11 Top Tips on Flexible Shift Patterns

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Flexible shift patterns are one of the more innovative ways of dealing with employee absence and attrition.  We asked our experts for their advice.

The whole topic of flexible shifts is an interesting one – for some it means true flexibility, for a few it means none. I visited one centre where everyone on a ‘flexible shift’ worked static hours – they were just not 9-5-type shifts.

Tip 1 – Create Shifts That Fit Lifestyles

The key is to talk to staff and design schedules that suit their lifestyles before applying them to the call patterns and then granting as many of these personal-type shifts as possible. It is easier to offer groups of schedules for people to opt into (e.g. a guaranteed Tuesday night off – for those who like to watch Champions League football). When people get these concessions they are then more likely to work unpopular shifts at other times in the week.

The Professional Planning Forum has presented two companies with scheduling awards – normally around flexibility.   Here are the results:

Example a – TSC in Scotland

“After surveying what people wanted to work, resource planners created a powerful model to enable people to opt for a personal lifestyle pattern or receive a financial incentive for being fully flexible and covering the full spectrum of shifts. This approach drove employee engagement up 10%, attrition down 32% and applicants per job tripled. What’s more, applying the model has helped TSC improve the service it provides for its client. Sales through service is up more than 66%. ”

Example b – Thames Valley Police

John Casey

John Casey

“Primetime generated a significant budget saving in the police enquiry centres (PECs) and took service levels from 84.9% to 93.4% on non-emergency calls. Implemented after full consultation, the Primetime contracts apply to new police staff and volunteers; they offer schedule flexibility to better match customer demand and provide for longer working weeks in the summer.”

“There has also been a big impact on people; individual preferences can be taken account of and hours lost to sickness by Primetime staff are half that of operators working fixed rotational shifts.”


  • Non emergency service level up from 84.9% to 93.4%
  • Overtime spend reduced by approximately 30%
  • Primetime sickness is half that of operators working fixed rotational shifts”

Thanks to John Casey, Director of Professional Development, Professional Planning Forum

Tip 2 – Provide Different, Interesting Shift Options

We’ve seen quite a variety of shifts used and most have the benefit of providing greater consistency of service to callers and some also provide greater employee flexibility and satisfaction. Here are some interesting options:

Maggie Klenke

  • Three 10-hour shifts and two 5-hour shifts
  • Three 12-hour overnight shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (paid for full week)
  • 10 hours on peak day and 7.5 the rest of the week
  • 10 hours on peak day, 9 hours on two days and a half-day off one day
  • Four early shifts and one late shift each week (late means about 3-4 hours later start)

The idea is to get more man-hours into the peak day and fewer into the slow days as a part of the normal shifts and not have to do it with overtime and time-off without pay.

Thanks to Maggie Klenke, Owner, The Call Center School

For more ideas for improving your shift options, read our article: The Best Shift Patterns for the Contact Centre

Tip 3 – Get the Notice Period Right

The flexibility bit of flexible working isn’t really the issue, it’s more the notice period. Ask an agent to work any five from seven days flexing anywhere from 8am to 2pm and the response you will get will be different than if you give them two weeks’ notice of a specific start time or six weeks’ notice.

The length of notice you want to give will have an impact on the pressure your forecaster is under, with a need for them to be as accurate as possible further out.

Tip 4 – Remember, Transparency Is Key

In my experience transparency is the key, I advocate that a WFM team draws up a mutually agreed set of “scheduling principles” with the business that clearly outlines the parameters of the flexibility and notice periods. Thenget everyone to sign up to that.

That way the scheduler has a clearly defined set of boundaries to work within in order to provide the best rosters and not lose the co-operation of the staff.

Tip 5 – Introduce Agent Preferences

If you can also introduce agent preferences into the flexibility mix that will also grease the wheels a little for implementing a flexible schedule.

Graeme Gabriel

However, if you do ask for agent preferences make sure staff are aware that it’s a preference and not guaranteed – if you really want to cause trouble in a call centre, promise something and then take it away.

Everyone needs to understand that a preference is something you will try and meet, and hopefully if preferences are spread across the spectrum of the shift pattern you should meet some, easing the pain a little.

Thanks to Graeme Gabriel

Tip 6 – A Happier Employee Is More Likely to Respond to Their Work and Pressures Effectively

We operate core hours and it’s essential we have a certain number of people on our phones during that time or we face SLA/KPI issues. From an HR perspective, I’d review the needs of the individuals vs. the needs of the business – in customer service/contact centres your people are your main asset and you mustn’t lose sight of the impact unhappy employees will have on the customers they encounter.

Subsequently, I’m an advocate of flexible working as it can have significant benefit for motivation and morale and can positively impact on employee engagement – a happier employee is more likely to respond to their work and pressures effectively, which can be measured in satisfaction surveys, attrition rates, attendance levels, centre environment and ultimately your business results.

