Break Optimisation Strategies

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Break Optimisation Strategies

I’m currently working in an analytical position for a company which manages 7 call centers across the UK.

The centers have recently been amalgamated from 3 separate historical backgrounds to fall under one central resourcing team, however there are a lot of areas where the sites have historically worked in different ways to each other, and now there is a lot of opposition to changes.

One current example is in terms of break optimisation :- all of our staff have scheduled breaks built into their shifts (average of 2 X 15 min and 1 X 60 min for an 8 hour shift) :- these scheduled breaks are built into their rotas.

Historically, two of the sites have always then had their breaks “optimised” by our WFM system – break times being changed to increase the match of staff to forecast call levels. When trying to implement the same approach in our other sites, however, we have faced a great deal of opposition : mainly around the fact that each team of staff going together on lunch was seen as a social bonding event each day which the team leaders are unwilling to give up.

Currently we are working with a compromise agreement whereby the resourcing team guarantee at least 70% of each team will have the same lunch time, but this is undoing a lot of the SL% gain brought about by optimisation, as well as resulting in 20-30 hours per week of manual changes to shifts for the resourcing staff.

As usual, budget concerns mean that staff levels are pared down to an operational minimum, and based on scenarios there’s no we we can remove the optimisation altogether and still manage to hit our service level agreements. At the same time, full optimisation of all breaks has ben defined as “completely unacceptable” in no certain terms, so I need to find a compromise level of optimisation that won’t result in a large manual workload.

I’m curious to know what level and approach to break optimisations exist across other call centers : for those of you who do schedule and optimise breaks, what limits/guidelines do you have set in place?

Question asked by matt


The change seems perfectly reasonable to me, but having gone through the same change at a single site centre in the past I can appreciate the difficulties you may be having.

Acceptance of changes like this comes down to communication and ownership, the boat may have been missed on this one, as well as changing breaks I have also gone from a servicing centre to a sales within service centre, all going successfully mainly due to the communication and the language used.

You mentioned the team leaders feedback, is it coming directly from them or are the agents giving them them the ammunition. The reason I ask is because with our change the Team Leaders were key to the communication process. Everyone got the same message, everyone was expected to deliver the same message regardless of their personal preferences.

Are the staff aware of the benefits to the business of the improved Service Levels? Do they have some plus side from it to balance the perceived negatives?

With thanks to Andy

Andy Nailed It

I think it really comes down to understanding, while it would be nice for everyone to take their lunch at the same time that would be a nightmare to manage and, as you mentioned, negate most of the benefits of consolidating the centres.

I don’t think bargaining to the 70% is a good idea, it seems that would supply them with enough ammo to keep coming back at scheduling “so and so has missed the last 4 lunches, so n so always gets to go to lunch with the other so n so”

Most places I have worked at the Team was lucky if they all got to work the same shifts.

Make sure your people know that this isn’t being done “just because” and make sure not to foster an environment of “them vs us”, explain the benefits and how this change was the only logical choice to ensure better customer satisfaction.

With thanks to Justin


Apologies, I probably could have explained better.

What we currently have is 2 sites perfectly happily running along with full optimisation.

The other 5 sites, up until recently, enjoyed totally unscheduled short breaks (ie taken when the agent preferred, colloquially “managed” on the floor by team leaders. Lunch breaks were scheduled, but each team went together as a whole.

As part of the implementation of scheduling ALL breaks across the board, the subject of optimisation came up, and during discussions it was made clear that the “70% rule” as it’s now know would be the furthest compromise the site managers were willing to go along with.

So currently we have 2 different rulesets across 7 theoretically “identical” sites, a break administration nightmare, and nothing like the service level gains we were needing to achieve.

We’re currently coming up to a fresh round of negotiations, and I was basically looking for alternate suggestions that may have worked elsewhere – for example fully optimising the busiest days (Mondays and weekends), but having team lunches together when we are a little less busy.

“Most places I have worked at the Team was lucky if they all got to work the same shifts.” – hehe. That was my experience too, but following this integration it seems that some people have it as a birth right?!?!

With thanks to matt

Alternate Suggestions

what limits/guidelines do you have set in place?

Two lunches with your team a year.

I’m sorry but if you work for a customer focused company then the requirements of proper coverage to serve your customers outweighs the ‘want’ to have your lunches together.

Plain and simple, if the leaders are relying on those lunches as their primary “social bonding” or team development then you have a problem that needs to be addressed. I doubt the lunch if used for any sort of official team bonding though.

and i was basically looking for alternate suggestions that may have worked elsewhere

I know you are looking for alternatives and compromises but the only way you can compromise in this issue is by creating a system where your centre is not optimized and your customers (Service Level Expectations) may suffer.

It’s a simple decision of deciding what is more important to you. Your job and helping customers or having lunch with your buddies.

With thanks to Justin

A Few Suggestions

Optimisation without a z, has been quite readily brought in at the Contact Centre where I work but granted we came from a situation of set in stone individual breaks (so did not have the team issue).

I’ve certainly seen team based scheduling before though and I can imagine it would be tough to bring in a new ethos using the optimisation. Try explaining to people (start with a group maybe, of selected people within the centres feeling the impact) about the impact of not achieving SL, such as queues causing irate customers making their job more difficult. Try bringing the world they live in into the conversations as well, such as how frustrating it would be to nip to the supermarket only to find a sizeable chunk of the till operatives have gone to lunch at the same time leaving them in a queue etc.

Ultimately, without knowing the full details, it might simply be a shift in culture was “expected” rather than discussed. If they felt they had some input originally (like the option to select new times that best fit the individuals) you might have found less resistance. But as I say, you may well have gone through that.

With thanks to Robert

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 12th Apr 2022 - Last modified: 21st Apr 2022
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