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What’s the question we should be asking?

For years I worked in the outsourced call centre industry for several different employers. Talk about a fast-paced, ever changing, dynamic environment! Each day, week and month was filled with a myriad of employee relations challenges, learning opportunities and case studies on human behavior. Because these sites were 3rd party sites, our clients would often impose many last minute changes on our employees, including hours of operation, overall shift changes, etc. Whenever there was an imposed change, either due to trying to maintain positive client relations or poor contract negotiations, there was usually some sort of adverse impact to the employees. Typically shifts were changed (made later), hours were shortened or lengthened, or additional weekend coverage was required – you get the picture. When these changes came down the pipe (with little to no notice) the first question that was typically asked was, “What do we (legally) have to do here to make this happen?”

Question symbolWhat they were really asking was, “are there any sort of laws/labour standards, etc. that are being violated by imposing these changes?” Bottom line was that these changes WERE happening unless there was some sort of potential legal pitfall. It is a funny thing – the one thing that gets operations folks squeamish is running afoul of the law! As tempting as it was/is to play the labour law police, I refused to get sucked into that discussion. Obviously as a steward of the organization I would make sure the company wasn’t putting itself in a precarious position; however my goal was to steer the conversation in another direction. I always felt that the question being asked was the wrong one. We shouldn’t be looking at what laws/standards we may be breaking or needing to adhere to, we should be looking at what we can do for our employees to make the change happen or at least make it more palatable for them.

I think we all can agree that if the first approach is consistently used (that is, unless it is “violating” some law, than this [change] is happening/forced on to the employees), than the end result is that you will have an environment where ultimately staff will become quickly disengaged and turnover. The better approach is to look at it from the perspective of, “ok, we know this change is not overly palatable to staff; however, we need to find a way to make it happen.” So, what if we changed our mindset? What if we looked at it positively and focused on how we can sweeten the pot to make the change happen – especially if it is shorter term in nature? Is that so difficult to do?

By shifting the approach, we are in effect changing our culture and incentivizing our employees. In the case of short term shift changes or additional hours coverage we looked at things like providing lunch/supper for the staff, paying a short term bonus, providing additional paid day(s) off, etc. For the most part, they are all low cost ideas that go a long way in saying to your staff:

“Look, we know this is kind of a pain in the behind for you right now, but we appreciate you and your flexibility and we don’t take it or you for granted.”

At the end of the day, that is all employees are looking for anyway – to be heard, to be respected and to be treated fairly. Often what the staff has in mind is far less onerous or expensive than what companies think their employees are looking for! Organizations that GET this are the ones that are highly successful as measured by their bottom line results. This is because they have an engaged workforce that is willing to go that extra mile. Average to mediocre performing companies languish behind as they use draconian approaches to managing their people – and then once their turnover rate spikes, they complain that “there is no talent out there.” You know the ones I am talking about……perhaps you have worked for a few of them yourself.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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