Tag Archives: agent management articles

How to Be Happy in Your Job

By Dr. Lee Jampolsky

Do you dread going to work each day and having to face the same problems? Have you noticed that the changes you make in your job or organization often result in only short-term fixes? Regardless of how you modify your approach, do old habits soon creep back in? Changing jobs or organizational structure without addressing your thinking is like painting over rust. It will look great for a while, but eventually the old rust will slowly break through the new paint.

There is now a solution to job dissatisfaction, stress, and lack of success — a simple solution based on research and thirty years of practical application that can be accessed any time, any where, and will not add to your to do list. The solution involves attitude changes that take five seconds to apply and anyone can do.

1. Know that how you react to a situation is up to you: Some people are happy with their jobs, while others are not. What’s the difference? Is one group just luckier than the other? Chances are that’s not the case. Those who are unhappy in their profession often feel dissatisfaction with a situation happening outside of their control (such as downsizing or a merger). But their unhappiness and stress actually began with their thoughts, fears, and perceptions about the downsizing. In other words, situations are completely neutral —it is our thoughts about the situation that lead to dissatisfaction. Hard to grasp and easier said than done? Sure, because fear can easily take over our thinking. As long as you believe you are a helpless victim you will not see a positive and effective response to every situation.

2. Know that fear, guilt, and worry hold everyone back: Countless people, from entry-level employees to CEO’s, make unsuccessful job changes each year because they either felt that they could not overcome their mistakes, or were overly worried and preoccupied about the future of their jobs. For example, Larry is a manager who had a poor performance review and is working for a company that reported less than stellar profits over the last three quarters. What would be the best use of this manager’s mental energy? Is beating himself up about his past mistakes and excessively worrying about his future going to lead to effective action and happiness? No.

Decide to stop wasting valuable time and mental energy being fearful, guilty, and worried. If you want to have solutions to job dissatisfaction and stress, ask yourself, “Is my current thinking taking me where I want to go, or perpetuating my unhappiness?”

3. Being a faultfinder does not create motivation for change: Randy was a vice president who was committed to creating growth for the insurance company he worked for. Randy inherited a department that was lackluster in morale and performance. In an effort to quickly improve the department, he immediately gave a motivational speech, citing the usual “we can all do it together” and “we have unlimited potential.” However, in the months to follow he began being critical, daily pointing out problems and what should be done differently. He was becoming a faultfinder. Randy spent more time on what was wrong in the past than on a positive approach to reaching a shared goal. He was critical of the previous manager, which didn’t give his current position a positive light. Even though he had the best of intentions, the department actually became less effective, and Randy became increasingly unhappy in his position.

With most companies and individuals, you can see that as stress increases, so does blame. Stress and fear feed off one another in a vicious cycle of fear that is difficult to break. Sometimes blame is toward others; other times it is self-directed. Break this cycle by knowing survival in your job and motivating others does not come from over-focus on what is wrong and who is to blame. When Randy applied this approach by being quick to extend help in a positive manner, rather than being a constant faultfinder, he improved relationships and productivity.

4. Making a change in the situation doesn’t always make things immediately better: The core of the solution to job satisfaction is knowing nothing needs to change in your job situation in order for you to have peace of mind. At first, such a notion may seem implausible. This idea is foreign to the typical way of thinking which states, “If you’re unhappy in your work, change something – change jobs, change the organizational structure, find a different career.”

Rather than giving into the thinking that tells you, “If you are not happy with your job, change something,” instead tell yourself, “If you are not happy with your job, learn something.” I have found that a key to a successful and satisfying career is to know that all situations have a lesson for us to learn. I have a commitment to myself to learn even from the situations I believe are not going as I want them to. This way there is no such thing as a “bad situation,” only “learning situations.” Know your job success and happiness is not dependent upon changing something, it is dependent on learning something.

The starting point to being happy in your job even when things aren’t going well is to decide to practice the simple wisdom outlined in this article. This is how you can shift from stressed-out and dissatisfied to clear, calm, and happy in your job — no matter what’s going on around you. As you, and the people you employ, discover the benefits from practicing these attitude changes, job satisfaction expands and takes everyone involved to new levels of innovation.

