Equity vs Equality Scheduling

A common mantra used by workforce planning professionals, to explain workforce planning’s primary outcome is; 

Workforce planning is about assigning the right number of employees with the right skills to the right job at the right time, to meet demand.

Whilst this is categorically accurate, it is remarkably easy to look at all elements of an operation, customers even, as all numbers. However, my considered belief is that when developing an employee scheduling strategy for your contact centre, numbers shouldn’t even be your primary focus. Yes, schedule fit is important, you still need to be able to coordinate a contact centre’s scheduling according to anticipated demand, but valiantly attempting to prove employee fairness by treating everyone the same is actually the opposite, when considering the fact that each employee will have a different life outside of work.

I have long believed, having experienced the power of this first hand, that great customer experience starts with great employee engagement …at every level… and workforce planning has an important part to play in this. Driving productivity is vital for any business but when you’re scheduling strategy is driving schedule fit at the cost of employee engagement you rapidly lose productivity through higher employee turnover and absentee rates.

The cornerstone of an equity based scheduling strategy is an appreciation that each individual employee preference matters. The good news is this does not have to be at the expense of schedule fit, and some employees will want to work the less popular shifts; like a student who is looking for part-time evening/weekend work for example.

Whilst this is not a new trend in workforce management, there are still contact centres who are yet to adopt flexible workforce strategies such lifestyle scheduling, put in place flexible time-off options and managing flexible working requests through business/employee benefit trade-offs.

Lifestyle scheduling

Start by asking people what shifts they in fact want to work. Yes, you are going to find that most will want to work 0900-1700 Monday to Friday, but you are also going to find others who want to work weekends and/or evenings. You are probably also going to find that you will be unable to fulfil everyone’s preference in the first round but even a reduction in the less popular shifts (for those that don’t want to work them) is beneficial and if supplemented with targeted recruitment this method can be extremely effective. One word of warning.. setting too many shifts to fixed patterns will start to cause problems when you are unable to back-fill the shift when an employee leaves the business. This is fine when workforce size is either in a growth or stabilised state, but when workforce size is declining replacing via recruitment is unviable and therefore leaving a contingent of your workforce flexible may be advisable.
A viable alternative or even better a complement to the above can be shift bidding. The idea behind shift bidding is simple, shift patterns that both suit business needs as well as colleagues are published allowing agents to bid in an eBay style auction. An added benefit/incentive to this scheme is when you allow shifts bids to occur well in advance, giving employees’ greater control of their schedule, and typically allow them to plan personal obligations around those published shifts.

Flexible time-off options

Getting time off for important life events can represent an extremely emotive subject for any employee. Following some of the excellent steps outlined in Phil Anderson’s article on holiday management article should absolutely be considered a sanitary factor, but those extra flexible time-off options are where differentiation can be achieved. There are many options in this space depending on the particular needs of your workforce but here are some possible options:
Term time working – Gives parents who otherwise cannot find a job with hours that suit them a workable solution, without the worry of childcare during school holidays
Time banking – An agreement is created with the employee where time worked over and above the contractual requirements can be banked and taken back at a later date or vice versa. This approach can be activated by the employer or the employee.
Unpaid leave – The ability for an employee to request time off unpaid, whether a few hours or a more extended period. 
Duvet Days – holding back part of your holiday allowance for an unscheduled day’s leave from work, taken to alleviate stress or pressure and sanctioned by one’s employer can really help to progressively reduce sickness levels.

Flexible Working Requests

A flexible working request can take many forms. Some might be contractual like part-time work, and permanently fixed shift patterns. Others might be more temporary in nature like a request to not work a certain date or not work an evening shift next Tuesday.
Having a clear, transparent, and prompt policy in place for employees to make a request is really important. This should cover how a request should be made (including what further information the employee should provide), transparency for how a request will be considered and arrangement for discussion with the employee to either gather more information (when warranted) or to feedback the outcome. The golden rule when dealing with such requests is to give your employees reasons for when you have to decline a request, so at least there is understanding in this respect.
Wherever possible automating temporary shift changes will also pay dividends, and many of the WFM solutions provide options in this space. Not merely will this provide lower administration overheads for your planning team, but it will additionally provide an instantaneous none biased avenue for employees to make temp shift change requests whilst also giving them more control over their schedule without compromising business results. The types of shifts requests that can be automated can range from two-way swaps between two equally skilled employees, shift slides on a given day, through to allowing employees to amend their breaks.
Providing flexible working options, either permanent or temporary, can be a real ‘win, win’ for the employer and employee alike. The above only details a few of the more common examples, there are many many more with each contact centre frequently creating its own innovative set of options to meet its particular unique workforce needs. I would love to hear from people who have been down this path and what creative options you have provided.
Until next time – Peace! / Peace out. 

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