Some Thoughts on Agent Motivation and Retention
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Some Thoughts on Agent Motivation and Retention

In a recent employee survey conducted by Manpower, they discovered that 84% of respondents plan to seek employment elsewhere in 2011. Two of the main reasons for leaving were lack of satisfaction with their direct manager and with the company culture. As the economy begins to loosen, and we see a rise in jobs, how do we retain our best employees? What can we do to motivate people to stay?

Considering the answers to the above-mentioned survey, it’s clear that a company’s culture is a strong consideration in any employee retention strategy.

An organization's culture does not necessarily reflect the espoused list of values developed at an offsite meeting by the executive team and framed on the wall in the lobby. These are ideals. The culture we “claim” (vision, mission, values), may not be the true culture of the organization. It’s the organization’s DNA.

In reality, what management pays attention to and rewards is often the strongest indicator of the organization's culture. This is often quite different than the values it verbalizes or the ideals it strives for. Culture comprises the deeply rooted, but often unconscious, beliefs, values and norms shared by the members of the organization.

This means that employee engagement is crucial to the organization’s success.

What most organizations fail to realize is the impact of employee satisfaction on their customers. The Corporate Leadership Council conducted a study in which they discovered that those employees who are most committed perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. Additionally, for every 1% increase in employee satisfaction, an organization gains a 2% increase in customer satisfaction. The ramifications of this are huge to a company looking to grow in today’s market.

This is not to say companies don’t try. They just don’t know what to target. Many call centers try the carrot-and-stick approach (bonuses, contests, pizza parties, et al) and those don’t work very well.

Motivation is intrinsic. As Stephen Covey eloquently puts it, “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”

For example, children in a small town were given points for every book they checked out of the local library during the summer vacation. The points could be redeemed for a free pizza, in an attempt to encourage reading. The children in the program did indeed read more books than other children. But after the program ended, when reading no longer paid off in pizza, those children read far fewer books than others. Their own intrinsic desire to read books had been subsumed by the extrinsic reward, and when the pizza went away, so did the motivation.

Another example: Heart patients who’ve had double or quadruple bypass operations face a very simple choice: They must stop eating unhealthy food, smoking, drinking and working too much or they die.

Death is the ultimate negative motivation, carrying the greatest penalty for non-compliance. Yet, two years after the operation, only 10% of these heart patients managed to stick to their new habits. This is pretty strong evidence that negative motivation does not work.

One doctor, Dean Ornish, created a program where heart patients were instead taught to appreciate life (rather than fear death). They practiced yoga, meditated, received counseling, maintained a healthy diet, all aimed at making them enjoy life more. The result: 2 years later, 70% of the patients maintained their new lifestyles.

Motivation must come from within and be fostered by management in order to achieve success. Some ways to accomplish this:

  • Create a framework from which to create, develop and maintain your culture strategy
  • Survey your employees-what do THEY think about the culture here?
  • Lead by example
  • Ensure trust through honesty, availability, consistency, fairness and clear direction
  • Give purpose and respect to each employee
  • Capitalize on employee development opportunities

Want more information? See ICMI’s virtual classroom courses Contact Center Staffing: Escaping the Costly Cycle of Turnover and Contact Center Culture: Motivation Through Collaboration (also available in On Demand format).

Topics: People Management, Culture & Morale, Learning & Development


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Linda Riggs — 12:16PM on Sep 13, 2011

I'd love to hear from companies who are utilizing creative incentive strategies and alternative motivation models. What does your center do?


Does your contact center have a policy regarding allowing agents who wish to apply for internal company positions outside the contact center?

No, we don’t have a formal policy
Yes, agents must work in the contact center for at least 1 year before applying for other positions
Yes, agents must work in the contact center for at least 6 months before applying for other positions
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