Attrition is the rate at which members of staff voluntarily leave the workforce over a given period of time. It is also known as ‘staff turnover’, or ‘staff churn’, although in the contact centre industry ‘churn’ tends to refer to the flow of customers rather than staff.
Attrition is high in contact centres compared with other professions, and 2015 reports show an average rate of 22%. Contact centre agents also seem to leave the industry after very short periods, with some studies indicating that half of those who left did so within their first 90 days of employment.
For this calculation, the average rather than the total number of employees is needed. This figure can be reached by taking the starting number of employees for the period, adding that to the finishing number of employees for the period, and dividing the result by two. The period is normally a calendar year.
So, for a company that began a year with 6,500 employees and ended the year with 6,380 employees, the calculation for average employees would be (6,500+6,380) / 2 = 6,440.
Because so many of the total staff that leave contact centres are new starters, it is worth understanding ‘new employee attrition’ as a separate figure.
New employee attrition
Attrition is sometimes deployed deliberately as a mechanism to save money or to adapt to seasonal variations in traffic volume. Because attrition can become quite predictable, recruitment can be halted for a period in order to let staff numbers reduce naturally without resorting to redundancies.
Intentional attrition (also known as planned attrition) is where you ask somebody to leave the company. This is typically for performance-related (e.g. disciplinary) reasons and also for redundancy. Intentional attrition is normally excluded from attrition calculations.
Key issues of attrition
The main problem attrition causes for business is the high cost of recruiting and training new staff. The first six weeks of an employee’s tenure is the most expensive, and an agent will usually draw more value than they add for several months.
When an employee remains with a company long term, that value is returned. But if the employee does not stay with the company, they will likely represent a net loss.
Because so many people leave the contact centre before returning value, there is a strong temptation to reduce the cost – and thus the quality – of training. At the same time, the pressure to recruit more people quickly means that there is less time to put together appropriate candidates. This can easily lead to a cyclical pattern of unsuitable and under-prepared employees finding it difficult to remain in their roles.
A high-turnover workforce will also have weaker peer-to-peer cohesion and unreliable links between managers and their teams.
Money is not the only resource that drains from a business with high attrition; genuine expertise is invaluable to contact centre staff but takes time to accumulate. A company with a high attrition rate will have staff who are less knowledgeable and less able to perform.