Tag Archives: agent management articles

Bridging the Employee Gap

By Dennis Buchanan

Do you ever feel that keeping your call center fully staffed is an elusive goal? Just when that last vacant position has been filled, another agent walks in to give notice. Indeed, finding qualified candidates for new and replacement positions is an ever-present challenge for medical call centers.

Time is money and unfilled positions translate into lost revenue. The cost of agent turnover can add up quickly: There is lost time for vacant positions, overtime paid to workers who have to pick up the slack, and time spent to train new hires. To complicate matters when an employee leaves, candidate screening and interviewing may fall to a manager who already is juggling multiple responsibilities. As a result, he or she is hard-pressed to devote the time necessary to find the right replacement.

Like thousands of other companies across the country, some call centers are finding that Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) provide numerous useful services, including help in the hiring process. PEOs serve as human resource (HR) departments for small and medium-sized call centers, providing instant HR infrastructure.

When it comes to hiring, full-service PEOs provide applicant review and interviewing, pre-employment background checks and testing, and post-offer drug testing. In addition, many PEOs offer numerous services to aid in employee retention, including training and development.

Call centers that sign on with PEOs enter into a co-employment relationship with the PEO. Essentially, the PEO takes over the employee administration and the HR functions of the call center while the owner retains managerial control. PEOs also handle payroll processing and employment-related tax filings, employee benefits management, and regulatory compliance with federal and state employer-related laws.

Turnover: A Costly Drain: Conquering employee turnover means time and money saved in the long term. Like an iceberg that lurks beneath the surface, the majority of turnover costs are hidden. Multiple studies by the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management show that turnover expenses average 2.5 times the annual salary of the departing employee. Some of those expenses are obvious, including advertising, recruitment, relocation, orientation, and training.

However, other costs do not appear on a balance sheet, such as the loss of overall productivity before and after an employee leaves. In many cases, the workloads of remaining employees increase to offset the vacant position. According to one of the Rutgers studies, positions remain vacant an average of 13 weeks, and about 50 percent of the efficiency for that job is sacrificed during that time.

Vacancies are just one factor in the loss of productivity when an employee leaves. When positions are filled, it takes time for a new employee to become comfortable in a new environment and reach full productivity.

The Rutgers study showed that a new employee can take as long as one year to achieve 100 percent efficiency. Hiring a new employee also affects the productivity of supervisors and peers who must spend time helping their new team member adjust.

Turnover doesn’t just affect a call center’s remaining employees. Customer retention also can be affected. The expenses of losing and replacing employees also may include the costs of losing existing clients or not winning new ones.

Sorting Through a Mountain of Resumes: PEOs can help call centers fight employee turnover on two fronts: first, finding qualified candidates who are the right fit for the job; and second, helping the center keep employees once they are hired and trained. For example, a PEO can help recruit employees by placing classified ads, screening applicant calls, reviewing applications, performing background checks, and recommending qualified candidates to interview.

Chicago-based American Mediconnect handles several million calls a year from medical patients. Because of the center’s high-volume call load, filling vacancies as quickly as possible with qualified employees is critical. Operations Vice President Amy Kritzman has come to rely heavily on her company’s PEO to help her hire the right people.

Recruiting is “a time-consuming process and can often be hit-or-miss,” she said. “However, since I’ve come to rely on my PEO recruiting specialist to sort through our mountain of resumes and screen out unqualified candidates, the resumes that land on my desk are those of solid, qualified candidates. It makes the process go much more smoothly, and it’s a huge time-saver for me.”

Through a PEO, American Mediconnect has access to a team of specialists that provide administrative relief and sound HR advice, as well as recruiting and retention services. “All of those services help make sure we are staffed with the right mix of people,” Kritzman said. “I appreciate having customized recruiting and retention tools that deal with our unique medical-related call center industry.”

In addition, by working with a full-service PEO, a call center can provide programs to help motivate employees to stay. An effective training and development program, for example, helps attract talented workers and equips them to advance in their jobs. Training programs help improve productivity by enhancing employees’ skills and helping them to feel valued and appreciated. Tuition reimbursement and management training courses are examples of these programs.

Any call center interested in a PEO should research its options thoroughly. A good resource is the website of the PEO industry’s governing body, the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO). Before contacting a PEO, check references, inquire about all services offered and the fee structures, and confirm that the company is a member of NAPEO. In addition, leading PEOs are accredited by the Employer Services Assurance Corporation (ESAC). Through its independent application and monitoring process, ESAC evaluates PEOs’ compliance with important ethical, financial, and operational requirements.