Dr. Lee Jampolsky is a psychologist and author of Walking Through Walls, Smile For No Good Reason, and Healing the Addictive Mind. He is a speaker and leader on creating a positive attitude, decreasing stress, setting and obtaining goals, motivating individuals and teams, and achieving peak performance. For free daily Words of Wisdom via email, or for more information on his keynote speaking and work, please call 831-659-1478.

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Eleven Ways to Control Stress on the Job

By Dale Collie

Jobs are heating up. We’re all feeling the pinch of hiring freezes and information overload. Workplace stress is increasing right along with the workload. Headaches are turning into migraines, back pains are driving us to the chiropractor, and minor irritations are causing tempers to flair.

Stress is even taking its toll on the bottom line. Stress is driving up the cost of health care and we can see a huge impact in things like tardiness, absenteeism, personnel turnover, and accidents. The annual price tag of stress in corporate America is more than $150 billion.

While forecasters tell us we can expect more of the same, we all need our jobs, so we need to find ways to control the stressors that are affecting our health and productivity. Here are 11 ways you can keep your cool and minimize the impact of stress on your life.

1) Do your own job: When poor the work habits of others create stress, remember why you’re there. Pay attention to your own job. You will not be rated on the performance of others, but the boss will note the quality of your work. Stay focused on the job you were hired for and let management deal with improving the department or the company. Don’t get stressed about things that are not your responsibility.

2) Organization: Regardless of company expectations, you can alleviate a lot of your stress by organizing your workspace and getting a firm grasp on the work that must be done. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, get the tools needed to organize your effort, such as files, furniture, PDAs, software, and training. Work with your boss to prioritize projects and routine tasks. Only get concerned about unfinished work if the boss gives it a priority. You’ll never get everything done, so pick the most important and file everything else in an easy to reach file drawer.

3) Communication: It’s important to maintain your supervisor’s comfort level, so meet with them as often as necessary to keep them informed of projects and progress. Give them updates the way they want them (email, memos, briefings, etc.), and persist in getting the feedback that is so important in reducing stress. Use this same strategy with those who give you information or products to do your job and those who depend on what you give them. Good communication is essential for good stress control.

4) Interruptions: Avoid stressful interruptions by controlling your schedule and your communications. Establish times for meeting with those who want information from you and hold them to it. The more persistent you are, the more organized they will be. Handle phone calls and respond to email during specific times. Develop a list of people and events that disrupt your job and work with each until it is under control.

5) Family Time: Family situations are among the greatest stressors at work. There’s an old axiom that says, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true. Avoid future problems by prioritizing family time on your schedule and stick to it. Get professional help if you’re unable to resolve sticky situations.

6) Exercise: More than 80% of all doctor’s visits are stress-related. Those who find time to exercise, reduce stress, strengthen their immune system, and improve their well-being are much more effective than those who do not. Do a little research and talk with the experts to find out what fits your needs. Make exercise part of your work schedule if possible; don’t let it cut into family time. Regular exercise can add years to your own life and make you more productive for your employer.

7) Nutrition: Proper nutrition is a key to stress control. The US Army recognizes proper nutrition as a critical element in controlling stress among combat soldiers and you must admit, your job is sometimes as stressful as combat. Get information to improve nutrition. You’ll have to make some deliberate changes because our eating habits are affected by our culture, the expectations of others, and inadequate knowledge about what makes a proper diet. Learn what is needed and make a plan.

8) Rest: Take charge of your sleep habits in the same way you work on your eating habits. Sleep deprivation is a major stressor by itself and it adds to the problem with other stressful events. Cut out the late night television. Quit taking work home from the office. Change the pattern of your weekend parties. Get some new friends. Do whatever is necessary to get back on track with seven or eight hours sleep every night. Studies show that twenty-minute power naps make us more productive, so use part of your lunch break for nutrition and part for a short nap to control stress. You’ll get more done.

9) Discussion: Tell people what’s on your mind. If you can’t ignore someone’s special talent for bugging you, talk it over with him or her. There’s a good chance they are unaware of the offense, so you don’t need to get up tight about it. In a friendly tone of voice, let them know what gets under your skin and be ready to make some concessions yourself. As you now know, their irritating habit is probably magnified by other stressors, so make sure you’ve done what you can to control stress before challenging anyone.

