By Ken Ng

The typical Contact Center is ridden by daily challenges; service levels, call accuracy, service quality etc, etc. But by far the most challenging currently is the mystery of adherence compliance or simply called absenteeism. By you reading this article, I’m assuming you are a Contact Center professional either in a managerial position wanting to discover more on this seemingly insurmountable challenge; or you are an agent curious to what it is that leads you to making that phone call in the morning to your team leader to call in sick (legitimate or not).

The causes of absenteeism are plenty if you look at it from the agents’ perspective of excuses: food poisoning lost my voice, car broke down, alarm didn’t go off, my cat died and the list just goes on. However, I believe the major issues of absenteeism fall under the areas of People & Process and I am happy to report the solutions are within the Contact Center manager’s span of control.

Absenteeism can be divided into 5 main issues and these issues, for the sake of simplicity I would like to elaborate it in the ever popular vowel sequence of A, E, I, O and U.

A ccuracy – The accuracy of Forecasting and Scheduling* is imperative in any high performing contact center. The devastating effects of inaccurate forecasting and scheduling have far-reaching effects beyond the inability to accommodate inbound call volumes. I have seen too many Contact Centers without proper forecasting and scheduling practices indirectly affected by adherence issues. The link? Agent morale and stress levels. Without a proper forecasting and scheduling mechanism in place, agents are at the mercy of unpredictable onslaught of calls because there just aren’t enough agents to handle the volumes. This inevitably leads to increased stress levels that takes it toll on even our ‘super agents’. An agent walking in to a Contact Center bearing the scars of previous experiences like these may decide to not even walk in at all.

E mergency Leave – Easily one of the most common curses in any Contact Center. The recurring issue of agents employing ‘Emergency Leave’ as a reason to not show up for work afflicts 90% of all Contact Centers. The solution to this issue lies in the heart of the performance management process. In almost all Contact Centers afflicted with “emergency-leave-asitis”, this leave of absence allowance is not well defined in employee handbooks leaving loopholes for agents to exploit. The emergency leave should be defined as: “Leave of absence resulting from physical incapacitation where one is unable to perform his/her responsibilities as described in his/her job description OR death in one’s immediate family (mother, father or sibling) with official documentation and line manager must be informed no later than 2 hours prior to your scheduled time of duty” To add or provide further reasons to this definition is equivalent to committing adherence suicide for your Contact Center. Hold firm or lose a firm hold on performance.

I” – As in “I have no say in my work schedule.” One of the most common gripes of agents is that they are not provided with any say in when they work. This leads to dissatisfaction in work schedules and endless griping. The solution? Operations analysts or managers who prepare work schedules should be knowledgeable of incoming call patterns where they base their forecasting subsequently deciding on manning patterns ahead of time*. Working on this assumption, blank schedules with the desired time slots allocated can be distributed or made available to agents where they are able to fill in the time slots themselves. With some planning and experimentation, this is one of the most emancipating practices of Contact Centers for the agents. I have seen Contact Center agent schedules manage itself (and agents manage themselves) just by implementing this practice. It creates a whole new environment of trust and empowerment that is appreciated by agents and reciprocated with excellent schedule adherence levels.

O pportunity – Creating opportunities for reward and recognition on perfect and immaculate attendance is a topic of great debate in the Contact Center industry. There are two sides to the argument of rewarding agents for their adherence to schedule. On the one hand, management expects employees to be at work at ALL times. This, by any understanding is the expectation and agreement when an individual accepts a position with an organization for employment. On the other end of the argument, the industry is plagued with such rampant absenteeism (due to the high levels of intensity agents have to continuously endure) that it has become a major operational issue for Contact Centers. Reward and recognition programs for adherence can be introduced during the initial stages of eradicating the behavior of absenteeism. Performed in stages, delicately reducing rewards as stability is attained over a pre-decided period of time can be highly effective in encouraging positive adherence behavior; rewards and recognition can be ceased ultimately when a culture of adherence discipline is achieved.

U npunished – As individuals responsible for the overall performance of the Contact Center and deep in the thicket of daily operations, we recognize that PEOPLE are our most important asset. We are also left with the unenviable task of having to juggle the delicate balance of discipline and relationship with our agents. Absenteeism can and sometimes hesitantly goes unpunished. We often fall victim to the relationship conundrum we have with our agents. Often perceived as a “Catch-22” situation where we feel agents come to work because of the relationship we have with them; alternately this relationship is threatened when we take action against these very same agents who are the perpetrators of absenteeism. Not taking action or not punishing has far more devastating repercussions, and we know this. Steeling ourselves to the task of reprimanding agents and conducting consistent coaching sessions can alleviate some of the pressures of disciplinary action. Setting the expectations of the calling floor has far-reaching benefits that establish a sense of consistency in Contact Center leadership.

How do you tackle the issue of absenteeism in your Contact Center? Share your experience with the industry. You can email me at [email protected]

Ken Ng
CEO/Senior Managing Consultant