Winter 2016 Survey Results
Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics. Over 200 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on scheduling of lunches and breaks.
Forty-five percent of the respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents. The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents. The insurance and financial industries drew the largest number of participants, but all other industries are also well represented.
Lunch Defined in Shift Bids
Respondents were asked whether the schedules offered for shift bids include a defined time and length of lunch period. Over half (58%) indicated that the shifts do include defined lunch periods while about one-quarter (27%) do not. The remaining 15% chose “other” suggesting some flexibility in the definitions.
Lunch Change Option
The respondents were asked if agents could select a shift during the bid process that has a defined length of lunch and then change it to a different length if desired. Two-thirds responded that this is not an option for the agents while one-third do allow the change. When asked to define how the change request is managed, over 50% (53.5%) indicated that the change is only accepted if there is little or no impact on service, while another 13% allow it only as a function of trades between agents. Only 3.88% allow the agents to change their lunch length/timing regardless of the impact it might have on the service to callers.
Adherence to Lunch Expectations
The survey further explored the expectations in terms of whether the agent is expected to take their lunch period at the time scheduled. The response was a resounding “yes” as 98% indicated that agents are expected to take their lunch period at the time scheduled. Only 1 respondent allows agents to take the lunch period whenever they choose regardless of the scheduled time while 2% indicated that there is no specific schedule lunch time and agents may go when they wish. Overall, while there is some flexibility in the planning process and shift bid assignments, once the schedules are set, the vast majority of centers require the agents to follow the agreed upon schedule.
Break Length and Timing Flexibility
When asked if the schedules provided for shift bids include defined time and length for breaks, the responses are evenly split with 51% indicated that they do and 49% do not include this in the shift bid. However, when asked if agents can change the break timing and length after the bid process, nearly three-quarters (74%) do not allow this while 26% do.
Adherence to Break Expectations
Once the schedules have been set, the vast majority of respondents (90%) expect agents to take their breaks at the time that they are scheduled. Only 8% do not schedule the timing of the breaks, but less than 2% allow agents to take their breaks whenever they choose regardless of the scheduled time.
Combining Lunch and Break Period Option
When asked if agents can combine the lunch and one or more break periods into a single long period, nearly 90% indicated that this combination is not allowed. This can be an attractive option for agents who want to tend to some personal business at lunch such as going to the gym or shopping. However, it can also leave some periods short-staffed and may result in more than needed on the ends of the day where the breaks would have normally been taken, especially where the hours of operation are short. If the center is generally over-staffed mid-day, this might be a useful option to explore to spread the staffing out to the under-staffed periods.
Respondents were asked if the ACD and/or WFM reporting system that tracks agent work status has separate statistics for the lunch period and the break period. Over three-quarters (78%) indicated that they do track these separately. The remaining 22% do not. It is difficult to manage adherence to the details of the schedule if the data provided does not clearly indicate what the agent is doing to allow comparison to the plans.
The biggest challenges cited regarding lunch and break scheduling are widely varied. Here are some of the most common responses:
- Finding the balance between the variety of lunch durations desired by reps and the most efficient durations from a scheduling perspective. Some noted that there is only one lunch length available today but that it is a significant cause of dissatisfaction for some agents. Accommodating different lengths fairly and without undue impact on the service is the challenge.
- Requests for agents to align breaks with their friends or other personal needs. Teams wanting to take breaks/lunch together.
- Encouraging agents to accept non-traditional lunch break scheduling such as break/break/lunch or lunch/break/break. This appears to meet with resistance.
- In centers with short hours of operation, clustering of the lunches in the middle of the operating hours can have a significant impact on service as this is often the busy time when customers have time to call as well.
- Some legal and HR requirements are difficult to accommodate.
- Maintaining service consistency when breaks are not scheduled or agents go at unscheduled times.
- Adherence monitoring may be difficult without the proper systems and management perspective.
- Resistance to changes in the scheduled breaks to optimize service.
- General lack of adherence to the planned schedules (some caused by calls that extend into scheduled break times).
Based on the responses above, it appears that finding the best balance of timing and duration for lunch and breaks is a significant challenge for many centers. Maintaining both customer service consistency and efficient use of resources with the need for agent satisfaction and morale is not easy. Centers with shorter operating hours struggle with the need to cluster lunches in the middle of the day to meet agent needs, but this may also be one of the highest demand periods.
Once the schedules are set, there appears to be an overall resistance on the part of the agents to follow the assigned lengths and timing if it doesn’t suit them. But if they like what they are assigned, they are also resistant to changing the timing to meet shifting needs in the customer demand.
This is clearly a process that must be driven by the general management philosophy of the organization. There are essentially three demands that are working in conflict with one another: customer satisfaction, agent satisfaction and efficient use of resources. It is very difficult to optimize all three simultaneously, so it is important for the management to prioritize these so that WFM, call center management and the agents have a clear directive on the trade-offs when an adjustment is needed.