10) Education: The more educated you are about your job, the less stressful it becomes. Even if you’ve been on the job for years, there’s always more to learn about the upstream and downstream impact of what you do. Stay up to date with trade journals, books, and other research. Become the expert at what you do and coach others. While some companies do not pay for this type education, your own investment will make you more valuable to your company. What you know is portable – and it looks good on a resume.

11) Volunteer: Helping others has an immediate impact on stress levels. Build in some family time by volunteering as a family once a month. Build rapport with supervisors and co-workers by organizing a once-a-week lunchtime volunteer program. Lead a food or clothing collection for needy employees or families outside your company.

Each of these stress relievers works independently of the others. Find one that’s practical for you and put it to work. Friends, family, and co-workers will all notice the changes in you and thank you for making the effort.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way, takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond. A Purple Heart recipient, Dale has succeeded in both the Army and the corporate world through his management and leadership strategies.

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Remote Workforce for Medical Contact Centers

By Jeff Forbes

Not all technology promises come true, but for the medical contact center community yesterday’s promise of a “virtual office” has evolved into today’s distributed workforce. Technology has brought down the geographic borders surrounding recruitment and enabled telephone-based centers to better meet demand for health advice and information, improve services, and manage costs.

The Benefits of a Remote Workforce for Today’s Medical Contact Center: The images of a remote workforce have focused on the soft benefits for the home-based workers, such as wearing slippers while conducting conference calls. The reality is that using a distributed workforce can help medical contact centers achieve greater efficiencies in delivery by enabling more scalable work shifts, better manage costs by reducing facilities overhead, and improve morale among the workforce. But perhaps the most important benefit of using a distributed workforce in the medical call center is improved clinical recruiting.

As anyone in this field knows, the nursing shortage in our country has reached crisis proportions. According to the American Hospital Association, there are 126,000 unfilled nursing positions in hospitals today and our educational system is not filling the pipeline. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates there are 21,000 fewer nursing students today than in 1995. Hospitals and healthcare facilities will continue having a hard time filling clinical positions, so they must take advantage of any differentiator.

Offering nurses home-based shifts is one way to recruit in a competitive field. Nurses burned out from 12-hour hospital shifts love the flexible hours offered by telecommuting. Nurses that are no longer willing or able to meet rigorous physical demands can extend their careers and young parents can continue to fit in shifts around busy family schedules. Without a commute, nurses no longer have to be tied to any particular physical site. Nurses can be located anywhere, as long as they have voice and data access.

In addition to improved recruiting and workforce morale, the remote workers are more flexible, a crucial factor in managing call flow. When demand spikes, remote workers can quickly log on without wasting time on commutes. They also can just as quickly log off when demand slows, without working – or having employers pay for – a full shift. Employers and workers both benefit from the flexibility. Employers spend only what is needed to cover demand and workers can take advantage of extra hours when they’re able.

Perhaps the most exciting part of building a remote medical contact center workforce is the ability to draw upon a large population to build centers of excellence. Call centers that can recruit nationwide to build virtual teams and offer best-in-class services to their clients and callers.

How Do Remote Workforces Work? The Technology Behind it All: Technology truly drives the distributed workforce and dramatic improvements in remote management and groupware-type products improve team building and management control. But traditional phone lines, called POTS (plain old telephone service), still play an important role.

Telecommunications: Just as in traditional call centers, remote nurses need to communicate with patients via phone and access data and tools via computers. While IP-telephony enables both voice and data to share one line, there may be a preference to equip nurses with both traditional voice lines for patient calls and high-speed data lines for their computers. This dual coverage provides redundancy in case of data-line outages; nurses can continue to take calls and track information manually.

Team building and relationship management: While remote workers deliver the same services as on-site nurses, avoiding a sense of isolation is a concern. A number of key technologies can help overcome issues unique to the at-home agent. With instant chat, help from a peer or supervisor is a click away. Screen sharing allows supervisors to take over an agent’s screen and teach, in real-time, how to best manage a call. Instant meetings and white-boarding allow team meetings to occur regardless of agent location. Computer-based training and distance learning permit everyone to complete training regardless of location or even time of day. Training can occur in groups, individually, or even one-on-one.

