Up your workplace engagement to decrease absenteeism

Don’t Allow for Absenteeism in your Contact Center any Longer: Six Strategies for Better Workplace Engagement

It only takes one late agent or a few no-shows for your contact center to go haywire. Phones are ringing constantly. Your inbox is full. Live chat and phone queues are getting longer and longer. When your agents answer, customers are already annoyed because they had to wait so long. And, you’ve only got two agents in their seats taking requests.

When you have consistently late or absent employees, resentment builds between agents. Passive aggression and dirty looks get passed around to the agents with poor attendance. What if an employee comes running in 15 minutes late on the regular? Or she doesn’t show up for a shift change at all? The agent on duty might have kids to pick up from school or a doctor’s appointment to make. Then, you have a disgruntled worker flying out the door to keep her prior commitment, and your contact center falls behind because you’re understaffed. Absenteeism leads to long queues of on-hold customers, a drop in agent performance, and oftentimes, a mess for management.

Though every industry struggles with absent employees, it’s a particular issue in contact centers. Some surveys show that the average number of sick days taken per year per person in a call center was roughly 8.2 days  Compare that to an estimated 7.4 days for other industries. Oh, and 40 percent of surveyed agents acknowledged that they used 45 percent of their sick time for things other than illness.

Employee absenteeism can be difficult to address once it becomes a habit by your team. Kick the behavior before it becomes a habit to maintain a strong team full of reliable employees who show up for their shifts. Use these six strategies to decrease absenteeism by building your workplace engagement.

Practical First Steps

1. Review your old policies.

There are a ton of reasons why you have issues with lateness and no-shows on your staff. To lower absenteeism, reckon with this and admit it can’t be fixed with surface solutions, and it can’t be ignored.

Take a step back and review all your existing policies. What are your current standards or consequences for absent employees? Are your policies up-to-date and are they understood? Maybe you’re being a bit too unrealistic and strict on schedule adherence and your agents can’t meet expectations. You need to know where you’re coming from when you’re setting a new path for attendance in your contact center.

2. Have a clear attendance policy.

Clarity is key when you create an attendance policy (or any policy for that matter). It should seem straightforward, right? Show up to work on time, as scheduled. But the reality of tracking and fixing absenteeism can get complicated. With your wide variety of responsibilities, it’s tough to also make sure that every agent walks in the door and hops on their desktop at the start of their shift time. The individual time-off requests of your agents can be easy to forget. When you set clear policies and have a standard, there aren’t any gray areas for your expectations on agents. And, there can be better accountability throughout your whole team.

Consider simplicity when setting your standards. Introduce your team to clear reporting structures, so your employees understand what absences are excused and which aren’t. What are the guidelines for short-term and long-term illness leave, or maternity, paternity, or unpaid leave?

Build a policy that allows for outside-of-the-box situations. You might have employees who need to leave to pick up a sick child at school. Or, what do you do when they show up an hour late because they had car issues on their way to work? Draw lines where it makes sense for your team, and be clear with your employees right when you hire them about how your company deals with absence or tardiness. Then, hold your agents accountable. It’s up to you to enforce your policy and make sure it’s followed. Setting clear standards shows your agents that you’re serious about attendance and that their time is valuable to the rest of the team and your organizational goals.

3. Offer incentives tied to attendance.

Help your employees care more about their attendance by tying incentives to attendance. This isn’t everything, and often is perceived as a surface-level solution. But, incentivizing your employees to come to work on time is one of the easiest first steps to decreasing absenteeism.

Employees who are consistently late or don’t come in shouldn’t receive the same benefits as those who do, even if their performance is strong otherwise. Convergys found that short and long-term incentives tailored with good attendance helps get results.

If you have short-term, smaller rewards for employees who have a particular issue with attendance, you encourage improvement incrementally. There are a lot of ways to get creative with incentives.

You can use typical prizes like movie tickets or a gift card.  But, one incredibly effective incentive is offering up a paid or even unpaid day off, or allowing your agent to work remotely for a day. Let your most consistent employees leave a couple of hours early on Fridays. Offer brown-bag lunch sessions with management as a form of recognition.

Even better, though, is an act of service from managers. ICMI reports that at KeyBank, agents with perfect attendance for the previous six months are invited to attend a quarterly ice cream social. The chance to have managers make sundaes and wait on them has proven to be more effective among agents than monetary incentives to improve attendance. Tailor your rewards to what’s meaningful to your agents.

Rewarding consistent attendance is one of the simplest ways to decrease absenteeism and encourage your agents to respect your policies.

Build a Healthy Environment

4. Combat stress.

Contact centers can be incredibly stressful work environments. There are high standards for performance and constant positivity, the work can feel monotonous, and customers are often hard on your agents. If your contact center’s environment is stressful and intense, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that attendance is an issue.

Build up and empower your agents to deliver quality service. Your employees want to come to work when work is a pleasant place to be. It’s important to build time into the workday for your agents to combat the stress of the job. They may need to take a deep breath and walk a lap around the office to get back on the grind. Or, they might need an extra 15 minutes on a break to vent frustrations. That’s ok! Make your workplace a happier one and your agents are more likely to be on time and ready to work hard.

We even have some good tips on where to start with workplace happiness in our recent post!

Don’t Ignore the Power of Scheduling

5. Create employee schedules in advance.

Part of keeping your agents engaged and attending work comes with how you communicate expectations. It’s your responsibility to create schedules ahead of time, so your employees have sufficient time to make accommodations for the week. Acknowledge that your employees have lives outside of work that require a lot of planning, and respect their time off the clock. Whether your agents are on or off the clock, they are valuable to your company’s growth. Show them their time matters to the business by planning ahead.

Arranging childcare or transportation last minute is a challenge. One employee shares a car with her spouse and her husband needs the car for the day. When a shift change happens, she’s stuck now with an Uber charge that wasn’t planned. What about your agents who had planned to be home with kids in the morning. A last minute schedule may mean they’re begging and bribing friends and family to cart around their kids through their shift. (That’ll make for a stress-free shift and awesome customer interactions, don’t you think? No? No.)

Your agents need to know far in advance how to manage their time to have a sufficient work-life balance. Workplace engagement strengthens if you can think three steps ahead of the present. Stay organized, so you can plan schedules that are convenient for your individual agents’ lifestyles.

6. Allow for flexible schedules.

Reduce agent absenteeism by implementing flexible schedules for your team.

Invite your agents to create their ideal work schedule and make requests about what time of day they prefer to work a shift. Maybe you have agents who love early mornings and are alert and content getting to work first thing. If you put a night owl agent on all the early morning shifts, it’s likely they’ll have a hard time getting in on time, and they may not be ready to work effectively even if they are on time.

Allow for shift swapping. Have grace on your agents who need a bit more flexibility in their life outside of work. While adhering to your attendance policy is important, remember that your agents are people, not machines. They sometimes sleep through an alarm. Or traffic was awful and their tardiness was out of their control. Be a gracious manager who allows for slips, and work with your agents on an individual level towards consistent attendance.

It’s important to know your team when it comes to attendance and absenteeism. Build a schedule that plays to their strengths and conveniences their time. If employees see that you’re considering them and they have a voice in the process, they come to work ready to give their time and energy.

Need other help with developing an engaged contact center? Check out these other ways you can build better workplace engagement.