I even liked my job, as the phones weren’t busy every day, and a good amount of work involved correctly inputting information in paper records into an online database.

If that had been the entirety of the job, I wouldn’t have left.

Too Much Is Too Much

After six months, reality set in. I’d come home from work, annoyed at every little sound my housemates made. I hung out with my friends less and less until I stopped entirely. My phone stayed on vibrate, and when I did get calls, I often returned them as emails. The moments I could find to be alone and somewhere quiet became extremely vital to my sanity.

Every day, I suffered through work, unsure of what I was going to do next. The only jobs I felt qualified for were just like the one I was already in. Should I start a blog, hoping that I could eventually make money from that and leave my job forever? Should I go back to school for a new skill that would take me away from people? How long would that take? How much would that cost?

But the constant phone calls were too much to bear. I had one parent patronizingly ask me, after yelling at me for ten minutes, what Santa was going to put under my Christmas tree. I had another parent accuse me of being racist — he spoke with a Chinese accent — simply because I asked him to spell his daughter’s name (for the record, sir, there is more than one way to spell “Lilian”). A professor I had never met stormed past the front desk and several others, all the way over to mine, just so he could shove a paper in front of my face — while I was working at the computer, no less — and say, “Here. Is this what you guys want? Just handle this already.”

As an introvert, the job became the embodiment of everything I didn’t want: constant noise, visual clutter, endless phone conversations, and little time to think. The daily barrage of insults alone made my heart palpitate.

I wanted nothing more than to withdraw into solitude.

Instead, I ended up beyond drained, pushing past my limits. I would come home and cry, then wake up and cry, shaking and dreading having to maintain a happy, professional demeanor while being constantly mistreated and yelled at in a whirlpool of noise. An introvert’s nightmare, indeed.

No Amount of Income Is Worth Chronic Stress

I knew I had to get out of there, and one day I got lucky. I found a job ad for a technical services library assistant, also known as a cataloger: Someone whose job was entirely centered around inputting information about library materials, like books and DVDs, into an online database.

If you’re thinking this sounds like the perfect job for an introvert, it is. Two months after I applied, I was no longer answering angry phone calls. My stress levels dropped, I woke feeling rested, and I didn’t hate my life. I found something I could do that worked for my skill set and allowed me to be at peace. And many of my coworkers were as introverted as I am.

I never thought it was possible for a job to make me happy, but I was wrong.

Now, when I hear people say, “Just find a job, any job. If you need money, you’ll do it,” I cringe. Trading the stress of having no income for the stress of spending 40 or more hours a week doing something you hate enough to make you want to die isn’t an improvement.

Finding a job you love or are even just okay with is not necessarily easy. Student loans, commutes, and supporting a family all play a factor. But I’ve learned that making the effort to find one that works, or figuring out how to strike it out and be your own boss, is absolutely worth it. No amount of income is worth stress-induced chronic illness or suicidal thoughts — or being screamed at by people who don’t value your worth as a human being.

Maybe you have to challenge your assumptions and find a new job, like I did when I thought I would only be qualified for jobs that involved lots of talking to people. Maybe you go back to school for a degree that will ultimately allow you to work by yourself, or at least undisturbed. Maybe you decide to be a freelancer and gain complete control of your environment (the introvert’s dream!).

As introverts in an extrovert-centered world, we may have to wait awhile for the rest of the world to catch up. But maybe soon they’ll at least get rid of those awful open-office plans. 

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Soren Henry is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and proofreader for hire at The Simple Ink. When she's not working, you can find her geeking out about video game soundtracks, studying Japanese, and playing with adorable cats. As a proud INTJ personality type, she hopes to one day grow up to be an urban hermit.