Featured Image for the blog: The Future Will Be Defined by Choice – Part I: Fractional Employment in the Contact Center

by Michael Becker

Fractional employment will become an innovative new idea for contact centers of the future, particularly with regard to the role it might play in agent satisfaction. Here’s why.

Choice. A paradigm that permeates every area our lives, including our employment.

I still remember how my grandparents used to tell me how their generation would work for the same company from the time they were old enough or qualified to work until they retired. It was the norm, not the exception.

That sort of thing is anything but common today.

The ideas of flexibility and being able to work where you want when you want is appealing for today’s society as a whole.

In fact, people only stay at the same job today for 2 to 4 years on average.

Some jobs require only short-term consultants or employees with a specific skillset for a defined period of time.

Maybe a company needs to cut costs and has to let employees go.

Or, perhaps most commonly, people just grow stale and want to get out – whether to explore new challenges, broaden their skillset, or find a new niche.

Loyalty to a company has been thrown out the door and replaced with another mindset: I give you my time, and you give me a check.

Fractional employment is a new concept that could start to fix this problem.
What is fractional employment?

Today’s most innovative and progressive companies are starting to gently shift their mentality.
Instead of forcing employees to stay long hours for years and years, companies are slowing changing the perception of what it means to work happily. They’re embracing a work-life balance, shorter work hours, and placing focus on results and not time served.

The idea of fractional employment has existed for years, but is quickly gaining popularity among companies – especially small and medium-sized businesses – and employees.

Fractional employment is a model whereby employees work part-time for several different employers during the week.

The difference between fractional employment and part-time or contract labor is that fractional employment typically does not represent project-based or interim work. Employees would likely perform the same kind of work as full-time employees, just on an abbreviated schedule.

Innovation speaker and workshop leader Braden Kelley sums up this philosophy perfectly:

“Successful organizations of the future will possess more porous boundaries, becoming less like castles keeping everything inside their walls and more like atoms, freely combining with other atoms to form the molecules the market requires just-in-time.”

Where does fractional employment occur?
The roots of fractional employment trace back to the world of academia and finance, but it has since grown into a philosophy embraced by a number of industries.
It’s typically seen most often today in marketing or services agencies that perform work for clients. But it’s application isn’t limited to these kinds of companies. Any company can use fractional workers.

So, what might a fractional employee’s schedule look like, you ask?

A fractional employee might work, for instance, at two different employers for two days per week, and a third another day. Similar to contract or freelance work, employees can sell pieces of their time and skills to different companies and have a say in their own workload with them.

Ron Jamieson wrote about a company he worked for which adopted fractional employment.

He worked for a manufacturer which was small in terms of both headcount and revenue. It sold capital goods to customers.

The company needed a dedicated person to manage all aspects of finance – purchasing, buying, payroll, budget reports and more. It needed someone whose skills extended beyond that of a bookkeeper but didn’t need a commitment of 40 hours a week.

The company ultimately hired a retired financial pro who wanted to get back into the game – but wanted to scale back hours. The company got the quality labor it needed, while the employee saw increased success and satisfaction because he got exactly what he desired.
Why fractional employment?

Central to the model of fractional employment is the notion that passion and purpose are crucial to unlocking success in the workplace.
This underlying philosophy behind the idea of fractional employment could change how we look at work.

If people are happy to come to work for a place that does not demand their undivided attention for 40-60 hours per week, it’s easy to see how personal fulfillment, productivity, loyalty, length of employment, and dedication could actually increase.

Fractional Employment in the Contact Center

So for employers, the main benefit is happier employees.

For employees, fractional employment is one way to alleviate the monotony and dullness that may come with a 40+ hour work week with one employer.

Fractional employment is advantageous for employees who:

  • Want to control their own schedule or avoid working at one job full-time
  • Prefer to work on various, less time-consuming tasks
  • Want to dial in and focus on a specific skillset
  • Aren’t necessarily working for income – or who don’t need a full-time salary from one source
  • Actually want to work for a certain company out of allegiance to that brand; a love for that brand’s products; or a desire to learn a new skill or work for a new company

Fractional employment reduces “wear and tear,” allowing both people and the businesses they work for to “compromise” in terms of commitment.

It also lets people work for companies they actually want to work for – even if only for 10 or 15 hours per week. The fractional employee likely still works a full week, just at different companies.

This paradigm shift is monumental. People can work for a company because they want to, not because they need to. In an industry with as much turnover as call centers, this mentality could be a game changer.
Why would fractional employment be so big for contact centers?

Two of the most prevalent – and interrelated – issues plaguing contact centers today are agent dissatisfaction and turnover.
Fractional employment has the potential to help solve both of these.

A fragmented work schedule for customer service reps and call center agents is one solution to possibly help alleviate workers’ displeasure. And most of them are very, very unhappy as is. How come?

On average, jobs in call centers generally offer relatively low wages, especially to telephone representatives.

Most customer service reps are fairly young and use a call center job as a way to make a quick buck then earn a job in a more lucrative field.

Additionally, most contact centers have just grown to expect new hires to quit shortly after they begin, leading to sour morale and subpar customer service.

This combination of unhappiness with poor performance keeps turnover rates through the roof.

In fact, the turnover rate for U.S. call centers has remained pretty consistent, hovering around 33% the past few years. Of the third that leave, about 60% voluntarily quit. The problem is especially rampant among today’s young workforce. Most millennials hang around their call center job for about a year:

Attrition kills call centers, too. According to Quality Assurance and Training Connection, replacing one frontline agent can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $12,000.

Let’s call it for what it is – working in a call center kind of stinks.

Dennis Adsit, Ph.D. captured this sentiment:

“It’s really hard to talk on the phone all day. Think about how tiring one long conference call is. Are yellow smiley balloons tied to an agent’s cube going to make her less tired at the end of the day? Many call center jobs are boring. We had a Telco client whose agents were taking 70+ cell phone calls a day. [Most] calls are exactly the same…same questions, same disclosures, same cross-sells. Do you think picking songs for the supervisors to sing is going to make that job less boring? How about a variable comp plan that allows you to earn a couple bucks more per hour? Many of these jobs are stressful, too.”

Fractional employment could be the eventual answer to changing these kinds of issues threatening agent satisfaction, contact center productivity, and turnover.

Imagine, as a customer service rep, having a choice. Imagine being able to not only pick which company you wanted to work for but how often you wanted to work.

Imagine getting paid to work for a company you wanted to work for because your values were aligned or because you know, use and love their products – and want to be a resource to help others.

Imagine working in an environment you love, not that you despise.

Fractional employment has the capability to offer that kind of benefit for businesses that recognize its value.

As of today, this model has generally not been implemented or experimented with at scale in the customer service industry. But for organizations plagued and decimated by lackluster service levels and agent turnover, why not shift mentality?

Why not focus on agent satisfaction as much as customer satisfaction? After all, you need happy reps to make happy customers. Fractional employment is one strategy to remedy this problem. It will be interesting to see how companies start to leverage this kind of workforce management strategy going forward.
This post is the first in a two-part series around the idea of “choice.” Stay on the lookout for PT. II where we’ll dive into choice from a customer-centric standpoint.