Case study

One year ago, Brittany returned enthusiastically to the work force after 12 years of being a fulltime homemaker and a part-time direct sales representative for beauty products. Brittany’s major motive for finding a full-time professional job was to work toward her career goal of becoming marketing manager in a mediumsize or large company. To help prepare for this career, Brittany completed a business administration degree over a five-year period. Another compelling reason for returning to full-time employment was financial need. Brittany’s husband owned and operated an appliance and electronics store that was becoming less profitable each year. Several large appliance stores had moved into the area, resulting in fewer customers for Suburban Appliances (the name of the family business). Brittany and her husband Maurice concluded that the family could not cover its bills unless Brittany earned the equivalent of a full-time income. After three months of searching for full-time employment, Brittany responded to a job board ad for a marketing assistant position. The ad described the position as part of a management training program with an excellent future. Ten days after submitting her cover letter and résumé, Brittany was invited for an interview. The company proved to be a national provider of automobile and homeowner insurance. The human-resources interviewer and hiring manager both explained that Brittany’s initial assignment would be to work as a telemarketer. Both advised Brittany that many people were applying for these telemarketing positions. Brittany would be required to telephone individual consumers and small-business owners and make a sales pitch that would motivate them to transfer their automobile or homeowner insurance to her company. The company supplied a computerized list of names and telephone numbers across the country. Using this list, Brittany could take advantage of time-zone differences to telephone people during their dinner times as well as at other times. Brittany would receive a small commission for each customer who made the switch to her company. Her major responsibility in addition to telephone soliciting would be to enter the results of her conversations into a computer and prepare summaries. One week after the interview, Brittany was extended a job offer. She accepted the offer despite some concern that the position was a little too far removed from the professional marketing position she sought. Brittany was assigned to a small cubicle in a large room with about 25 other telemarketers. She found the training program exciting, particularly with respect to techniques for overcoming customer resistance. Brittany reasoned that this experience, combined with her direct selling of beauty products, would give her excellent insights into how consumers think and behave. For the first two weeks, Brittany found the calls to be uplifting. She experienced a surge of excitement when a customer agreed to switch to her company. As was the custom in the office, she shouted “Yes” after concluding each customer conversion to her company. As the weeks moved slowly on, Brittany became increasingly restless and concerned about the job. Her success ratio was falling below the company standard of a 3 percent success rate on the cold calls. A thought kept running through Brittany’s mind: “Even if I’m doing well at this job, 97 percent of people I call will practically hang up on me. And I can’t stand keyboarding all these worthless reports explaining what happened as a result of my calls. It’s a horrible waste of time.” Brittany soon found it difficult to sleep peacefully, often pacing the apartment after Maurice had fallen asleep. She noticed that she was arguing much more with Maurice and the two children. Brittany’s stomach churned so much that she found eating uncomfortable. She often poked at her food, but drank coffee and diet soft drinks much more than previously. After six months of working at the insurance company her weight plunged from 135 pounds to 123 pounds. Brittany’s left thumb and wrists were constantly sore. One night when Maurice asked her why she was rubbing the region below her thumb, Brittany said, “I push the mouse around so much during the day that my thumb feels like it’s falling off.” During the next several months, Brittany spoke with her supervisor twice about her future in the company. Both times the supervisor explained that the best telemarketers become eligible for supervisory positions, providing they have proved themselves for at least three years. The supervisor also cautioned Brittany that her performance was adequate, but not exceptional. Brittany thought to herself, “I’m banging my head against the wall and I’m considered just average.” As Brittany approached a full six months in her position, she and Maurice reviewed the family finances. He said, “Sales at the store are getting worse and worse. I predict that this year your salary will be higher than profits from the store. It’s great that we can count on at least one stable salary in the family. The kids and I really appreciate it.” Brittany thought, “Now is the worst time to tell Maurice how I really feel about my job. I’m falling apart inside and the family needs my salary. What a mess.”

1. What aspects of work stress are revealed in this case?

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2. What suggestions can you make to the company for decreasing the stressors in the position of telemarketer?

3. What advice can you offer Brittany to help her reduce her stress?

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