Monday, April 22, 2019

Work Ethic, Attendance Management, Mom and The Mrs.

By Ron Rhodes 

There is a quote I enjoy from Reginald F. Lewis, the Baltimore-born CEO/Investor whose life provided so many early inspirational lessons for me. Mr. Lewis once said,

“The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately,”
words that bring to mind a belief that seems to have faded with the 20th Century.

The belief I refer to is often described as work ethic which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a set of values centered on the importance of doing work and reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard.” Your adds this: “an example of someone with work ethic is a person who gets to work on time every day and always works long days to get the job done.” All of my sources describe work ethic as “a moral good.” It is in it and through it that one can achieve prosperity and enduring emotional reward.

These days, however, given the perpetual advancement of time saving technology and the pursuit of work-life balance, burning the midnight oil should not be considered a (work ethic) requirement. It should suffice that you are willing to do what is needed, when it is needed, but if you don’t need to stay in the office, by all means, go home, hug your kids and pet your dog. Do you want to have and be recognized for having a good work ethic? Of course, you do. So, show up consistently and punctually and when you do, do good work. I learned that from the late great Mamie Rhodes (miss you Mom).

But our purpose here is to share thoughts about the management of employee attendance. Beginning this way served only to illustrate that work ethic is the metaphorical parent of attendance related behaviors. You’ll likely agree that attendance is the first and most controllable employment essential because without it, nothing else really matters.

My wife manages a team of customer service professionals within a large Philippine-based BPO (Business Process Outsourcer). One of the (hopefully many) advantages of our life partnership is that she is entitled to a sort of informal professional mentoring (free of charge) where she may seek my advice and either take it or suggest what else I might consider doing with it. 😊 Thankfully, she does acknowledge that I have a great deal of practical experience in BPO and contact center operations. I may, on occasion, share valuable insight that could help her as she advances. Alas, she is Filipina and quite direct so she doesn’t really put it that way. She just says I’m old so I should know stuff by now.

A frequent topic of discussion for us is basic attendance management and why it has become so difficult over the years. I’ll get to my theories and suggestions, but first it seems important to review why staff attendance is so important in a BPO/contact center setting. Start with pricing. Forget the ideals for the moment. The fact is that BPO pricing is typically based on transaction quantity, but more customarily, some increment of time; per minute, per hour, paid or productive. This is almost always measured by modern automation. It follows that if employees don’t show up when scheduled, you (the BPO) may not bill for that time or those transactions while you are still saddled with most or all of the employment expenses. From a purely business standpoint, this is not sustainable over a long period.

Next, there are a chain reaction of negative service issues associated with poor employee attendance. You will likely be understaffed, resulting in queues or other work-related backlogs, client dissatisfaction and threats to business stability.

Finally, there is the spiraling decline of morale within your department and the fact that behaviors, positive or negative, can be contagious. This is especially true when recognition, where positive, or accountability, where negative, are either, not present or consistently applied.

I have seen and heard of all kinds or practices and devices intended to drive compliance with attendance policies; from “perfect attendance bonuses” where employees accept jobs and then are paid extra to come to that job; to actually making daily calls to (I emphasize) adult employees during which you remind them of their schedule and seek confirmation that they will honor it. Both of these have questionable foundation. One says that we do not expect or feel we have a right to a workforce with a strong work ethic; therefore, we will pay extra and hope the incentive drives the behavior. The other is a bit more dangerous because it allows little balance on the accountability scale. The manager not only owns developing employees, but is expected to literally coddle them as if they were small children. Personally, I would be offended if my manager continually called me just to remind me to come to work…and not because the call wakes me up. The very power source of a strong work ethic is pride.

I suppose I am also not a fan of elaborate attendance point systems with challenges and buy backs. And of the approach many organizations take to scrutinizing and validating medical excuses (people in the industry know exactly what I mean). I guess you could say that I’m old school. Establish a policy based on a fair and reasonable definition of excessive absenteeism and then the chair is either empty or it isn’t. I would trust and respect all reasons for unplanned absences so a note from your doctor is not necessary. I would simply manage excessive absenteeism and patterns of abuse. Again, the chair is either empty or it isn’t.

As far as managing attendance, I advise my wife to be proactive. Have sincere and direct discussions with your team members. By this I mean that directness and sincerity have to be a two-way street. This is not a time for Facebook or emails. During these discussions three (3) things should happen: 1) The importance and rationale around attendance policy (or schedule) adherence should be clarified. 2) Compliance expectations should be clearly set and 3) If a particular employee has attendance challenges, openness and honesty should be encouraged with the hope of discovering and addressing the root cause. Then be consistent. Say what you mean and do what you say. This expectation will become culture over time.

Yes, there are occasionally reasons that employees are unable to come to work, but then they are 23 years old. I figure if I can bring my sore from old sports injuries, diabetes and high cholesterol managing self into work regardless of what time of the day or the week I’m scheduled, someone considerably younger has a much better shot. This is about choice and character, after all, is the sum total of the choices we make in life.

Passionate about mentoring and developing the industry’s future leaders, in 2000, Ron authored Fundamentals of Call Center Management, a guide intended to help entry level managers, as they begin to master their craft. Having spent 20 years with category leaders, American Express, Nestle, Moore Business Forms (now RR Donnelly) and Comcast, Ron's background includes an additional 10 years of key global BPO assignments with TeleTech, Convergys, Stream, STARTEK and now Connext. Ron's international experience includes stints in Jamaica, Canada and currently the Philippines.

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