In a contact center environment, schedules are a key contributor to employee
satisfaction — or dissatisfaction. When someone is required to work a shift they
hate, the natural response can be anger or bitterness. Those feelings often
materialize later in small paybacks, like tardiness or inflexibility to other
needs of the center. Sometimes it even escalates into more menacing behavior — I
have heard horror stories about workforce managers having their vehicles keyed
and their tires ruined.
While it is the workforce manager who has the responsibility of assigning the
best optimized schedules to fit the service goals at the exact best times, the
way it is handled can go a long way toward building bridges instead of burning
Steps to Creating Schedule Harmony
So what do you do when everyone hates their schedule? You can start over from
scratch and do it better this time. The following steps outline a process that
can work for you.
Conduct an Employee Schedule Satisfaction Survey
Limit your questionnaire to no more than 10 to 12 questions about the schedules
for the group, the individual’s schedule and the schedule selection process.
Make sure that each question includes a response with a numerical ranking so
that you can assign a value to the total scores (e.g., 1 = bad, 5 = good).
Include three lines at the end for comments. Allow an option for employees
identify themselves or remain anonymous and set a deadline for replies.
A schedule satisfaction survey will serve two purposes: 1) You can use the data
to identify popular scheduling desires, and 2) after you develop your
new-and-improved scheduling process, you can resurvey the staff (using the same
questionnaire) and compare the new values, which will produce an improvement
percentage to demonstrate your success.
Put together a Schedule Focus Team
The schedule satisfaction survey probably will generate some buzz, along with
thoughts like, “You know what I would do if I was in charge of schedules…” This
is a good mindset for people on your schedule focus team. You can ask for
volunteers or have people formally apply to participate. Be sure to include a
short interview process and ask each candidate to describe why they are a good
candidate for this team. Look for problem-solving, brain-storming types who are
going to have the time to actively participate. Current schedule satisfaction
should not be a prerequisite; in fact, a diverse group would offer better
insights. The group size should include a good representation for everyone.
In your first group meeting, you’ll want to brainstorm scheduling constraints,
desires and options. White boards are great for this type of session. Use one
board to list the scheduling restrictions. This would include things like
service goals, operating hours, team sizes and required staff by intervals, day
of weeks, etc. It is probable that these restrictions are mandatory and should
be identified as constraints. On another board, list the staff’s schedule
desires collected from the surveys. This would include things like daycare,
school, traffic, etc. Use a third board to brainstorm scheduling rule ideas from
the group. This can relate to consecutive days on/off, 4x10 versus 5x8 shifts,
rotating weeks, weekend coverage, flexible or part-time shifts, etc.
The goal for the session is to get consensus on just how flexible the employees
are willing to be after understanding the constraints. You may need to plan time
for a short lesson on required staff versus planned staff (net staff ), and
simulate the impact that understaffing has on service goals. During this
exercise, the schedule focus team members typically will begin shifting their
perspective to the role of the scheduler.
Keep employees informed
Once the schedule focus team gains consensus, employees need to be kept informed
about the team’s progress, the decisions that are being made and why. Delegate
these communications to the schedule focus team members.
Besides keeping your current employees in the loop, you’ll also want to
communicate your efforts to your HR group, or whoever is responsible for
interviewing and hiring contact center staff. If a new-hire understands that his
schedule isn’t automatically going to be 9-to-5, that’s one less disappointed
agent you have to deal with later on. Again, delegate this communication
responsibility to someone on your focus team — it will help to keep them engaged
Run Simulations of Your New scheduling solutions
After your team identifies new scheduling ideas and solutions, it’s important to
simulate them with a test run before going live. Sometimes things that look
great on paper won’t work out the way you expect them to, and that goes double
for schedules. Bring the team back together to look for ways to poke holes in
the new shifts. Test the schedule effectiveness (does it give adequate coverage
in all the right places?), and also look at its impact to the service goals. If
you don’t get the results you need, the group will need to revise the plan until
it’s something that the agents, managers and your customers can live with. You
can also use this opportunity to introduce the idea of schedule-change
frequency, especially if your center has a lot of seasonality that demands more
frequent schedule changes. Treating the entire process as an education
opportunity will make resistance harder to justify.
Six Basic Flexible Schedule Examples
Mix full-time and part-time shifts: Assign full-time shift first, then fill in
gaps with part-time.
Cover missed time with make-up time: When someone wants to leave two hours
early, have them work two extra hours in the same pay period, but choose the
makeup time to occur when you’re hurting.
Consider non-traditional lunch periods: Offer a shopping/gym lunch choice,
allowing a two-hour lunch by arriving/ leaving a half-hour extra. Test this as
oneday a week to start.
Switch up break times: Having different lunch times each day of the week may be
easier for employees to handle instead of different start times each day.
9-to-5 isn’t the norm anymore: 8x5, 4x10, 9x4 + 1x4, 3x12.5, etc. The
possibilities for shift combinations are wide.
Open uOpen up schedule trades between agents, including long-term trades (also known
as “rotating schedules” — you work early one week; I work early the next; then
The success factor isn’t in the method chosen, but the amount of acceptance
it will have with the entire group.
The second phase for your focus team is to work on schedule assignments. The
group now needs to decide on a fair process for matching shifts to employees. If
your center is a multiskilled environment, there may be little choice in the
matter because of the way the coverage rules work (meaning, you have to have at
least one person staffed in every skill).
Before the assignments start, it’s advisable to collect a Schedule Preference
Form from everyone. This is another task that can be delegated to the team. The
team should design the form as a group, then each person can be responsible for
distributing/collecting the forms for their area. Team members can also serve as
the “Schedule Champion” for their areas, a person for the agents to go to when
they want a point of contact. Be sure to set deadlines to ensure that the
process doesn’t become drawn out.
Deal with the schedule exception cases first — those people who are given special
schedules to accommodate their personal lives, such as school or daycare. Anyone
who is given an exception by HR or management needs to be assigned their
schedules first; otherwise your schedule efficiency can get blown away. I agree,
this is unfair to the rest of the team, which is why I call it “exceptions.” But
if you don’t deal with at the beginning, by the time you get to them, their
exception schedule may no longer be available, which means you could end up
understaffed in the wrong place.
There are many options to choose how schedules are assigned: by seniority, by
performance or a hybrid are three popular examples. The success factor here
doesn’t live in the method chosen, but in the amount of acceptance that method
will have with the entire group. When dealing with unhappy agents, the goal is
to make a change that appeases the majority, because you can rarely make
Conduct a Follow-up Survey
After the schedules are developed and rolled out, send out the schedule
satisfaction survey again. Be sure to use the exact same questions so that you
can have a nice “before” and “after” result to share with your focus team for a
job well done (and your managers for your performance review). You are likely to
see some level of improvement, and since this is purely a measurement of
happiness, even a small bump deserves a reward.
Reprinted with permission, Contact Center Pipeline