Insurance companies have been warned that they need to take a more enlightened approach to staff management or see unrest develop in their call centres.

Call centres are becoming increasingly unionised "hotbeds of dissent", according to management consultants Hay McBer. It says misguided attempts to boost customer service are at the root of the problem.

"The issues are not truly around pay but rather in the emotional reward that staff are receiving from their work and consequently in any feeling of partnership with their employers beyond the terms of their contract," said Hay McBer's Jane Phillipson last week at a conference on call centres.

She added: "The constant pressure to achieve a certain call rate leads to demotivation and real potential for stress. If call centre workers are to feel fulfilled by their work, they have to be accountable, which in turn means they have to have some degree of freedom of action."