Work Alienation: Role of Organization & Supervisor Support in Indian BPO Sector.

AuthorSrutismara, Prajna
PositionBusiness process outsourcing


India is an attractive destination for business process outsourcing (BPO). A trivial business in early part of this millennium, of late, the BPO sector is growing at an unparalleled rate (Sengupta, 2011). While, in 2002-03, revenues for the industry were about USD 1 billion (Sengupta, 2011), the figure stood at USD 28 billion in 2016-17 (NASSCOM, 2017). Further, it is estimated that by the year 2020, the BPO industry will be nearly worth USD 65 billion. With 38% share of the global sourcing market in its embrace, the industry employs more than a million people and the number is only expected to grow (NASSCOM, 2017). India's competitive advantage is ensured by an unbeatable amalgam of low costs, deep technical and language skills, mature vendors and supportive government policies (Bhatnagar, 2007).

However, the industry is afflicted with numerous challenges, with the biggest challenge being employee at trition (Bhatnagar, 2007; Sengupta, 2011). Hovering around 35% (Mishra, 2007), attrition is worrisome, as it can affect the very sustenance of BPO industry in India. Besides dip in customer satisfaction leading to premature termination of contracts (Budhwar, Luthar & Bhatnagar, 2006), it also causes a serious loss of talent (Mishra, 2007). The cost of training new recruits is estimated to range between USD 900-1000 per recruit (Budhwar et al., 2006) that defeats the low-cost model of the industry. Hence it is imperative that necessary interventions must be made to arrest the exit of valuable manpower. The problem of attrition is particularly acute among the entry-level employees (Bhatnagar, 2007; Budhwar et al., 2006). According to Bhatnagar (2007), sixty percent of the people joining the industry leave within 6 months. Further, she asserts that attrition reaches its peak after an employee is 12-16 months old. Whereas high attrition rate makes the replacement at entry level difficult, it also affects the availability of manpower at the middle management level (Budhwar et al., 2006).

Extant management literature has identified several factors determining employee turnover intention. For example, a meta-analytic study establishes that factors such as pay satisfaction, job satisfaction, satisfaction with supervision, satisfaction with co-workers, satisfaction with promotion, job performance and role clarity related negatively with turnover (Cotton & Tuttle, 1986). Further, studies specific to the Indian BPO sector suggest that employees leave because of better career opportunities outside India, monotonous and stressful work, lack of work-life balance, pursuit of higher studies, health-related reasons, attraction to better known companies, lack of career advancements, and lack of job security (Budhwar et al., 2006). However, scant research exists investigating the relationship between work alienation and employee turnover, especially in the BPO sector.

Thus, in this paper, we seek to examine the role of work alienation as a potential predictor of turnover intention. Further, we seek to investigate whether work alienation will mediate the relationship between organization support variables and turnover intention in the BPO sector. Additionally, in view of the gravity of the problem at the entry level, we chose early career professionals in the BPO sector as the study sample. The findings are along expected lines. Particularly, we found evidence for full mediation by work alienation between both organization support variables (perceived organization support and perceived supervisor support) and turnover intention. Thus, the study proposes a possible mechanism to control employee turnover in Indian BPO sector. Specifically, we suggest that organization support variables can help reduce withdrawal symptoms at the entry level. Therefore, our findings are likely to help develop relevant interventions and strategies to enrich work and work environment, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of the Indian BPO sector.

Perceived Organizational Support

Perceived organizational support (POS) refers to "employees' beliefs concerning the extent to which the organization values their contributions and cares about their well-being" (Eisenberger et al., 1986). Rhoades and Eisenberger (2002) suggest that POS is likely to lead to favorable outcomes for both employees and the organization. According to them while employees are likely to feel satisfied with job and experience positive mood, organizations are also likely to benefit from heightened commitment and performance levels as an outcome of POS. Further, POS may also lessen withdrawal behavior among employees (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). Such consequences have been anchored on the organizational support theory, which suggests that employee perceptions of organization's benevolent orientation are likely to create a felt obligation to reciprocate with increased effort and commitment (Rhoades et al., 2001).

Perceived Supervisor Support

The concept of perceived supervisor support (PSS) emerged as an offshoot of research on POS. It is understood as the extent to which the employees believe that their supervisor values their contribution and cares about their wellbeing (Eisenberger et al., 2002). There is evidence suggesting that PSS is significantly associated with employees' job-related attitudes and behaviors (Shanock & Eisenberger, 2006; DeConinck & Johnson, 2009). In fact, past research has also confirmed the role of PSS over and above POS (Eisenberger et al., 2002; Maertz et al., 2007). It is argued that since supervisors direct and evaluate subordinates' performance as agents of the organization, employees are likely to perceive supervisor's favorable orientation toward them as indicating organization's support (Eisenberger et al., 1986). Employees are therefore likely to reciprocate PSS positive work attitudes and behaviors toward both the supervisor and organization (Shanock & Eisenberger, 2006; Kuvaas & Dysvik, 2010).

Work Alienation

While the concept of alienation has generated considerable academic interest in domains such as theology, philosophy, sociology, psychiatry, and psychology, it has received little attention in organizational studies (Nair & Vohra, 2010). Work alienation (WA) is argued to characterize the degree to which a person is disengaged or estranged from the world of work (Hirschfeld & Feild, 2000; Sarros et al., 2002). It is the psychological state of separation from work, identified by disinterested and dispirited work performance which typically arises due to non-fulfillment of salient personal needs at work (Michaels et al., 1988). In summary, work alienation can be defined as "estrangement or disconnect from work, the context, or the self' (Nair & Vohra, 2012).

Turnover Intention

Taking a cue from organizations that place great emphasis on retention of worthy talent, researchers have devoted considerable attention to the construct of turnover intention (Tett & Meyer, 1993). Turnover indicates the actual quitting behavior. However, turnover intention is considered by scholars as the best predictor of actual turnover (e.g. Egan et al., 2004; Steel & Ovalle, 1984). The construct is defined as the conscious and deliberate willingness to leave the organization (Tett & Meyer, 1993). Meta-analytic studies suggest a multitude of factors that have been uncovered as possible predictors of turnover intention. They may include individual factors such as...

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