Traditional email is in the mix as well – it supports team cohesion and informal learning within a work group. Individuals can communicate with one another on a more casual basis, using the secure chat function, sharing screens, and even pushing websites to one another.

Remote agents do not need to feel alone. With the appropriate technology tools, they can get real-time help, attend meetings, and take training whenever they need and wherever they are. Technology enables the remote workforce to foster team environments and provide effective connections among peers and supervisors.

Workforce Management: Even with the best telecommunications infrastructure and call management software, a remote workforce will fail without appropriate management. Many managers’ biggest concern about leading a remote team is that they think it will be difficult to ensure that people are actually working. The solution to this dilemma is one part technology and one part recruitment: it’s vital to find people who work well on their own. Often, more mature nurses understand the level of availability required in order to be successful and can willingly contribute without excessive management.

Real-time call monitoring technology helps managers measure and monitor all of the statistics they track in brick-and-mortar call centers such as call handle time, ready-to-assist availability, post-call follow-up time, and other traditional metrics. Because the statistics are available in real time, it’s easy for a manager at any location to see who is working, who is on break, and the rate at which they are working.

Making it Work: Our experience with building a distributed workforce model for our medical contact center services shows that the concept works. It saves money, improves services, and vastly increases what has become a too small labor pool. The contact center business is all about scalability and the flexibility of a remote workforce meets that need perfectly. The telehealth business is also about appropriately managing demand – getting patients access to the right care, at the right place, at the right time. With the ability to build virtual centers of excellence, the distributed model is the optimum choice. Technology has enabled telecommuting to be a viable choice for telehealth, which is terrific for healthcare facilities, nurses, and patients alike.

Jeff Forbes is CIO for IntelliCare, a Portland, ME-based company that operates the largest network of medical contact centers in the United States, and develops technology that improves delivery of quality healthcare. IntelliCare blends physical centers with remote capabilities to provide a range of coverage for their clients. They have physical centers in ME, TX, MD, NY, MO, and TN, but 80 percent of their nurses are home-based throughout the country. Reach Jeff at jforbes@intellicare.com.

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Call Center Agent Benchmarking

By Carin Shulusky

Advances in call center equipment have opened new opportunities to “benchmark” agent efficiencies and effectiveness. Answerphone, a telephone answering service located in Albany, NY is one example. Answerphone is owned and operated by Doug and Sherry Lindsey. The company was founded by Sherry’s grandmother 40 years ago. Since then, it has grown from two telephones on a desk to its current 26 agent workstations. Today, they use advanced computer technology to maximize agent efficiency, manage staffing levels, and assist with agent training.

“We expect a typical agent to handle about 40 inbound calls per hour, with an average call lasting between 48 and 50 seconds,” Doug Lindsey said. “Experience tells us this is the most cost-efficient level for our company. Our Telescan equipment gives us hourly and even quarter-hourly reports that help us determine when this level has fallen. We can then provide coaching for an agent who is not meeting our standards.” Doug said.

Answerphone also uses benchmarking to make sure team staffing levels are appropriate for the anticipated call demand. “When the phone rings,” Doug said, “you have to have a body there to answer it. Finding the right balance between operators waiting for the next call and callers waiting on hold is the secret to our success. We constantly monitor call levels, including call activity, operator talk time, and total hold and ring times, to make sure we always have the appropriate staffing level. We prefer to have extra staff to make sure there is always an operator ready to answer every call. We don’t want our operators to sound rushed,” he added.

“We also use benchmarking to assist with operator training,” Doug added, “Since our Telescan system is so easy to learn, we normally have an operator answering calls after only two hours of training, with a trainer supervising. They can usually answer calls on their own in 10 hours, but we continue to carefully benchmark their progress. If we don’t see substantial progress in a week, we will send the trainer back to continue coaching to improve call time.”

The new technology that has become available in recent years has changed the way Answerphone and many call centers monitor their business. It provides many new tools to manage their business more professionally and improve profitability.

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Improve Your Return on Your Recruiting Investment

By Jeff Dahltorp

Call centers traditionally leverage four recruitment channels for their staffing needs: the Internet, third party recruiters, print advertisements, and referrals. Using all four of these targeted approaches in the right mix and for the right reasons ensures that you are recruiting good employees while minimizing costs. Let’s briefly look at each of these approaches and then examine how they all work together.

