When I’m reading about progressive companies with Agile Management structures, or high-level perks, I often see ‘open schedules’, ‘telecommuting’, and ‘unlimited vacation’ bandied about – these are great things when trying to attract and keep skilled IT people. However, in my experience in the collection sector, we as an industry have the exact opposite environment for our most valued and important staff – our collection agents. They are often held to rigid and uncaring schedules with mandatory Saturdays, frequent late night shifts, and harsh disciplinary measures for absenteeism.
I decided to change that.
I’ve worked in management at other agencies, and I had the unfortunate task of implementing and enforcing absenteeism policies – and I managed to bring one agency’s absenteeism level down to about 10%. In speaking with some of my colleagues, I hear of many agencies averaging 5-15% absenteeism at any given point, and these other agencies suffer a high turnover, many exits being caused by absenteeism.
It’s perfectly understandable – a collection agency’s commodity is manpower and skill – without people making calls and answering the phone, our clients’ portfolios would not be recovered and everything would grind to a halt. However, many of these agencies are the cause of their own problems, between their hiring schedule, their culture, and their policies put in place.
When we opened Kingston Data & Credit in 2010, we decided to lay the groundwork for a more progressive culture, and we’ve made changes in stages as we have grown.
Step One – Floating Late Days
Our branches all were set up with a basic schedule of 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, with one day in the week until 7:00 pm, and another day in the week until 3:00 pm. This is not wildly different from other agencies, but the difference was the team members could pick and choose which days they would come and go. Have a headache? Go ahead and take your 3 pm early day today. Want to change your late night each week? No problem …
This required a certain amount of trust in our team members to work often in small groups without management (since we have a flat company structure, this was our norm), and use their time effectively. While this put a lot of pressure on our hiring process to pick the right people, it created an accommodating atmosphere for our team. They were not slaved to their desks, or had mandatory Saturdays to work, and it was one of our key features in hiring.
Step Two – Revenue Sharing
While this isn’t directly related to absenteeism, per se, we also implemented fairly early on a revenue sharing plan, that had the team members of any given branch receiving a percentage of any excess revenues generated beyond the branch target. This had an auxiliary effect of our team *wanting* to come in and put in extra time if the branch was doing well – often we would have staff who were ahead of target (or even behind target, but wanted to pull their weight) putting in voluntary time to reach and exceed company goals. It meant that our team was vested in whether we succeeded or not, and accounted for that in their schedule
Step Three – Flex Time and Banked Personal Hours
More recently, we rolled out the next stage of our HR plan – we decided to reward perfect attendance with two hours each month to be saved up and taken as paid time off when staff members needed it. This rewarded the folks who never miss a day. We also opened up this policy further to allow staff to further flex their work schedule, by banking extra time outside their schedules they could then take off later as they chose. This meant a little bit of tracking, but allowed for two-hour doctor appointments in the middle of the day, personal days off, and rewarding those folks who wanted to work later.
You know what happened from these changes we implemented over the past three to four years? Absenteeism went *down*. Team members who were late self-corrected by making up the time at the end of the day. People who never missed time effectively received extra vacation time. Our absenteeism levels average now less than 1% every month, which is pretty amazing to our industry. We also service a wider schedule of 8:00 am to 9:00 pm without having to mandate it, because it is staff-driven.
My point to this is – if you change your environment, you can build a better workplace without restrictive policies and draconian supervision. Absenteeism is the bane of a collection environment, and you want to minimize it, but if you approach the problem holistically you can create an environment were people can self-manage their attendance habits and work effectively, without a loss to revenue.
If any other collection or call centers are flexing their time for their team, I’d love to hear about it – feel free to post or comment!
KINGSTON Data & Credit