Suicide blamed on burnout — (The Melbourne Herald Sun)

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The Melbourne Herald Sun

John Masanauskas

April 04, 2007 12:00am

THE family of a young call centre worker wants to sue Telstra for allegedly contributing to her suicide.

Sally Sandic, 21, took her life in January after months of mounting pressure on staff at the Telstra facility in South Yarra.

Ms Sandic’s family and work colleagues have described how the once top salesperson with a vibrant personality was turned into a nervous wreck by unrealistic performance targets.

But Telstra allegedly rejected a plea from her psychiatrist to cut her working hours so she could get back on track.

While on stress leave, she was allegedly harassed by Telstra staff to return to work.

Ms Sandic’s grieving father, Nick, said yesterday that despite winning big sales awards, Sally had been abandoned by Telstra.

“I think the company is responsible for what happened to my daughter,” he said.

“If Telstra had been responsible she’d still be around. But they don’t care, it’s all about the dollar, they treat you like a machine.”

Family and friends noticed a dramatic change in her mood about a year ago when Telstra started to restructure the Como centre and raised performance targets by as much as 300 per cent.

A Telstra spokeswoman denied sales targets had been increased by this amount, but confirmed targets were reviewed regularly.

“We believe they are fair, reasonable and achievable — they are standard across the Telstra business,” she said.

The spokeswoman said Ms Sandic was offered help and support for personal problems, but she turned it down.

The Sandic family plans to sue Telstra over Sally’s death, with their main aim to stop the same thing happening to other employees.

Ms Sandic started working at the Como mobile phone call centre almost three years ago and quickly made her mark in sales.

She won the coveted Diamond Club award in 2004-05 for achieving annual sales of at least $1 million.

Julie Smith, a former Como worker, said Ms Sandic had been put under enormous pressure to meet sales targets where customer inquiries are converted into extra revenue for Telstra. “There was definitely a change in Sally that I saw and I kept talking to her about it and saying, ‘Look, you really have to leave this job’. ”

Another friend, who still works in the centre, said Ms Sandic had been an extremely high performer.

“She couldn’t understand that even though she was performing, they were asking her to do more,” the friend said.

“It got to her.”

Last September, Ms Sandic began seeing a psychiatrist who wrote to Telstra asking that Sally be given reduced hours.

“It was totally ignored, they just didn’t care,” Mr Sandic said.

Her mother, Sue, said Sally later took stress leave, but was constantly called by Telstra officers urging her to return.

Ms Sandic, who first attempted suicide late last year, resigned from Telstra on December 29.

She enrolled in a university course, but less than a month later killed herself.

She was on medication for depression, but did not use drugs or alcohol, her family said. Mr Sandic said Telstra showed no compassion about Sally’s death.

“Telstra wants to close its eyes as if it didn’t happen. I don’t understand their behaviour — there wasn’t even a phone call to us,” he said.

Mr Sandic said his family was considering legal action against the communications giant.

“It’s not the money, I’d just like Telstra to change their practices,” he said.

“I believe Sally would want that.”

Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union communications division state secretary Len Cooper said there was no doubt Telstra contributed to Ms Sandic’s death.

“The union will not rest until this is stopped and we demand proper guidelines to ensure targets are realistic,” Mr Cooper said.

A Telstra spokeswoman said the company was gravely concerned that the facts of the story that had been put to them did not fit their knowledge of the events.

Anyone with personal problems can call Lifeline on 131 114 or the Victorian Statewide Suicide Helpline on 1300 651 251.

Grieving: Nick and Sue Sandic don’t want their daughter’s death to pass in vain. Picture: David Caird