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Accounting for Presenteeism In Call Center Planning and Forecasting

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Art Hall

Call Center representatives have some of the most rigid and, oftentimes, unpredictable schedules. For call center leaders, call center workforce management can be an arduous task. This is particularly difficult when accounting for service levels, unexpected spikes in the number of calls received and forecasting call center demand without all of the necessary data and getting the right people in the right place at the right time.

Plenty of forecasting tools are available to help call center leaders create effective plans for call centers--from your standard Excel spreadsheet to a sophisticated call center workforce management (WFM) tool. In the planning process, many call center leaders forecast call demand, determine full-time equivalent (FTE) requirements and create schedules, taking into account roster-staff factors (RSF), alternatively called "shrinkage factor" or an "overlay." [Rostered Staff Factor is a numerical factor that leads to the minimum staff needed on schedule over and above the phone (or e-mail) to achieve a targeted service level (or response time in the case of e-mail).

Levering Call Center Workforce Management To Prevent Absenteeism

It is calculated after base call center staffing requirements are determined and before schedules are organized for the call center.] Non-phone (or e-mail) work time such as breaks, lunch, training or company meetings are considered as part of the RSF calculation.

Call center absenteeism--planned and unplanned--is also taken into consideration. However, unplanned absences create particular call center workforce management problems. When a call center agent calls out at the last minute or does not come in to work at all, it significantly alters even the best call center forecasting and scheduling models. Unplanned absences can make or break service level expectations, resulting in eroded customer satisfaction and trust.

Despite these realities, there is a more insidious enemy that call center leaders face – presenteeism. Presenteeism occurs when someone is physically at work, but is mentally not there.


The Workforce Management Link Between Creative Managers and Sleep Loss

Generally, presenteeism is not a part of our call center workforce management assumptions because the call center workforce management "assumes" that if a call center representative is present, they are working. But the recent economic downturn has caused a shift in work-life balance priorities among so many people, and call center representatives are no exception. An inflexible call center work schedule parlayed with emotionally-detached leaders can create health risk factors for call center agents. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently helped to launch a wide-ranging study exploring the health impact of offering flexible work schedules.

The study found that call center representatives with the most rigid managers "had about a two-fold risk of having two or more cardiovascular risk factors." The most amazing fact, perhaps, was that those call center representatives with increased risk factors "slept about 30 minutes less per night than people whose managers were more open and creative."

While this study and related research are broad in scope, the implications for call center environments cannot be ignored. Given this, how should call center leaders and WFM planners address this problem? A flexible schedule and a supportive attitude from leaders may just be the answer.

Over the past few years, there has been a push to offer flexible work environments for mid-to-senior level management. In the age of mobile phones, WIFI connections and laptop computers, mid-to-senior level managers can set up virtual offices at local coffee shops. Along with the technology, companies’ increased emphasis on achieving a work-life balance has made working virtually a reality for professionals at a higher level, but what about hourly-wage call center representatives?

Putting "Good Morning" Into Your Call Center Workforce Management Plan

Researchers at the National Institute for Health believe the key to helping workers, such as call center representatives, to be "less stressed" about their jobs is making sure that call center managers understand what call center representatives are up against. Many call center representatives are single parents, are responsible for caring for sick or struggling parents, and are simply scraping by financially. A call center leader taking the the time to say "good morning," for example, can go along way for call center representatives’ mental and physical well-being.

A call center manager who allows the call center representative to make a five minute phone call outside the office on their scheduled break to ensure their son or daughter arrived home safely from school is an example of being flexible. Rather than making a personal call at their desk, the call center representative can take care of their personal business and come back to their desk fully engaged. By providing some flexibility, call center leaders can get call center representatives more engaged in their daily tasks, which can lead to greater productivity and higher job satisfaction levels in the call center.

It is important to remember that every call center is different. But as call center leaders become increasingly concerned about forecasting call demand, flexible scheduling provides a potential solution to absenteeism and presenteeism of call center representatives, which often hamper productivity and can thwart even the best call center planning efforts.