Time Away From Work: Maintaining Work/Life Balance

By Tyler Wyman, USAA

This is the third and final article in a series exploring three factors that can have a major effect on the culture and morale of your organization, and can make the difference in an employee’s choice to stay or leave. Consider the Employee Holy Trinity:

  • Scheduling
  • Monetary Gain
  • Time Off

As we conclude our discussion on the Holy Trinity of employee morale and performance, we dig into Time Off. It can be challenging to find that balanced approach to reducing staff cost, hitting your required staff needed, and allowing for Time Off so that employees can balance the needs of their personal lives. This component can affect absenteeism, attrition, performance, and definitely morale.

A representative’s time away from work is vital for managing their stress, health, personal responsibilities, and feelings of fulfillment. Not having sufficient time away from work can cost an organization in the long run as they begin to see higher staffing needs and costs related to lower performance due to burn out, absenteeism, FMLA, and eventually attrition. This can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to get out of and can be a huge determining factor for an employee’s decision to stay or go. But every cloud has a silver lining. If managed properly, you can use this hurdle to strengthen your workforce and create an environment of motivated, focused, “planful” (important), and loyal employees.
How do you do this you might ask? Well, we all know we have to bake in an out-of-office factor into all our staff plans. It’s a part of doing business, and can be a real struggle especially in environments where FMLA and absenteeism are real concerns. In high churn environments, how you respond or handle these situations can impact the way you do business and the culture of your organization. Consider some of the following items when planning your out of office programs and plans:

Planned vs. Unplanned

Out of office can be broken up into two buckets, planned and unplanned, with the preference on planned. If you think about it, even if your out of office is going to be high, knowing about it ahead of time gives you way more options for success than the latter. Keep this in mind when considering reducing your out of office allotments when you see rises in unplanned. This alone will start you down the path of the before-mentioned vicious cycle. An employee once told me, “Life will find a way.” What she meant was that it doesn’t matter how restrictive you are, people will do what they want in the end. However, this doesn’t mean open the floodgates, but it does give you something to consider. Be realistic in your planning. The goal is to try and offer some solutions to a representative’s needs so that it doesn’t come to this. Once this line is crossed, you have already started the process of losing that representative.

Accrual vs. Allowed Ratio

This simple concept can help guide you on your consideration of how much time to allow for out of office. Do some analysis on how much time off your employees earn in a year from a planned standpoint (vacation usually since sick time is usually not planned). Now that you have this number you know your potential out of office. Now start to lay out your allotment plan (allowable time off per day). Add up how much time you are planning to allow for the year. Now compare the two. What is the ratio of time off allowed compared to the amount accrued? Now ask yourself if that ratio is realistic. Remember you need to allow more time off than you accrue because employees will not want to only plan their time within the limited scale you have planned out for. Ideally in most organizations, a ratio of 2x-3x is ideal to offer enough time to choose from to realistically plan their time off, but different regions/queues/environments can add or subtract from this so use what makes the most sense for your organization. If you are in doubt, pull what you have used in the past and make adjustments based on what the resulting absenteeism, FMLA, and attrition rates were.

Second Chance Days

Everyone deserves a second chance right? This applies to time off as well. Before you offer out those early leave approvals, consider those who are on wait lists or were denied time off for the day first. This not only improves how the staff sees your approval processes, but it still rewards people for planning their time off ahead. Nothing can demotivate a person more than asking for a day off and being denied or put on a waitlist and then day-of seeing others get sent home. Reward those people for their initiative of planning ahead with getting first choice on leaving early.

Performance-Based Time Off

Consider using a higher weighting on performance in your vacation bids. You can still reward tenure in your shift bids, but having a component of your bidding process that is focused more on performance helps give those highly-engaged and driven staff members something to look forward to. They feel rewarded and acknowledged for their efforts. Seeing low-performing highly-tenured employees get the most highly sought after shifts and time off can really demotivate those members of your staff that are new, fresh, and motivated. Reward them. You’ll be glad you did.

75% Rule

Nothing is more frustrating than getting all but one day of your time off request approved. From a representative’s perspective, it can put them in a position to make some undesirable decisions. Do I alter my plans or just call in that one day? Putting an employee in a position where they must choose between their personal life over their work life can be a dangerous decision, especially for a high performer. Any time an employee is put in this situation, even if they choose to alter their plans for their career, their loyalty and motivation deteriorates. This does not mean that you should give your staff everything they want off, but offering programs like the 75% rule (requests where at least 75% of the request can be approved, the remaining time has the option for override), helps your staff see that you are not rigid and that you value their personal life. Keep in mind that in a lot of situations, your staff will choose personal life over daily work so you will likely lose that person on that days schedule anyway.

These are just a few options you can incorporate into your Time Off plans to help foster a healthy work/life balance and not only help increase morale and retain employees, but encourage your staff to be planful which aids in the planning process. In the end, planning for a staffing situation is always easier than dealing with an unexpected staffing issue.

Tyler Wyman is Capacity Planner at USAA. If you have questions or would like to connect with the author, you can contact him at Tyler.Wyman@usaa.com.