The findings of a relatively recent survey carried out by Sodexo Motivation Solutions revealed that more than half of Generation Y workers are making plans to leave their current employer within a year. Whether this will really happen in practice taking heed of the current labour market state of play, which is not really offering plenty of opportunities, is difficult to predict. Nonetheless, the survey, aiming at investigating Generation Y views on a number of work-related subjects, showed that Yers have an utterly negative perception of working at call centres, insofar as just a measly 5 percent of respondents deemed working in a call centre exciting, whereas a considerable 55 percent expressed an utterly negative opinion about the industry at large. One third of respondents even reported preferring claiming unemployment benefits to working at a call centre. Notwithstanding, 25 percent of the panellists said that they would consider a career in call centres for the flexible benefits these offer, whilst 43 percent specifically referred to flexible working as the sole valuable benefit offered by the employers of this industry to their staff. The findings of the survey also revealed that the current employer of 46 percent of the panellists is not offering any benefit, aside from salary, to their employees.
It clearly emerges from the study that individuals attach a significant importance and value to flexible benefits; it is hence regrettable that many organizations still do not offer these. Yet, flexible benefits could prove to be advantageous for organizations, too in that tax-efficient and enabling employers to provide their staff personalised awards. The creation of a new human capital proposition, which includes amongst the available options employee benefits, might indeed potentially contribute to reduce employee turnover rates and help employers to motivate staff.
All in all, it can be contended that the survey ultimately showed that there is still a lot to do to engage Gen Y people. The efforts, nonetheless, would be sorely justified; despite these individuals have different priorities from those of older generations and can be regarded to some degree as a new huge challenge to employers, their contribution is and remains of paramount importance for the call centre industry. Yers are able to quickly adapt to change, are willing to work hard, are creative and incline to take up new challenges. Notwithstanding, in order for employers to motivate and retain Generation Y people these must learn to manage and motivate them. First and foremost, call centres managers should get the message across that the call centre industry actually offers career prospects and is capable and willing to meet the expectations of individuals aiming at taking further responsibilities. Yet, to motivate and retain these individuals corporate culture should definitely foster and clearly convey the message that hard work is both acknowledged and rewarded, hopefully in a way that meets the specific needs and expectations of these individuals.
Call centres environments, nonetheless, also have positive features. According to a specific poll conducted by Lloyd’s pharmacy, call-centres employees are the most likely to have a relationship with a colleague: nearly 33 percent of call centres staff have a romantic liaison with someone they work with, followed by the finance (28 percent) and HR (26.5 percent) functions employees. Notwithstanding, as revealed by the CIPD Absence Management Survey (CIPD, 2009), call centre, with an average absence level of 12.4 days per employee per year, is the industry with the highest absence rate, with stress being openly acknowledged as one of the main causes for that.
This is indeed an issue call centres employers are usually used to cope with. At British Gas’ Cardiff call centre, for instance, sickness absence was representing a serious problem in 2008. Despite the staff short-term sickness absence rate was essentially in line with the national average ratio, the long-term sickness percentage, with 30 employees on long-term sickness leave each week, had indeed reached an alarming value.
The management realized that it was definitely time to take action and inspired by the five drivers of wellbeing recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), that is to say psychological, physical, financial, social and environmental states, developed a programme aiming at fostering different initiatives for each of the relevant five pillars, underpinned by the awareness that individuals are different one another. Practical examples of these initiatives were free health checks and fruits, and discounted gym membership for the “physical” pillar; emotional resilience seminars and chill-out rooms with TVs and Nintendo Wiis for the “psychological” state and concierge services for the “social” state.
The results obtained thanks to the introduction of the programme were impressive: the number of people in long-term sickness absence each week dropped from 30 to 9, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) reached the considerable value of +35, which is 25 points above the average utilities score and, most importantly, employee engagement increased of 7 percentage points. So remarkable were the results attained by the programme – called SMILE – as to this being integrated into the British Gas Group programmes.
