Absenteeism in the Contact Center

Many workers fail to recognize the impact of absenteeism in the workplace. They view taking a day off to nurse a cold or enjoy the sunshine as a harmless escape from the office, and one with no long-term effects.

In reality, such absences take a toll on the economy. While tracking “illegitimate” days off is a challenge, the cost of lost productivity due to poor health alone ranges from $160 million among agricultural workers to $24.2 billion among professionals.

The situation is even worse in the contact center. Some surveys have found that the average employee takes an estimated 7.4 sick days per year, while contact center workers are absent roughly 8.2 days. Other anecdotal reports suggest that absenteeism rates run as high as 5 or 10 percent in the contact center.

Whatever the exact numbers, unplanned absences are a constant plague: 29% of managers name them as their greatest challenge in workforce management. When your business model depends on prompt, efficient service, ensuring regular attendance is a priority.

Uncovering the causes

To lower absenteeism, employers must first understand why their workers are taking off. Legitimate health issues play a role, but one survey found that as much as 40 percent of call center agents used nearly half their sick time for things other than illness. Personal emergencies, elder and childcare, on-the-job harassment, routine health or lifestyle appointments, transportation access and disengagement are all behind many absences.

The only real way to know what your employees need is to ask them yourself. To do so, create an environment in which they feel comfortable giving honest feedback, and provide an easy way to share anonymously. Voice of the Employee solutions can support this process, as can messaging and online communications tools.

Such openness may require you to recognize the challenges unique to contact center work, though. Employees are under acute pressure to meet SLAs and the expectations of managers, and negative interactions with customers can wear down even experienced and thick-skinned team members. High-stress, negative environments can quickly lead to depression and burnout, some of the largest causes of absenteeism and low productivity. You may find that, like most workforce challenges, absenteeism is part of larger organizational and demographic issues.

Implementing change

The feedback you collect from your employees should drive your next steps. Do any of your team members have a chronic health problem? Are they disengaged, in need of a little extra motivation? Do they feel underappreciated? Do they have trouble arranging transportation without notice? Are there religious or cultural practices you haven’t considered? What kind of solutions will benefit them?

No contact center is the same, and managers have found countless causes – and developed countless solutions – based on their unique needs. Among the solutions to consider:

  • Recognize and reward attendance. Hand out gift cards or rewards to employees with strong attendance records, and consider these patterns when giving promotions and raises. Employees who can view their hourly records online are able to self-motivate and self-schedule.
  • Schedule in advance. Arranging childcare and transportation at the last moment is a challenge. Data-driven forecasts help employees schedule shifts weeks and months in advance so they have time to prepare.
  • Allow for flexible hours. There’s no reason to miss an entire workday for a thirty-minute parent-teacher conference. Today’s workforce management tools empower employees to switch shifts or adjust hours on their own, so managers don’t need to slave over a scheduling chart.
  • Hold doughnut Mondays or pizza Fridays. Mondays and Fridays are the most frequently missed days. Add a little extra motivation to get your team in the door in the morning.
  • Provide remote work options. Cloud-based solutions make it easier than ever for managers to supervise remote workers, and employees who work from home have been shown to take fewer sick days.
  • Show you trust your employees. Don’t demand a doctor’s note after a single day off, and don’t require workers to check in with you during the day when they’re home with the flu. Trust runs both ways, and unwarranted nagging makes for a toxic company culture – and high turnover in the long run.
  • Think outside the box. Look through this list from Call Centre Helper to find other options that may help you reduce unplanned absences.

Whatever methods you choose, develop and communicate a clear attendance policy with a plan of action for when employees fail to meet expectations. The changes could save you and your organization money, boost performance and improve employee ​engagement.