The so-called duvet day is an innovative way to tackle the problem of staff absence. We have investigated the companies using duvet days and bring you their surprising results.Workers in the UK take 180 million sick days each year. An estimated 27 million of these believed to be unwarranted and bogus, according to the most recent survey CBI/ Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey. Unplanned absence remains a huge problem in call centres.
Some call centres have used the duvet day to good effect, whilst others in the industry claim that they do little more than give staff an official blessing to pull a sickie. So how do successful duvet day schemes tackle unplanned absence, and what are the challenges that they bring up?
The Success Story
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority at Morriston in Swansea has used duvet days successfully for several years. Staff at the call centre are allowed up to three duvet days each year, which can be taken at very short notice. If a member of staff is feeling slightly ill, or hung-over, or just doesn’t feel up to a hard day’s work, they can call in at very short notice before their shift and ask to take a duvet day. They get the day off work to recover or sober up, taken from the employee’s 30-day annual holiday allowance. No questions are asked about the reason for needing the day off. This means that days previously taken dishonestly as sick leave are now instead taken as duvet days. An average of 25-30 people on any given day will be using a duvet day to take time off, out of a 650-strong workforce. The DVLA has also recently introduced a prize draw, ‘In To Win’, which allows staff with good attendance records to win an extra day of holiday. Since introduction of the scheme, the DVLA has seen a drop in sick days.
A duvet day-style scheme has also been used by HBOS, which introduced lifestyle-friendly rosters for contact centre staff in 2005. Staff were given a range of flexibility options called the FLEXTRA scheme. FLEXTRA includes the ability to swap shifts at short notice – in effect, a twist on the duvet day. Several different options allow staff to get time off including time banking (effectively a duvet day), shift swaps and shift ‘slides’. For example, if a member of staff feels under the weather one morning, they can call in and ‘slide’ their shift to an afternoon start time. Swapping has proven a popular option, and the scale of the HBOS contact centre operation – 6000 agents over nine different sites – allows shifts to be exchanged across the business. Within six months, sickness had been halved, and the days within service level had risen from 3% to 96%.
Results such as these look attractive to any business, and flexible working is a growing trend in many sectors of the economy. Successful contact centres often try to create environments in which staff are empowered to take ownership of their work, and time management is part of that.
But what happens on the morning after a big national event, like a World Cup football match, when a large number of employees all spontaneously decide they need a duvet day? One of the inherent problems of allowing days off at short notice is the risk that a contact centre could be left understaffed if too many people take duvet days at the same time. Such high-profile occasions can be planned for, perhaps by limiting the number of people who are granted a duvet day on any particular day.
Another solution is to extend the notice period staff must give if they wish to take time off. This method is used by the British Gas contact centre in Cardiff, winner of the European Call Centre Of The Year Award in 2009. British Gas have a short-term holiday booking system in place.
“We guarantee our people that if they can give three weeks notice they can take leave. That’s a pretty innovative thing to do. The only exceptions to that are maybe in the run-up to Christmas or summer holidays” said John Connolly, Service Excellence Manager for British Gas Premier Energy.
Earning a Duvet Day
Other companies use the term ‘duvet day’ in a different sense, as a staff incentive. Insure4Retirement, an insurance company specializing in home insurance for people over the age of 50, advertises duvet days in recruitment listings for call centre advisors. But their scheme is not a conventional duvet day.
“If a member of staff has no lateness or absence for three months they receive an extra day off as a duvet day. As soon as the duvet day is awarded they must tell Human Resources which day they wish to take, and depending on the needs of the business that will usually be arranged. Alternatively, they can cash in a duvet day for £60” said Diana Palmer, Recruitment Officer at Insure4Retirement.
A member of staff with perfect attendance can earn four extra days off per year. Offering such a reward for attendance works well, and the 190 call centre staff at the firm’s Bournemouth site are motivated to attend work every day.
License to Skive?
Some people see duvet days as the wrong way to approach an absence problem altogether. Commentators in the media often sneer at the idea of staff being officially allowed to take a day off just because they can’t be bothered going to work. After all, duvet days are a reactionary measure. A more effective option might be to identify the factors that cause staff to feel they need a day off, and work to reduce those factors. In June this year financial journalist Guy Clapperton wrote:
‘For me this [a duvet day scheme] is a terrible thing. Added together it looks as though large employers and the public sector are not only losing their connection with their staff but a number of them are chucking the towel in and accepting it.’
Absenteeism costs the UK economy £17 billion per year, according to the CBI/Pfizer survey. For Clapperton, it is important that employers and employees find common ground and reconnect in the workplace, rather than “apathetically take random days off’.
Finding A Balance
For contact centres like the DVLA and HBOS, a duvet day scheme has helped tackle an extensive absence problem and allowed managers to build an honest relationship with staff. Contact centres that employ high numbers of young people or parents may find that duvet days improve morale, as staff no longer have to worry about dishonestly phoning in sick to deal with a childcare crisis or a hangover. Duvet days also benefit employees with specific healthcare needs.
A Department of Work and Pensions study published in 2008 recommended that duvet days could help people with mental health issues to stay in employment. Other employers have adapted the best parts of the idea into flexible working or attendance-incentive schemes. In doing that, contact centres achieve a balance between resource planning and staff satisfaction. Staff can also achieve that all important work-life balance – and choose exactly when they want to stay under the duvet all day.
Matthew Brown is an up and coming writer and the latest additon to the Call Centre Helper team. You will be seeing a lot more from Matthew in the coming months.
Does your call centre practice duvet days? Tell us about your experiences