A similar success was also obtained by the Lewisham Borough Council, which in 2009 was experiencing an undesirable remarkable increase in sick-related absence rates. Also in this case the launch of initiatives such as walk-to-work challenges, health awareness days, wellbeing-at-work fairs and smoking cessation support as well as the offering of on-site relaxation therapies and the set-up of some leisure facilities within the organization’s premises enabled the employer to drastically reduce the absence rates, save hundreds of thousands of pounds and increase of 6 points the workforce satisfaction index on work-life-balance-related issues.
Remarkable positive results were also attained by the contact centre of the Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) when the organization decided to improve its customer service level. In this instance, the employer desired individuals to concentrate more on the “how” rather than focusing on the “what” side when building relationships; these techniques needed to be based on a more positive mindset and culture. With the help of a learning solutions provider the employer offered a programme, called Positive Programme, composed of three different modules: Talking Positive, Selling Positive and Keeping Positive. During the Talking Positive module the Contact Centre Agents (CCAs) learned how to: “guide” a call, listen, ask questions, acknowledge, respond and upsell as well as how to handle conflicts. Team and customer service managers also attended a leadership skills workshop. Selling positive was mainly directed at the sales teams, whereas Keeping Positive was a programme more specifically concerned with customer retention. All of these programmes were supported by role-plays, discussions and coaching.
The programme produced indeed outstanding results and measurable performance improvements. A research conducted by an independent consumer intelligence agency in fact showed that CFS had obtained the highest level of improvement in sales techniques amongst its major competitors of the general insurance sectors. Yet, the new retention teams enabled the organization to save more than £1.8 million. One of the biggest evidences of the programme success was that other businesses within the group considered offering it.
Call centres are unquestionably particularly difficult to manage; moreover, enhancing CCAs’ morale, engagement and productivity is everything but an easy feat to perform. Nonetheless, it cannot be clearly overlooked that call centres, allowing organizations to stay open for business around the clock, are nowadays part of the strategy pursued by a constantly growing number of organizations. The services provided by these platforms, in many cases, can also enable organizations to gain competitive edge. Despite the workplace is at times particularly stressing and the job repetitive, call centres are destined to represent a vital part and a differentiating feature of many businesses hereinafter.
The job repetitiveness and the stress usually caused by call centre environments, possibly influenced by the individual awareness that their career prospects, if any, are limited have a negative impact on staff morale and productivity and, as data show, absence rates are usually also considerably high. Particular care should be thus constantly taken to effectually manage these businesses. Despite call centres might be deserted by Yers, who are more likely to seek for more rewarding and promising careers, call centres definitely have something positive to offer. Their atmosphere is usually very friendly, the environment rather informal and, most importantly, workplaces are technologically sophisticated, which should actually account for making these places particularly attractive to Gen Y people.
Call centres can be indeed transformed in places individuals may love to work at, but this is not an easy feat to perform in practice and in order to be successful employers definitely need to involve the whole organization management, with line managers playing the most crucial role. Group activities and teamwork can definitely help, but as showed by the CFS case, also health and wellbeing initiatives as well as training activities should have a remarkable positive impact and effectually help employers to improve engagement and reduce absenteeism. In general, group and out of work activities such as volunteering and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives might prove to be genuinely beneficial to create a good working atmosphere and improve motivation.
It is very unlikely that isolated, occasional measures could effectually enable an employer to attain long-term benefits so that the bundle approach, by reason of its multiplicative effect, is strongly recommended and very likely to yield effective, positive results.
Particular attention needs to be given to reward; once again a 360-degree approach would prove to be particularly beneficial so that the adoption of the total reward approach, taking heed of intrinsic as well as extrinsic, and direct in addition to indirect rewards should be considered somewhat of mandatory. Employers should develop bespoke reward systems, which as suggested by Armstrong (2007), should be based on a holistic approach combining transactional (concerned with benefits and pay) and relational rewards (concerned with L&D and the work experience). As aptly summarised by O’Neal (1998), total reward should consider and embrace everything employees feel and perceive as valuable in the employment relationship.