Tip 7 – Get Employee Buy-In Right

Employee buy-in can be the hardest part and will be the challenge right from the start (to deal with change) so I’d focus a lot of energy on participative cascades of information (the implementation); if you communicate change correctly, involve your staff and put change in context then it’s more likely to be a success.

Thanks to Emma Parker, HR Business Partner at Percepta

For more on the relationship between employee satisfaction and scheduling, read our article: How to Avoid Schedule Dissatisfaction

Tip 8 – Use Flexible Working to Cover the Early Shift

You could split some of your full-time employees into part-time staff, which would then cover the morning rush and the initial phase of lunches. You have more staff covering the busy time but no extra cost as your FTE count still remains the same. Also, as these workers are part time they would not need a lunch so that solves two issues.

Or move more of your staff onto the earlier shift, dependant on how busy you are at the end of the day. If you’re fairly ‘quiet’ between 5 and 6 then only have one team on to cover that slot.

There are clearly some variables to consider as well. Have you monitored any missed calls before your opening time of 9am? If you are actually receiving calls from 8am and the message states you are open from 9-6 people will tend to wait eagerly until 9am exactly, causing an influx of calls. Maybe extending your opening hours could help even out the call distribution.

Also, do you have people making outbound calls at this time, trying to get ahead with their own workload for the day? You can ban outbound between this time, or even put outbound slots in place for the morning or require team leader authorisation to do work other than taking inbound calls.

Once you ‘lose’ service level in the morning it’s an uphill struggle for the rest of the day and likewise with your abandonment figures.

Thanks to M Henderson – a member of the Call Centre Helper Forum

Tip 9 – Flexible Working for Early and Late Starters

Flexible shift patterns should work well for any call centre. The easiest to manage should be for early and late starters.

Jonty Pearce

The trick is to start by looking at the call profile and your staffing profile. Can you then see if you can get some people to start early and some to finish late?

You may find that your resource forecasting software may be able to help you in modelling the call profiles against the number of people needed.

Thanks to our editor, Jonty Pearce

Tip 10 – Earlier Starts or Later Finishes

I developed a flexible rota where agents were scheduled to work four and a half days a week and made the hours up by working an additional 30 to 60 minutes per day, i.e. earlier starts or later finishes. I was able to offer a long weekend in this way by finishing at lunchtime on Friday and doing a later shift on Monday.
You could also look at your intra-day forecast and amend short breaks and lunch hours if you haven’t already tried that approach.

Thanks to Suet – a contributor to the Call Centre Helper Forum

Tip 11 – Take a Look at Your Intraday Call Distribution Curve

Well, I think there is a scheduling problem, and that you probably need do adapt your shifts and breaks. In your place, I would take a look at your intra-day call distribution curve and see if there aren’t bad shifts defined.

Without knowing your curve, I would say you need to adjust some of the schedules you have starting at 8.30am and settle them in to end at 6pm. Simply put: some people have to login later.
If that does not work, you could try alternative routing models, and start taking advantage of idle times in order to get some outbound work done, and shift some people from out to in, in order to cover call peaks.

Thanks to Vantunes – a contributor to the Call Centre Helper Forum

For more on the topic of intraday, read our article: 12 Top Tips for Intraday Management in the Contact Centre

For more on the topic of scheduling in the contact centre, read our articles:

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 2nd Jun 2010 - Last modified: 23rd Apr 2024
Read more about - Workforce Planning, , , , ,

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  • We have introduced many flexible options for our staff including working 5 days a week 4.5 days and 4 day condensed shifts for our full timers. We also offer a choice of 30, 45 or 6o minute unpaid lunch options and 2×15 or 3×10 breaks.

    Shift start times vary from 0700-1100 with a 30min tolerance within any given week. We publish these shift 8 weeks in advance to give a maximum notice period and promote the use of shift swaps amongst the agents.

    Although there was initial resentment from the agents that were previously on fixed shifts, this has now improved significantly with the introduction of a “fairness” report to ensure that everybody has their fair share of start times.

    The benfits for our customers are overwhelming. Comparing a like for like Monday from prior and post introduction, we have seen the ASA in the evenings decrease from 950 seconds to less than 100.

    Paul Dubarry 3 Jun at 11:57
  • Working for an outsourcer many years ago, I had an area of around 85 heads that worked on a varied shift pattern basis.

    One of the gains that made a huge diference to my attrition and absence figures was to ensure that when we allocated the people a shift we did it groups 4’s or 5’s so at least that way they got the best of both worlds. You will always find theat there is more than one person who wants to work a similar shift

    Not only did they got a shift that suited them but they had someone around them for peer support.

    This was made possible by just talking to the staff, its amazing even now, that frontline staff and team managers are not consulted in the resource process.

    Neale Pardey 3 Jun at 15:48
  • When I worked at BT
    we used to do
    8-5 x 3 days
    8-4 1 day
    8-2 p/m
    Operators felt they were getting more than a day off with the early finish.
    Also if someone has a late finish they didn’t have an early start next day.

    Julia 3 Jun at 16:43