Featured Image for the blog: 6 Strategies for Better Workplace Engagement & Lower Agent Absenteeism

Agent absenteeism leads to long queues of on-hold customers, a drop in agent performance, and oftentimes, a mess for management. What’s more? Employee absenteeism can be difficult to address once it becomes a habit for 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.

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 get longer and longer. By the time 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.

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When you have consistently late or absent employees, resentment builds among your team members. Passive aggression takes hold in chats between your remote team members, and dirty looks get passed around to the agents with poor attendance in the office. What if an employee runs 15 minutes late on the regular? Or she doesn’t log in 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 trying to keep her prior commitment, and your customers can’t get help because you’re understaffed.

Address absenteeism before it eats away at your workplace engagement and your customers’ experience. Use these strategies to decrease absenteeism in your call center.

Practical First Steps to Improve Agent Absenteeism & Workplace Engagement

1. Review your old policies.

There are tons of reasons you have issues with late agents and no-shows in your call center. To lower absenteeism, reckon with this and admit you can’t fix absenteeism with surface solutions. And you can’t ignore it, either.

Improve workplace engagement with clear policies

Take a step back and review your existing policies. What are your current standards or consequences for absent employees? Are your policies up-to-date? And do your agents understand them? Maybe you’re being a bit too unrealistic and strict on schedule adherence and your agents can’t meet expectations.  Review the policies you have in place and see what you need to change or rewrite.

2. Set a clear attendance policy.

Be clear (and reasonable) when you set a new path for attendance in your contact center. 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 logs in at the start of their shift. The individual time-off requests can also get easy to forget when you manage many agents. If you don’t set clear standards on day one, employees will grow less engaged and more burnt out. But, when you set clear policies and have a standard, there aren’t any gray areas agent expectations. And, that means better accountability for your whole team.

Think simplicity when you set standards. Create guidelines so your employees know what absences are excused and which aren’t. What are the policies for short-term and long-term, maternity, paternity, or unpaid leave?

Build policies with wiggle room for out-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 when you hire them about how your company deals with absence or tardiness. Then, hold your agents accountable.

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. Incentives aren’t everything. They’re often perceived as bandaids to fix a larger issue. But, adding some incentives for your employees to come to work on time is one of the easiest first steps to decreasing absenteeism and improving workplace engagement.

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 aligned with good attendance get results.

Create short-term, smaller rewards for employees to encourage incremental improvement.

Focus on incremental improvement in the call center

You can use typical prizes like movie tickets or a gift card.  But one, incredibly effective incentive is offering up a paid day off. Let your most consistent employees leave a couple of hours early on Fridays. Or, offer a buy-back program for unused sick days. Even better, though, is an act of service from you — their manager.

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.

>> Read Next: Encourage Workplace Engagement with 4 Projects to Boost Customer and Agent Experience

Build a Healthy Environment

4. Combat stress.

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

Help your agents fight stress to improve workplace engagement & lower absenteeism

Empower your agents to deliver quality service. Your employees want to show up for work when the environment is positive. 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 or their neighborhood to get back on the grind. Or, they might need an extra 15 minutes on a break to vent their 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.

Don’t Ignore the Power of Scheduling

5. Create employee schedules in advance.

Part of keeping your agents engaged and showing up for their shifts 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.

Work together to set your agent's schedules

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 with an unplanned Uber charge.

What about your agents who’ve been home with kids for the past year and no longer have regular childcare. If they planned to be home with the kids for half the day, a last-minute schedule change may mean they’re begging and bribing friends and family to cart their kids around during 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 improves if you can think three steps ahead. Stay organized and lean on WFM tools so you can plan schedules that fit the needs of each of your agents.

>> Learn More: Unlock the potential of your contact center teams

6. Allow for flexible schedules.

Reduce agent absenteeism with 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 helping customers first thing. If you put a night owl agent on all the early morning shifts, it’s likely they’ll have a hard time logging in on time, and they may not be ready to work effectively even if they do sign into their queue on time.

Let agents work 1:1 to swap shifts

Allow for shift swapping, too. Give your agents some grace if they 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 human. Be a gracious manager who allows for slips, and work with your agents on an individual level toward consistent attendance. 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.


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We originally wrote this article on May 8, 2019, and we updated it on July 21, 2021.