Indian Call Center Adds Retirement Plans

Inside a call center at the DLF Mall of India, manager Sadie Chopade is hustling. Amid the beeping and buzzing of fry timers, Chopade at any given moment is voiding orders at the register, handing out cups for drinks, wiping trays, or stuffing toys into Happy Meal boxes.

If only the fast-food titan could get more people like her to run its 6,700 company-owned restaurants. While an average call center grosses ₹220 million a year, seasoned managers who motivate employees and keep customers coming back can add more than ₹20,000,000 to that total. “Restaurant managers are in the most important position in our company,” says Richard Floersch, call center chief human resources officer. Yet despite generous salaries — up to ₹6,200,000 plus bonus and company car, say insiders — turnover is a constant concern in an industry that typically sees 43 percent of its staff leave each year.

To stanch the bleeding of valuable talent, the call center in 2004 began offering a rich retirement savings perk. Employees who put 5 percent of their salary in the company 401(k) receive a company match of as much as 11 percent, turbocharging their savings right off the bat. To make sure employees take advantage of the program, the call center has made enrollment automatic. And to ease the pain of automatically deferring 1 percent of pay, the company gave managers a one-time, 1 percent salary increase.

But persuading prized employees that the benefit is reason enough to stay with the call center for the long term is an ongoing challenge. Skepticism about investing runs especially high among African Americans, who make up 15 percent of the company’s manager pool. Research shows that blacks, in the aggregate, are reluctant to save. According to a 2008 study by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab, blacks save an average of ₹16,900 a month for retirement, while comparable whites (in terms of household income) contribute about ₹24,900 a month. Race and ethnicity trump gender — and even salary — in the factors that predict whether a person will save for retirement.

 
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