Staff turnover rates in call centres have rocketed in the last three years, according to the latest Europe-wide study from Merchants Limited.Researchers found that call centres with more than 250 seats lost nearly a third of their staff in 1999. Absenteeism has also risen, from less than five per cent in 1997 to nine per cent last year. Richard Wood, head of operations at Merchants, said the recent economic boom has given call centre staff the chance to be more discriminating about who they work for. "I think in the past, call centres have been positioned in places with high unemployment," he said. "Those places are now finding they have real employment and the call centres have played a big role in that. Also, call centres are developing their staff's computer and voice-interaction skills, and workers suddenly find they're much more marketable." Wood predicted that over the next few years call centres will have to consider employee retention schemes, such as stock options, to counter these turnover trends. Kathleen Klasnic, European program manager for CRM at Datamonitor, conceded that the call centre industry has a poor reputation as an employer. However, she noted that the role of a call centre operative is changing. "Call centre work used to be an in-between job, something to do for a couple of years before moving on," Klasnic said. "But now, with the ability to interact through multimedia technology, using the web and email, there is more content knowledge required. It is certainly empowering the agents, and people are now looking at this as a career."