Dennis Buchanan is a regional manager for Administaff, the nation’s leading Professional Employer Organization. He may be reached at Dennis_Buchanan@administaff.com. For more information about Administaff, call 800-465-3800 .

Why Companies Outsource

Here are the top 10 reasons companies outsource, according to the Outsourcing Institute’s Annual Survey of Executives:

  1. Reduce and control operating costs
  2. Improve company focus
  3. Gain access to world-class capabilities
  4. Free internal resources for various purposes
  5. Resources are not available internally
  6. Accelerate reengineering benefits
  7. Function difficult to manage/out of control
  8. Make capital funds available
  9. Share risks
  10. Cash infusion

[From the June/July 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Empowering Others

By Brian Tracy

Once you know how to empower, motivate, and inspire people, they will want to work with you to help you achieve your goals in everything you do. Your ability to enlist the knowledge, energy, and resources of others enables you to become a multiplication sign, to leverage yourself so that you accomplish far more than the average person and in a far shorter period of time.

There are three groups of people that you want to and need to empower on a regular basis. They are, first of all, the people closest to you: your family, your friends, your spouse, and your children. Second are your work relationships: your staff, your coworkers, your peers, your colleagues, and even your boss. Third are all the other people that you interact with in your day-to-day life: your customers, your suppliers, your banker, the people with whom you deal in stores, restaurants, airplanes, hotels, and everywhere else. In each case, your ability to get people to help you is what will make you a more powerful and effective person.

Empower means “putting power into,” and it can also mean “bringing energy and enthusiasm out of.” So the first step in empowering people is to refrain from doing anything that disempowers them or reduces their energy and enthusiasm for what they are doing.

The deepest need that each person has is for self-esteem, a sense of being important, valuable, and worthwhile. Everything that you do in your interactions with others affects their self-esteem in some way. You already have an excellent frame of reference to determine the things that you can do to boost the self-esteem and therefore the sense of personal power of those around you. Give them what you’d like for yourself.

There are three simple things that you can do every single day to empower others and make them feel good about themselves.

Appreciation: Perhaps the simplest way to make another person feel good about him or herself is your continuous expressions of appreciation for everything that person does for you, large or small. Say “thank you” on every occasion. The more you thank other people for doing things for you, the more things those other people will want to do. Every time you thank another person, you cause that person to like themselves better. You raise their self-esteem and improve their self-image. You cause them to feel more important. You make them feel that what they did was valuable and worthwhile. You empower them.

When you develop an attitude of gratitude that flows forth from you in all of your interactions with others, you will be amazed at how popular you will become and how eager others will be to help you in whatever you are doing.

Approval: The second way to make people feel important, to raise their self-esteem and give them a sense of power and energy, is by the generous use of praise and approval. Perhaps the most valuable lesson in Ken Blanchard’s book, The One Minute Manager, is his recommendation to be giving “one-minute praisings” at every opportunity. If you go around praising and giving genuine and honest approval to people for their accomplishments, large and small, you will be amazed at how much more people like you and how much more willing they are to help you achieve your goals.

There is a psychological law of reciprocity that says, “If you make me feel good about myself, I will find a way to make you feel good about yourself.” In other words, people will always look for ways to reciprocate your kindnesses toward them. When you look for every opportunity to do and say things that make other people feel good about themselves, you will be astonished at not only how good you feel, but also at the wonderful things that begin to happen all around you.

Attention: The third way to empower others, to build their self-esteem and make them feel important is simply to pay close attention to them when they talk. The great majority of people are so busy trying to be heard that they become impatient when others are talking. This is not for you. Remember, the most important single activity that takes place over time is listening intently to the other person when he or she is talking and expressing him or herself.

Again, the three general rules for empowering the people around you, which apply to everyone you meet, are appreciation, approval, and attention. Voice your thanks and gratitude to others on every occasion. Praise them for every accomplishment. Pay close attention to them when they talk and interact with you. These three behaviors alone will make you a master of human interaction and will greatly empower the people around you.

Brian Tracy has produced more than 300 audio/video programs and has written 28 books, including his book, The Psychology of Selling. He can be reached at 858-481-2977.

