Everyone needs to take time off at some point. Perhaps an agent with children wants to see a school play. Maybe it’s time for a dentist’s or doctor’s appointment.
Here’s how to deal with such requests.
1. Get proactive – ask if any agents need time off this week
A Monday-morning team meeting provides the perfect opportunity to get advance warning of any short-notice absence requests on the horizon. Sometimes staff may forget to request the time off they need, or they may be nervous about asking their team leader.
Make it simple by asking them at the start of each week. If someone thinks they may need time off that week, but isn’t certain yet, make a note of it. A few days’ advance warning can make all the difference when it comes to finding cover.
2. Be supportive
An agent making a request for time off at short notice may be under considerable strain in their personal life. Rather than interrogating them in an attempt to deter excessive time away from work, managers and supervisors should take care to create an atmosphere of support.
Lack of understanding of an employee’s problems can contribute to high staff turnover and absenteeism. This can be a by-product of an attendance policy that is too strict. Some contact centres use flexible working or innovative shift-swapping schemes to allow staff greater control over their working hours.
3. Allow shift swaps
At HBOS, the flexible working scheme also includes swift swapping and ‘sliding’ – pushing back a shift start time.
By giving flexibility back to agents, schemes like these reduce the number of days taken as dishonest sick days. Large contact centres can run shift-swap systems through the company intranet. The more agents who can access the system, the easier it will be in theory for any agent to swap a shift successfully.
In smaller centres, Facebook can be used instead of specialised software. A team leader could create a dedicated page or group on Facebook for members of the team to arrange swaps when needed.
Alternatively, a good old-fashioned notice board can serve the same purpose, provided someone remembers to clear it of old notes occasionally.
4. Have a clear attendance policy
One of the most basic ways to deal with short-notice absence requests effectively is to have a clear policy on how staff should make such requests. Every agent should know exactly who to call if they need time off, usually a line manager or designated contact for absence requests. They should also know the time by which they need to call in the morning if they need the day off.
An absence policy exists to formalise the procedure and allows the business to cover its needs. It should include details of follow-up procedures to be taken after an employee returns to work, such as a return-to-work interview, or sanctions for absence without suitable explanation. This will help ensure that everyone is treated fairly and in accordance with relevant employment law.
5. Notice period is important
How many times have you asked agents to cover for colleagues at short notice, only to be told ‘well, if you’d asked me earlier in the week I could’ve done it”?
Well, the same happens the other way round.
It’s a common response that highlights the importance of getting the longest possible notice if a member of staff is likely to need time off. Some circumstances – illness, for example – cannot be planned for, but those that can often aren’t known about until it’s too late.
6. Advise staff when to book medical appointments
Advising staff to book dentist’s, doctor’s or hospital appointments during quiet times in the contact centre can help reduce the impact of short-notice absence. Allowing staff to go for their appointment and return to work afterwards can also minimise disruption to service levels.
7. Duvet days
A ‘duvet day’ is a means for an agent to take a day off at very short notice. Organisations including HBOS and the DVLA in Swansea have duvet-day schemes whereby an agent can call in before their shift starts and ask to take the day off. This day is deducted from the agent’s annual holiday allowance, and the number of duvet days that can be taken by an individual agent is usually limited.
Duvet days are explored in more detail here: https://www.callcentrehelper.com/how-duvet-days-can-reduce-staff-absence-13318.htm
8. Use home working to provide temporary cover
Setting up agents to work from home is getting easier all the time. Large call centres could consider having a portion of their agents set up to be ‘on call’ during part of their time off, to cover short-notice staff absence.
This could be done on a voluntary or rotational basis to ensure fairness. Alternatively, an agent who has to take time off at short notice could do some work at home, fitting in around the reason for absence.
9. Rota-in cover
Planning a certain amount of cover into the rota can help deal with absent staff. London call centre RSVP is staffed by actors, who are able to leave at very short notice to attend auditions.
“We never know when someone is going to be called for an audition,” said Gemma Layton, Account Manager at RSVP. “All we can really do is manage the rota accordingly.”
Agents are employed flexibly, and submit the hours they are able to work from week to week. The weekly rota includes cover for the expected level of short-notice absence. As this applies to all staff in the call centre, it may seem quite risky – what if a larger number than usual are off to attend auditions, or for any of the more usual reasons for staff absence?
“On any one day, we always have one or two people who have to leave for a couple of hours to go to an audition,” said Layton. “Our performance levels are never really damaged, because we’ve always covered it”.
“In the six years I’ve been here, we’ve only had to call staff in to cover absence a couple of times, and even then it’s been in circumstances like heavy snow, where London has come to a halt.”
10. Create a team mentality
An environment in which agents are working together in pursuit of common goals may enable a team to cope more effectively when someone makes a short-notice absence request.
For starters, agents in a close-knit team will be more aware of the fact that absence means extra work for colleagues, and this will reduce requests. Colleagues who know each other well may be more willing to cover shifts when an agent is absent.
How do you deal with short-notice absence requests? Share your tips in a comment below.