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Hartlepool, Teeside. Garlands Call Centres, the North East's
largest outsourced multi-channel contact centre operator, announces a
revolutionary staff motivational and training initiative that it believes is
the first of its kind in the UK. Known as the 'Touch' Programme, it is
already proving its worth with Garlands' annual staff attrition and
absenteeism rates now considerably lower than UK call centre industry
averages, standing at five percent and under four percent respectively
(against industry averages of twenty two percent* and six percent**).

'Touch' came about as a response to the number of employees taking occasional sickness days. A study (see editor's note) into the root causes
discovered that many of these sickness days were due to non-work issues such
as staff suffering stress at home. For instance, some employees were looking after sick relatives, supporting family members with problems or experiencing marriage difficulties.

There are several elements to the 'Touch' Programme but at its heart its holistic approach gives employees time during work hours to gain
life-enhancing experiences to help their development - and equip them to
better deal with and manage social or emotional issues that may affect them
at home.

For instance, the Programme includes:

- placements with local schools where Garlands staff help improve
their own coaching competency through acting as reading mentors to children
and working with teachers on projects (such as mocking up 'real' business
projects for sixth formers to tackle)

- providing IT training to local schools, colleges and other groups

- staff working with local community action groups

- awareness training to deal effectively with social or emotional

"We wanted to help our staff by giving them and their colleagues the
opportunity to acquire relevant skills to deal with their situations and
give them someone to talk to as a facilitator in order to get specialist
help. This could be pointing the way toward medical help, social benefits
for carers or support groups," explained Chey Garland, CEO of Garlands Call

Frequent sickness absence is a problem in most companies and is a major
capital cost for any business. Rather than coming up with a 'quick fix'
solution to the problem Garlands, which employs 1,300 people, has empowered
its staff to deal with these issues. Employees have reacted very positively
and are generally more motivated.

Motivation plays a key part in Garlands Call Centres ethos and staff are
regularly given incentives and rewarded for good work. However, Chey Garland believes these incentives are not always appropriate for those
experiencing major problems outside of work and rarely improve the
performance of those who may have serious domestic issues affecting the
enjoyment of and ability at work.

She comments, "Offering tokenistic incentives such as gift vouchers, as
typically happens in companies, wouldn't motivate me if I was going home to deal with a teenager with a drug problem or a spouse who drinks heavily. Some incentives seem so trivial. But 'Touch' has been designed to give people real skills and experiences to help them tackle problems at home and around them, build confidence and develop communications skills."

Improving skills such as general communication, listening, public speaking, project management, presentation, coaching and mentoring gives staff a general confidence boost which also encourages them to take a more active role in the workplace. The result is that Garlands Call Centres has a team of highly skilled people with relevant experiences that can be passed on to their business partners and partners' customers.

The initiative has received a significant amount of support from the local council. Brian Dinsdale, Chief Executive of Hartlepool Council, said:
"Garlands has had an important impact on Hartlepool's economy and has played
an equally important role in helping to cut unemployment in the town. Staff
play a vital part in the future of any company or organisation, and I am
very pleased to see Garlands taking this approach."

Chey Garland has now been sought out by many organisations to share her
motivational and employee care strategies and is hoping other employers will invest more time and money into new ways to promote employee welfare.

Just as 'Dress Down Fridays' have become a welcome boost to staff morale in many large companies around the globe, it's hoped that this type of employee welfare will also become an established part of the working week.

* Source: Income Data Services 'Pay and Conditions in Call Centres 2001'

** Source: Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) estimate

- Ends -

Note to editors

The sickness focus initiative was carried out recently to establish why many employees were taking occasional days off sick. Employees were asked to be truthful about their reasons for sickness days and were given assurances that no disciplinary action would be taken. Rather than reprimanding staff
Garlands Call Centres wanted to address the problem at the root and find out
why people felt it necessary to take random sick days and so find a working
solution to the problem.

About Garlands

Established in 1997, Garlands Call Centres is the North East's largest
outsourced multi-channel contact centre operator with 1300 agents. Garlands
has a blue chip client list that includes leading businesses in the telecoms (mobile and fixed), utilities and financial services industries.

The company handles both in and outbound customer contacts via phone, email and the Web for customer retention, cross selling, upselling, customer service, customer acquisition, credit management and customer lifecycle

Garlands is passionate about its people, believing that people are key to
providing the best customer service. The company provides comprehensive and
innovative programmes with a holistic focus to develop the skills of its
staff - programmes that extend beyond the call centre and into the local

Garlands Call Centres was recognised for the second year running at the
European Call Centre Awards, winning a Certificate of Excellence in 2001 and
a Bronze award in 2000 for 'Best Outsourced Contact Centre'. The company
was also named Tees Valley 'Service Company of the Year' in 2000 with its
CEO, Chey Garland, named Tees Valley 'Business Executive of the Year' in both 1999 and 2001.

For further media information, please contact:

Adrienne Routledge/ Michael Gray
Gray Associates Tel: 020 8744 9168

Pictures available upon request

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