Alex Coxon looks at how to optimise part-time working.
How to make things better
1. Treat part-time workers the same
The first move, says ProtoCall One’s Andy Turner, is to recognise that part-time staff are making the same contribution to the business as anyone else – albeit on a pro rata basis – and they therefore need the same support structure as any other member of staff.
Deborah Martin, site operations manager at the Nottingham call centre for insurance firm Domestic & General, concurs.
“Just because someone is working part-time or unusual hours – such as night shifts – it doesn’t mean they should be treated differently to full-time people,” she argues. “We have a 24/7 operation here, and we have to utilise part-time staff to maximise our call handling capability,
2. Make sure managers cover part-time shifts
“To guarantee that [using part-time staff] is effective, we ensure that everyone working part-time gets the same opportunities as those working full-time. If we have an event during the day, for instance, we’ll run a smaller version of the same event in the evening for our part-time people. Also, where we have people working part-time over evenings or weekends, we’ll have a manager to match that [shift pattern],” said Deborah Martin.
“If part-time staff don’t feel they’re getting the same amount of support and training as their full-time peers, it can drive them away,” says Claire Richardson, director of workforce optimisation solutions at technology provider Verint. “If someone is working nights and doesn’t have access to a team leader, for example, they can quickly start feeling under-valued. And if those feelings persist, it can start causing anger, resentment, and perhaps even absenteeism or attrition.”
3. The same amount of training
According to Martin, this equitable approach to full- and part-time working needs to observed from the outset; whether staff work 15 or 35 hours a week, they still need the same amount of training in order to do the job effectively.
“You’ve got to give people exactly the same skills – even if they’re only able to learn those skills over a couple of hours a day rather than over a full-time shift,” she says.
4. Don’t be afraid of negotiating
“That said, you shouldn’t be afraid of negotiating with part-time recruits,” Martin continues. “We do have training teams that work evenings and weekends. But sometimes we need to reach a compromise with a new starter, and maybe get them to come in for a few hours beyond their shift while they’re training, or to work a slightly different schedule until the training has finished… This helps them get up to speed as quickly as possible.”
5. Keep the working hours consistent
Outside of training and managerial backing, it is also important to give part-time staff the colleague support they require to work effectively.
“We’ve found that part-time people can end up feeling very isolated if they work too many different hours from their peer group,” says Benjamin Napier, business change manager at the charity NSPCC, which uses part-time volunteers to staff its ChildLine call centres. “Having people working regular shift patterns can help reduce that isolation and allow them to form constructive working relationships.”
6. Good communication
“Obviously our situation is different to a lot of call centres’ because we operate using volunteer counsellors rather than paid staff. However, I think the principle is still the same; if you have a good communication policy – one that conveys the realities of demand patterns to part-time workers – it can help win their buy-in to work shifts in less sociable hours,” continues Benjamin Napier.
There are, as we’ve seen, several ways to optimise part-time working in the call centre, ranging from offering the same quality and volume of training as full-time staff through to having a robust communication strategy in place.
The resounding factor, however, is the need for support. As ProtoCall One’s Andy Turner states: “It’s down to the call centre to look after their part-time workers as well as they do their full-time staff.
“Organisations can’t afford to be lazy,” he adds. “If they want long-term engagement from their part-time staff, they need to put the right support structure in place. They need to invest in all of their staff – whether they work full-time or part-time.”
Dos and don’ts
David Jones, of Q-Max, offers up some salient scheduling tips for those who want to make part-time working effective in their call centre.
- Consult your part-timers. Discuss what shift patterns would best meet their personal needs while also meeting your schedule requirements.
- Consider using rotating shifts. A well-designed rota will be regarded by staff as fair. However, it will also help ensure that hard-to-cover shifts are incorporated.
- Remember that a full-timer working an eight-hour shift requires two 15-minute breaks and an hour at lunch. Two part-timers covering the same eight hours only require two 15-minute breaks apiece.
- Be creative in shift design; a good workforce management (WFM) system can pay dividends here.
- Abuse part-timers by giving them all the unpopular, difficult or unsociable shifts.
- Treat part-timers as second-class employees; they are a hugely valuable asset and need to be treated as such.
- Think you can get away with not giving part-time staff a break during their shift hours; a 15-minute break for four hours work is sensible and practical.
Does your call centre operate part-time working? If so, how successful is it? Please leave your comments in an email to Call Centre Helper