Previously, we discussed the financial and cultural impact unwanted attrition has on companies. Those organizations battling turnover find themselves delivering poorer customer experiences, reduced leadership quality and slower innovation.
But attrition itself is rarely the problem. A carouseling workforce is generally the result of six factors. This article introduces those contributing issues, bringing front and center opportunity areas for companies seeking to improve attrition metrics. The primary issues are: hiring competition, role equity, recruitment, workplace environment, job design, and leadership. Each of these are explored in further detail, below.
As the onshoring trend of call and contact center hiring continues, competition for talent will remain a challenge. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that call center hiring is expected to grow 36% domestically between 2016 and 2026. As employer demand persists, contact centers will struggle to land candidates given their relative standing versus companies offering comparable wage roles. This trend of prospects looking at hospitality, fast food and retail roles is expected to continue. These jobs offer similar wages, but often additional product or service perks, flexible shifts and are assumed to be easier, task-oriented jobs. According to PayScale, the median hourly rate for a call center representative is $13.43 per hour. Nationally, the range is $10.01 to $17.65. While better compensation may attract longer term, career minded candidates, it remains economically out of reach for most centers. As well, perceptions on the nature of call center roles remain a hurdle. Outsides still don’t have favorable views on the roles, particularly when compared against retail and hospitality sector jobs.
Before accepting a job, candidates consider the expected difficulty of the job versus the income and flexibility they expect in return. In contact or call center roles, what people expect to experience in their job and the reality of their days, can vary significantly. Unfortunately, this sense of surprise breeds disillusionment as workers begin to believe that the work–outcome tradeoff unfairly favors the company. The relationally exhausting nature of center work also colors workers’ views of customers, wages, the environment and career track. Perceived inequity between role requirements and compensation rarely just works itself out. Companies need to support healthier thinking – and this is not only about raising wages. Workers derive satisfaction when they feel valued as a person and contributor. Believing that one’s ideas are being considered, or having something to take ownership of, reinforces a sense of meaning. Obvious paths of promotion also represent tangible payoff for over-taxed workers. These can help restore perceptions of equity and balance.
Attrition places a burden on the entire organization, but no group feels more pressure than the recruiting and HR teams. The never-ending need for headcount, shifts teams to make concessions around candidate quality and cultural fit. Rarely is there malicious intent, but compensation models and quotas with volume incentives end up promoting rapid, concessionary hiring. This creates the all-too-familiar ‘talent acquisition paradox’. This means that in an effort to right the headcount shortage, companies hire fast and poorly – unwittingly introducing an approach that keeps attrition high. Healthy cultures promote engagement, tenure and performance. But to reach this level of health, companies must hold the line when it comes to candidate quality. Of course, this may shrink the available talent pool, but it also creates a clearer target profile to pursue and becomes a competitive differentiator that attracts a certain type of talent.
To minimize redundancy and costs, centers often schedule as few agents as possible to cover expected call volume across a variety of shifts. Shift times vary, making some more desirable than others. This is why centers apply strict adherence and attendance policies to maintain coverage. To agents that don’t understand these dynamics, scheduling policies can seem rigid and even penal. While they may be reasonable, they are interpreted as a means of control. While companies cannot allow disruption, organizing shift swaps and planning is critical. Workers feel dignified by independence and the sense of self-direction. When allowance is made for flexibility, participation may improve.
Agents that succeed in call center jobs are special. One of the reasons is that few comparable roles have the level of day-to-day job complexity that agent jobs do. It is common to hear hiring managers express seemingly contradictory characteristics when discussing target profiles.
“This job requires the agent to pay close attention to details and be an outside-of-the-box thinker to respond to a variety of customer requests.”
This is a rare combination at any employment level, but is particularly incompatible within the available talent pool for call centers. Specific, attributable skills need to be focused on, instead of broad requests. As specific skill-sets are hired, leaders can design shifts, assign tasks and develop trainings so one agent isn’t expected to deliver on all needed fronts. Additionally, as will be discussed in forthcoming posts, assessments should be utilized to capture the skill diversity and personality fluidity that does exist.
Management and Leadership
In contact centers, poor first-line management intensifies agent challenges. Without strong leadership support, agents may give up when faced with even normal job difficulties, especially during their startup phase. In an effort to retain talent, companies will promote their top performing agents. This is an oversimplification and unwisely assumes that good agents make good supervisors. Front line leaders certainly need to possess hard skills to lead agent teams and handle escalations or troubleshooting, but they should be suited to support culture building too. This may include fostering teamwork, collaboration, connections and empathy. These are softer leadership skills, but remain critical for any call center leader that has a role in agent quality-of-life.
Reducing attrition begins with clarity on what is primarily driving it. By recognizing these six factors, companies are better equipped to plan and execute strategies to transform workplace cultures. Next in The Attrition Series, we will focus on practical ways to make breakthroughs in new hire retention and agent performance.
What do you think? Leave a comment, and make sure you check out the rest of our series on Reducing Attrition!
Topics: Call Centers