Improving Agent Satisfaction Through Creative Shift Options

By Jeffrey Bretana, Navy Federal Credit Union

[dropcap2 variation=”purple”]I[/dropcap2]t is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that agent needs are mutually exclusive from workforce planning needs. With the day-to-day demands required of workforce planning professionals, we can lose sight of the opportunities that reside  within creative shift and break options.

Navy Federal’s workforce management team was once in that position. We were limited to the standard 5×8 shift option with only two break choices: a 30-minute lunch with two 15-minute breaks or a 45-minute lunch with one 15-minute break. There was little discussion about satisfaction with our current options. In addition, we were not actively investigating the potential for creative shift or break options. As a result, we experienced low employee satisfaction scores. Furthermore, workforce management was stuck with “puzzle pieces” that didn’t fit. We were trying to force 5×8 shifts to fit when other shift options could fit better. It was clear that we needed to explore  alternatives. If this sounds familiar, perhaps you should, too!

Getting Started

One of the greatest challenges to any change is simply getting started. Through researching industry trends, networking with other SWPP members, and creatively brainstorming within our branch, we were able to identify several shift options and break options that would provide the greatest benefits. It was important to first test each option with our workforce software to ensure we were capable of sustaining it. It was also important to clear each option through management and human resources to make sure it could even be offered.

Once those hurdles were cleared, we decided to gauge agent interest through shift/break option surveys. Consider doing the same. Schedule surveys are a good way to hone in on the  options that will be the most popular so you don’t overload your call center with excessive alternatives. Ask identifying questions if your call center is multi-site or multi-skilled. You may notice a stronger desire for certain options in specific  locations.

An example would be a compressed four-day work week in a location with heavy traffic. Agents on this shift would have one less day to commute per week. Perhaps you can allocate more of those shift options to those locations. Also,  provide a free response section to allow agents the opportunity to respond candidly. This will provide specific insight into what they are satisfied or dissatisfied with in regards to your current options. They may even suggest an idea that wasn’t in the  survey. Some of the best shift or break ideas can come from the frontline! Using schedule surveys will help you evaluate agent satisfaction, identify areas for improvement, and provide a road map for what new shift and break options to offer.

Now that you have identified the most popular and sustainable options, develop a roll out plan to implement them in your call center. Navy Federal is currently offering several creative shift and break options that were implemented over the  past year.

Creative Shift Options

The most popular new shift option at Navy Federal was the 4×10 shift. This shift has been in the industry for years now likely due to its popularity. Agents are able to work a compressed work week, providing them an extra off day to run errands, go to appointments, or spend time with family. They can also save on gas/commuting expense by traveling to work one less day. They may even find it less stressful since now they have to navigate through traffic one less day! This shift option benefits workforce management by providing additional hours of coverage on busy days or difficult to staff days while reducing overstaffing on slower days or easier to staff days.

Similar in concept, the 12-hour shift can provide agents and workforce management similar benefits as the 4×10 shift. We currently offer two types of twelve hour shifts: the 3×12 1×4 shift and the 2×12 2×8 shift. Both only require a four-day work week, and both provide additional coverage on busy or difficult to staff days.

Fixed weekends worked can provide a unique benefit depending on your call center environment. We currently only require one weekend day of availability and do our best to allow agents a reasonable expectation that they will occasionally get that weekend day off.

To help us rotate this better, we offer shifts that require agents to work both Saturday and Sunday in exchange for their choice of days off. In most cases, agents prefer consecutive days off. Be sure to determine if you  have any restrictions to allowable off days before making the offer. We restrict agents from selecting our busiest weekdays. While these shift options were not widely popular, they were extremely popular among those who requested them. Benefits to agents include a potential reduction in child care needs, the ability to run errands or go to appointments that can only be done on weekdays, and an easier commute since weekend traffic tends to be less congested. Workforce  management benefitted from fixed weekends by having a consistent, reliable weekend staff that provided a better rotation and better staffing. Why not staff the weekend with agents who want to work, allowing others the opportunity to be off?

Our final shift option was the split shift. As with fixed weekends, this shift was not widely popular, but it was very popular to those who selected it. The idea is that agents work 3-5 hours, then leave for 3-5 hours, finally returning later for 3-5 hours to complete their shift. This allows tremendous flexibility, giving workforce management the opportunity to avoid overstaffing certain intervals while properly staffing others. Agents also have the opportunity to attend to personal needs during their split off work time, or possibly even take an extended lunch. This may also be a good shift to use if you have agents who work remotely. It is much easier to work a split shift if you don’t have to commute to work!

Creative Break Options

Our break options tripled this past year, increasing from five options to 16 different options! The most popular of the new options are the 30-minute meal with three 10-minute breaks, the 60-minute meal with two 15-minute breaks (work 30  extra minutes/day), two 15-minute breaks and no meal (work 30 fewer minutes/day), one 30-minute meal with no breaks (work 30 less minutes/day). Each option provides unique benefits but follows a similar concept; allow agents to select the option that works best for their personal needs.

Some agents prefer a long meal break and are willing to work extra to get it. This allows them the freedom to go off-site, go home, or possibly meet a friend/significant other during their meal. Consider making the extended meal options available to accommodate this.

Other agents feel they don’t need as many breaks and are willing to take fewer of them in order to work a shorter day. Consider the reduced break structure options and make sure your human resources and labor laws will allow it.

Most agents typically want an extra break in their day. The 30-minute meal with three 10-minute breaks is a great way to address this. Agents receive an extra break  and only have to reduce their other breaks by five minutes. Many of our agents felt 10 minutes was still enough time off the phone for a break.

While offering creative break options may not be as attractive as the creative shift options, it is not  without benefit. Improved adherence, decreased use of personal time, and a reduction in agent fatigue were all benefits experienced through creative break options. And, of course, agents were happier when they had options!

Just the Start

Offering creative shift options and break options is just the start. It is worth reviewing all changes you make to figure out what is working best and what may need improvement. Follow up with additional surveys to keep your finger on the pulse in your call center. This will allow you to continue improving agent satisfaction while still seeking ways to improve your call center’s performance. Think outside the box; you will find that matching agent needs to workforce management needs is  achievable once you get creative!

SWPP Member Jeff Bretana presented a session on this topic at the 2013 SWPP Annual Conference. He may be reached at