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How to Improve Absenteeism


by Paul Chance


Absenteeism is a not-insignificant challenge for the typical contact center. Unplanned absences are a constant plague, with 29% of managers naming them as their greatest challenge in workforce management.

Absenteeism rates run as high as 5% to 10% in the contact center, and as many as 40% of contact center employees use nearly half their sick time for things other than illness. While a problem that’s not strictly limited to contact centers – ICMI cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows that healthcare support occupations and federal and state government occupations are among the industries with the highest levels of absenteeism – absenteeism has a particularly far-reaching impact on customer service, encompassing missed service levels and increased wait times or average speed of answer. When a multi-skill employee from another team picks up the slack, that team is also affected, which means that stress levels and attrition increase across the contact center.

Contact center leaders who want to improve absenteeism can focus on a few key best practices:

  • Create the schedule at least four weeks in advance. To minimize unplanned absences and last-minute shift change requests, give your agents enough advance notice so that they can plan their lives – things like childcare and transportation can be hard to arrange on short notice, increasing the likelihood that an agent will be unable to find an agent who is able to swap shifts.

  • Allow employee availability to be guaranteed. If a supervisor schedules an agent for a time he or she has said she isn’t available, the chances that that agent will call out sick increase.

  • Provide flexible schedule preferences. Flexible scheduling, such as the ability for agents to design their schedules -- schedules that benefit the contact center -- and better predict their upcoming workdays can help employees plan upcoming appointments and personal commitments around the schedule they are likely to work.

  • Offer split shifts and flexible hours. These type of shift options enable employees to take care of important personal needs, like a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference, without having to miss an entire workday.

  • Predefine rules for all preapproved swaps and trades. Clear policies help streamline the approval process and help employees understand when swaps and trades will be accommodated.

  • Leverage mobile devices so employees can adjust schedules remotely. Visibility into schedules – and the ability to request changes, swaps or time off – allows agents to manage their schedules proactively instead of simply calling in sick.

  • Build a culture of trust. Create an environment in which they agents feel trusted (i.e., they generally aren’t asked for a doctor’s note following a single day’s absence) and feel comfortable giving honest feedback about scheduling processes and personal needs – and ensure that there’s also a vehicle for employees to provide feedback anonymously.

By more effectively managing absenteeism, contact centers can position themselves to meet service levels and reduce attrition. Workforce management solutions can help. Learn more about how the NICE WFM Suite is helping contact centers take a multi-pronged approach to improving absenteeism.

Paul Chance Over 25 years helping organizations help serve their customer in a manner that helps both the organization and their customers through enabling technologies and processes. This is a win - win scenerio. I firmly believe that with the right technology and processes organizations can meet their revenue and profit goals while increasing customer retention and increasing the number of customers recommending the organization to their friends.

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