There’s nothing that destroys a perfectly good call center schedule like unplanned absences.
Don’t get us wrong—we’re in full support of call center agents taking time off and embracing work-life balance. But scheduling shifts becomes tough when absenteeism rises, leaving the agents who did show up to bear the brunt.
Unplanned absences have a ripple effect that can impact everything from customer satisfaction to agent attrition to contact center KPIs—and that’s something you shouldn’t ignore. If you’re consistently finding your team short-staffed, you may be overlooking this key area of your call center’s performance.
What is Absenteeism, Anyway?
Absenteeism is also known as “absence rate” in the call center. This figure stands for unapproved time agents spend away from their workstation. This doesn’t include planned absences from work (i.e., booked vacations, paid holidays, jury duty). Rather, it should include the following:
- Sick leave
- Personal days
- Unexplained absences
- Extended breaks at work
That’s not an exhaustive list, but it covers the most common instances of unauthorized or unplanned leave. Your absence rate can be used to highlight general areas of improvement around productivity or identify employees who may need support with time management.
Common causes of absenteeism can include:
- Work stress or burnout
- Insufficient support at work
- Frequent scheduling issues
- Poor culture fit
- Negative work atmosphere
If you’re struggling with these issues in your call center, you should begin tracking and logging absence rates. Which brings us to our next topic…
The Magic Formula: Calculating Absence Rate
Absence rate is a relatively simple figure to calculate. To determine your team’s monthly absenteeism rate, use the formula below:
Monthly Absenteeism (%)
= # hours absent this month / Total # hours scheduled for the team this month x 100
The resulting percentage shows how much time your agents spend away from their workstations during working hours. You can use a variation of this formula to track individual agent absenteeism as well. This can be a helpful figure to discuss during employee performance reviews.
Here is the formula for calculating monthly individual absenteeism—it’s very similar to the formula for calculating team absenteeism:
Monthly Individual Absenteeism (%)
= # hours agent is absent this month / # hours agent was scheduled this month x 100
How Absenteeism Impacts Your Call Center
We’ve explained what absenteeism is, as well as how to calculate absence rate. Before you roll your eyes at yet another performance metric to track, consider the KPIs directly affected by absenteeism:
- Cost of operation
- Staffing and scheduling
- Customer satisfaction (CSat)
- First call resolution (FCR)
- Abandonment rate
- Agent satisfaction and attrition
High absenteeism impacts your contact center operations in the same way short-staffing does. The workday will be more challenging for the agents who do show up and it becomes difficult to maintain a positive customer experience. Metrics like first call resolution and abandonment rate may start to tumble.
Cost of Absenteeism ($)
= # unauthorized hours absent / Average agent hourly rate
The formula above helps track the cost of absenteeism. It’s an approximation, but this figure can help management understand the full impact absenteeism has on the business. If your call center agents are salaried, note that you’ll need to take an extra step to calculate their hourly wages.
Analyzing Your Absence Rate: What Does it Mean?
Calculating absenteeism is the easy part. The hard part is next: drawing conclusions from your new set of data.
By measuring absence rates on a monthly basis, you’ll be able to identify trends and patterns from the resulting information. But a simple percentage figure doesn’t say much on its own—here are a few things to keep in mind when assessing your data.
Monthly versus annual tracking
You may have noticed that the formulas we provided above focus on monthly absenteeism reporting. While it’s less work upfront, annual reporting doesn’t give you as many data points, making it more difficult to identify patterns and causes for high absence rates.
Also, keep in mind that you may see shifting absenteeism patterns throughout the year. Does your absence rate spike during certain months, and drop during others? Remember, by putting in the effort to collect this information, you’ll be much better positioned to address any challenges your call center faces.
Separate short- and long-term absenteeism
Absence rate can be a bit misleading if you don’t know what to look for. That’s because some instances of absenteeism carry more weight than others. For example, it’s acceptable for employees to call in sick to work if they aren’t well. It’s extended unauthorized use of time that you’ll want to address.
Martin Jukes at Mpathy Plus recommends breaking the absence rate into two categories: short-term and long-term. Short-term absenteeism consists of absences of up to five consecutive days. Any absences beyond that would be considered long-term absenteeism. By separating this information, you’ll be able to see which types of absences are most common in your contact center.
Identifying group trends
Another way you can break down your absence rate is by group. Your contact center is run by many different departments and teams, each with their own specialties and skills. By assessing each group’s absence rate individually, you can find out which teams are contributing the most to your absenteeism.
Let’s say you have a low employee absence rate of 5%. While this is great for your department overall, you may find that one team is contributing to much of that score. That’s an insight you won’t have if you don’t break down your data.
Reduce Absenteeism with These Tactics
Once you’ve identified key areas for improvement, it’s time to formulate a plan of action. The following tips are great places to begin:
Offer immediate feedback to your agents.
Don’t ignore unauthorized leave. Agents will form habits based on the feedback they do or don’t receive. What’s more, letting this type of behavior slide may encourage other agents to follow suit.
It may be tempting to hold onto this feedback until a formal review comes along, but by that point you may find yourself with a bigger problem on your hands. Take the individual aside and share your feedback to nip any problems in the bud.
Improve working conditions.
Look at your contact center and ask yourself: “Would I be productive in this environment?” If your workplace is drab and dreary, it may negatively impact your team’s productivity levels, leading to absenteeism. Consider investing in office lighting, ergonomic equipment, and other things to make the environment more welcoming.
But don’t just stop at aesthetics—consider the tools that agents rely on to do their work. Investing in call center technology that automates the monotonous parts of their job can make things easier for them. And the easier it is to do their work, the more likely they’ll be at their workstation supporting callers.
Fonolo’s call-back solutions eliminate the need for hold time, keeping call volumes manageable and improving both customer and agent satisfaction. Win-win!
Update your absenteeism policy.
When was the last time your management team visited your absenteeism policy? With more contact centers embracing remote and hybrid work, it’s important to keep these standards current so they align with your present-day operations.
After analyzing your absence rate data, you may need to add or adjust your policy to better serve your needs. Be sure to clearly communicate these changes to your agents and be ready to open the floor to any questions or concerns they may have.
Conduct return-to-work interviews.
For long-term absences, it’s always a good idea to check in with your agents over a return-to-work meeting. This is an opportunity to document the reason behind the absence and offer support for their transition back to the workplace.
Incentivize good attendance.
Consider offering incentives for consistently strong attendance to reward agents for their time management skills and dedication. This could consist of anything from cash bonuses to paid time off. Be sure to clearly outline and communicate the requirements to your agents.