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Practical Tips to Tackle Absenteeism

Where have all the agents gone? ICMI offers practical tips for diagnosing – and curing – the absenteeism epidemic in your contact center.

It's [insert shift start time here], do you know where your agents are? If you answered, "not in their seats!" you're not alone. Absenteeism is an epidemic that plagues a vast number of contact centers. When ICMI polled our readers on the top agent issues, absenteeism ranked number one.

What can we do? A case of severe absenteeism can directly affect your service level, potentially costing the contact center valuable revenue and customer loyalty. I asked ICMI's team of Certified Associates for their practical and proven tips on how to remedy the situation. Senior Consultant Rose Polchin notes that as supervisors, managers and executives, we need to do more than "just treating the symptoms" of absenteeism. We need to dig deeper into the cause to find the cure for this chronic epidemic!

Related ICMI Training:

ICMI's Contact Center Staffing Absenteeism and Adherence
Through this virtual classroom course, you’ll learn how to keep absenteeism and poor adherence from sabotaging service levels, despite your best forecasting and scheduling.

Calculate Before You Schedule

Have you reviewed your center’s forecasting plans and policies lately? Are your schedules balanced and shrinkage accounted for? Certified Associate Jean Bave Kerwin points out that chronic absenteeism could be a sign that you center is understaffed. If that seems seem counter-intuitive, consider the logic behind it: when fewer agents are available to handle customer interactions, those agents are subject to higher stress levels, which – if experienced on a regular basis - may result in absences due to stress-induced illness or just plain frustration.

Prior to creating your staff schedules, it is important to make sure that you are properly calculating your Rostered staff factor (RSF). In the article Where is Everbody? How to Accurately Predict Schedule Shrinkage, Senior Advisor Brad Cleveland defines RSF (a.k.a Overlay, Shrink Factor or Shrinkage) as "a numerical factor that leads to the minimum staff needed on schedule over and above base staff required to achieve your service level and response time objectives." As noted in the article, this form of forecasting looks at the current state of the contact center and assumes staff absences proportionately. For example, Cleveland explains that if you have a group of 10 agents and one goes on break, then you can assume 10 agents will be on break in a group of 100.)

Cleveland also recommends that breaks and absenteeism, both planned and unplanned, are always included in your center’s RSF calculations. He also points out that while the terms RSF and shrinkage are often used interchangeably, you need to be aware of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between the two types of calculations. If you mistakenly apply shrinkage in place of what should be RSF, you might end up with too few scheduled agents. However, Cleveland writes, "When used correctly and in the right context, both lead to the same answer."

Once your RSF is calculated, your staffing requirements should be accurate for all times of day. The next step would be to identify scheduling alternatives so that you can organize a schedule that will fit both the needs of your contact center and your agents. There are many staffing and scheduling tools available, including ICMI's QueueView software.

Also, when organizing your center's schedule, it’s a good idea to consider (and approve!) your agent's time-off requests.

Cultivate Your Center's Culture

What’s it like to be an agent in your contact center? Try and put yourself in their shoes. Are you able to take time off when you need to, or are there penalties? Also, as an agent, are you fully aware of these policies?

Several of ICMI's associates suggest making absenteeism, and all relevant policies and contact enter goals, a part of your agent’s experience day one. Emphasize the importance of attendance and "presence" throughout your new hire training and on-boarding processes. Then, continue to emphasize this throughout regular agent coaching and training. Keeping your agents knowledgeable and informed will help them to appreciate and uphold these goals throughout their tenure. This should go for supervisors, as well.

It's also important to keep the overall "mood" in your contact center fundamentally positive. Negativity, including poorly planned schedules, unreasonable policies and bad attitudes from colleagues (including supervisors) can contribute to agent stress and frustration. If tensions in your center tend to be high, you’re more likely to see many sick, tired and absent agents. ICMI's associates also agree that supervisors need to be accessible and ready to help their staff in the best way that they can. If you’re a supervisor or manager, try to take time on a weekly or monthly basis to note your agents' well-being. Do they seem over-tired and/or stressed? (See our Stress Management blog series for how to keep stress at bay).

And again, make sure to approve time off! I don't want to sound like a broken record, but many contact centers are hesitant to let their agents "go" so they won't miss out on maintaining service level goals. But, if properly planned for, this should not be a major issue.

Keep Your Agents Happy

Engagement (or lack thereof) is another cause of absenteeism. If your agents aren’t excited to be at work, then they won’t be at work. Certified Associate Laura Grimes notes that most wide-scale attendance and adherence issues result from employee disengagement, and she encourages contact center management to take charge of the problem.

Certified Associate Cheryl Helm agrees, saying "An organization that cares about its employees and knows the costs associated to losing them, cannot ever let their guard down and assume because people are not moving that they are satisfied and willing to stay in their current employment." The key here is to create an environment that encourages agents to enjoy coming into work.

There are so many opportunities or engaging your agents – and for making satisfaction a priority.

Find and Maintain a Balance

It's also a good idea to find the right balance of scheduling, people and processes that works for your center. (We've already touched on what could happen if you overwhelm your agents with adherence rules and regulations.)

Has your contact center dealt with the absenteeism? Are you working through it now? Share you progress, setbacks and achievements with us here!

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.