Referrals: A well-managed referral program can be the most cost-effective way to hire new, quality employees. The majority of call centers have some sort of employee referral program in place that pays a current employee a “finder’s fee” for referring someone that is hired and ultimately stays with the company for 90 days, six months, or a year. These fees generally start at $50 and go up from there, depending upon the types of individuals someone is looking for and the size of the company.

The problem that some call centers face is a rising cost where there is no tracking done on the referrals that come through the system. Employees may refer someone after they see that a position has been posted online, placed in the newspaper, or turned over to a third party recruiter. If you end up hiring a person that was referred by an employee, your cost is not just the finder’s fee, but the cost of all the other advertisements as well. Use your referral program before you enter the market.

Print: This is the most traditional method used for locating employee candidates, but has become one of the least efficient in today’s economy. Ten years ago, placing an ad in the classified section of your local newspaper for an open position was really the only way to reach a large pool of candidates. Usually these people lived in the area and they were more likely to stay long term with your organization. At the same time, placing that advertisement could cost in the thousands of dollars in a highly visible publication and you may have only received a handful of qualified candidates or you just settled for the best of the bunch.

Today, the Internet has really taken a toll on the value of a print advertisement for recruiting. But the fact is that there still is a place for print advertisements depending upon the goals of your staffing organization. Certain people still prefer to look at the classifieds for new jobs, especially part time and entry-level positions. People who may not have direct access to the Internet may still read their local paper everyday. Reaching them through print can be very effective. Evaluate your objectives for filling a position to determine if there is value in a print advertisement.

Third Party Recruiters: The third party recruiter does serve an important function in any company’s recruiting effort, especially when locating a corporate-level executive or the hard to find specialist in a medical, engineering, or financial field. Often the network that these companies have to generate qualified, passive candidates is very impressive. As with print, think about the type of person you are trying to hire or the position you are trying to fill and determine if you can handle it through a referral, print or the Internet. If not, then it might be best to start with a third party recruiter.

Internet: Ten years ago, no one even knew what the Internet was. Five years ago there were a few career sites online but none of them were well recognized. At that time, employers wondered, “Why would you place a job online when there are very few people who have access to those job postings?” Today, utilization of the Internet and the thousands of career sites that cover all job specialties and industries is the norm. For a very low cost relative to print and third party recruiters, a company can have access to thousands of candidates from all over the world in just days. However, this can be a double-edged sword.

When you have thousands of applicants, you want to make sure that you are interviewing the best candidates. New technologies are on the market today that can prescreen, test, and rank your candidates before a recruiter even sees the resume. These technologies can also be used for those candidates you receive from referrals, print advertisements, and third party recruiter.

Combining These Four Methods: In reality, no call center can meet its staffing needs using only one of these four approaches on its own. A mix of two or more of these methods is truly effective in finding and retaining the best candidates. Start with the referral process. If you don’t currently have a referral program, then get one set up. There are a number of good companies in the market that have the technology to manage referrals and payment of finder’s fees. If you do have a referral program, make sure that your employees know about it and how it works. Having them refer people through an internal system allows you to track those candidates and referrals before you post a job online or with a third party recruiter.

After you have a functional referral process, look at the types of positions you have open. Would these open positions be best filled by an Internet posting, a third party recruiter, or an ad in the newspaper? Just about any position can be filled using the Internet but you can’t expect one general job board to meet all your needs. There is a reason why there are hundreds of successful career sites on the Internet; they all have a place for attracting qualified candidates. You simply need to know which ones to use for your company hires. Third party recruiters can be incredibly efficient, but they can be costly. Make sure that you are not relying on them for all your hires. Reallocating some of the print and third party recruiter budget to the Internet or to new generation recruiters and technology can help you reach the same results at a lower overall cost per hire.

Your decisions should be based on your company, your technology, and your budget. Creating a recruiting process that incorporates an employee referral program and a strong Internet presence supplemented by third party recruiters and print advertising will generate candidates that will make you and your management proud by optimizing your workforce while minimizing costs.

Jeff Dahltorp is the Director of Global Marketing and Business Development for TruStar Solutions, which helps organizations create exceptional hiring strategies.

[From the Summer 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]