If you know me personally then you know that for a couple months last year I worked at a collection agency (who would have thought that peaceful ol’ me would go to THAT line of work right?). You may also know that I’m now working in a very different place than in collections. What I’ve come to realize is that there is a very stark difference between these two jobs and that the place you go to spend 40-something hours every week will have an effect on your mental health and stability.
Working at a collections agency was a crazy, yet interesting experience. I got to work alongside some great people who taught me a lot about stuff not even related to collections. I feel like the general public just assumes that collection agents are skeevy creeps who call you ten times a day. I’ll admit, yes we do call multiple times in a day (within the legal limit of course) but I can assure you that the employees are fantastic people. We often had potluck lunches at work, showed each other pictures of our kids/pets/vacations, you know, typical co-worker stuff. The job itself, however, was the single thing that I dreaded going in everyday. I really disliked talking to people who were miles and miles in debt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been verbally abused and harassed on the phone. We get called every swear word in the English language, the women get asked what color underwear they’re wearing, I know one of my female co-workers even had a debtor ask her for some explicit phone services. This kind of behavior was normal for us, especially for the women. We also got a lot of prank callers who would call in to yell profusely into the phone and then hang up on us. The most extreme is probably the bomb threats and threats of violent behavior that we’ve gotten from angry debtors who call in. As you can see, it wasn’t the most pleasant of jobs.
Things eventually got to the point where I dreaded logging into my phone to begin making calls. I counted down the minutes to each of my breaks, then to the end of the day to make the time pass by faster. I’d get the newspaper every morning to keep myself busy and distracted between each call. I sometimes even brought a book with me to work to ensure I had a way to de-stress and wind down between the really bad calls. I often went home in a bad mood and climbed straight into bed with a book or my laptop. I still remember my breaking point at that job, it was the day when the volume of calls that needed to be made was close to 600-something as the month was ending and I needed to reach my target. The stress and anxiety had really piled on that day as it was just one bad call after another for hours and hours. I actually had to stop working for a bit to stop crying when my anxiety escalated and had to bring myself down from an impending panic attack.
Flash forward a few months, a friend tells me about an exciting opportunity to work a contract job at a bank in IT support. It’s something totally different from my university degree and from past job experiences, but I jumped at the chance and immediately gave in my resume to be considered for the job. A couple more days of anxiously waiting and I had managed to secure an interview, and later on was offered the job at the bank. The minute I was hired, I gave in my resignation at the collections agency – there was no way I was staying there any longer than I had to. I couldn’t deal with the bad calls anymore, no matter how much my co-workers distracted me with their stories of what they were up to on the weekends.
Now, at my current job here in IT support, I find that I am happy to come in to work and excited at what new things I learn here. My co-workers are great people and I’ve created relationships that I know will last a long time. My mental health is a lot better, I no longer dread my work, and I’m happy to come in even on the craziest snow days (as much as I may complain about having to drive through the blizzards). I’m challenged in a healthy way here, and on average I make a lot less phone calls than I used to when I was in collections. It’s actually kind of funny, I really disliked talking on the phone and used to get major cold sweats when I needed to call someone, whether it was a friend or a pizza shop to place an order. My decision to even try working in collections was supposed to help me get over my fear of the phone, but it only made things worse. Now I’ve become a lot more confident and I don’t hate phone calls as much as I used to. I’ve even made some acquaintances over the phone with the technicians that I speak to on a daily basis.
In a nutshell, the moral of the story is that you need to find something that you enjoy doing so that you don’t go to work feeling like you want to shoot yourself. The work that you’re doing for 40 hours of the week is definitely going to have an impact on your emotional health, as will the people around you. I’m no longer going home grumpy, instead I’m going home excited for the next day. Despite my shifts being at odd hours, I still find myself relaxed and praying to all the Gods above that my contract here keeps getting extended. I feel like I really have a future in what I’m doing now, but I’m still young so who knows what the universe will throw at me in another few months!