[From the April/May 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Decisions at the Moment of Truth

By Lior Arussy

I recently attended a Formula 1 car race in Europe. Being close to the pit and having a special access pass allowed me to view all the activities surrounding the cars and the way they were managed. Although I have seen car races on TV before, the actual experience was much more amazing than the TV version. Many aspects of the car race were intriguing, but one particular aspect caught my attention above all the others. During the race, cars pulled into the pit for refueling or for other critical maintenance services. Those services are provided by a team of about a dozen engineers who each do their specific part under severe time constraints. In an environment when every second counts, those services are often completed in under a minute and off the driver goes to continue the race. No team can afford an unnecessary delay of even a second and everyone works together to complete the tasks in the most efficient way possible, something akin to choreography. In fact during the race I attended, a Mercedes McLaren car was pulled in three times at the beginning of the race due to engineering problems. This would normally lose the driver a significant amount of time and standing in the race. However, as the result of successful teamwork, those delays were held to a minimum allowing the driver to still win the race.

So what is it that caught my attention? The decisions made in split seconds by the engineers. Each engineer is empowered to do what they believe is right without escalation to management or requiring approval in three copies. They simply cannot afford to work under those conditions. Decisions are fully delegated, both authority and responsibility, to the engineers at the pit. They are the ones with the most information and they see the problem with their own eyes. Because of this, they are empowered to do the right thing. I was especially impressed when a number of cars, which had more severe engineering problems, were simply pulled out of the race altogether by an engineer’s decision. The driver, who was earning millions of dollars, had no say on the matter and the engineer decided. Why? Because at the moment of truth, that engineer has the most important information required in order to make the decision. Neither earning power nor hierarchy has anything to do with making the right decision. Seeing the problem first hand and having the experience and relevant information is what matters the most.

Making the right decision at the moment of truth by the people who actually face the problem is a true test for every organization. On paper, every executive swears that his employees are empowered to make those decisions, but when the moment of truth arrives, many employees will default to the boss to actually make the decision. Unlike the engineers at the Formula 1 race, the employees will not take the risk of making a critical decision. Why is that? There are several reasons employees fail to make decisions at the moment of truth.

  • Failure to See the Moment of Truth: We often think that the caller will wait for us and therefore we fail to deliver the desired result right away. We fail to see the sense of urgency and the limited window of opportunity we get from callers to do what is right.
  • Lack of Information: Employees are often not provided with the necessary information to make decisions at the moment of truth. This lack of information impairs their ability to make decisions.
  • Lack of Authority: For many managers, empowerment is a threat. A threat that, if employees were able to make the decisions, they themselves would be redundant. Although they will not admit to having this fear, their actions speak louder.
  • Lack of Motivation: Our experience shows that there is a certain percentage of employees who simply seek a paycheck, not greater responsibility. They do not want the extra pressure and accountability that comes with the decision making process.
  • Lack of Experience: To make split second decisions requires sharp intuition; a high level of intuition that comes with experience. Without the experience, employees will hesitate to make decisions.

To build this ability to make decisions at the moment of truth in the organization, managers need to provide their employees with the level of trust that guarantees that they will be there to support them. This practice is very common at Southwest Airlines, which places the employees first and the customers second. Following years of lack of trust in most organizations, employees once again need to believe that their organization, and more specifically their mangers, will be there to back them up. One way of doing this is by openly and freely sharing information and experiences. This will build the confidence level of employees in their ability to make decisions and support them with logical data. Doing this goes far beyond merely information sharing, and requires managers to overcome their controlling inclinations and let go of power.

The true test of an organization’s resilience and competitiveness is the ability to make decisions at the moment of truth. These are the moments when customers test their vendors. Impatient customers do not have time to wait for escalations and managers’ decisions. In today’s competitive environment, employees can no longer be there just to register the complaint. Organizations which allow their employees to make decisions at the moment of truth are simply accelerating their performance. Escalation mechanisms usually slow down overall performance and result in the loss of business opportunities and revenues or leads to stagnation due to inaction. Either option is unacceptable.

If I were to ask a Formula 1 engineer, “How did you make that decision?” He would most likely respond, “I had no choice.” He simply acted on instinct and used his well honed knowledge to do what was right at the moment of truth. He knew that every split second of hesitation may have cost his team the whole race, or even worse, the driver his life. This same notion should be instilled in every employee if you ever want to achieve a level of super competitive performance and win the race to the heart of the customer (and his wallet too).

Lior Arussy is the President of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right!

[From the February/March 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Show Employees How Much You Care

By Dale Collie

Workplace stress costs American businesses as much as 45 percent of after-tax profits, according to Foster Higgins Inc., a New Jersey insurance company. We see these expenses in things like absenteeism, health care costs, and accidents. These costs add up fast, and it’s smart to control workplace stress while we’re all looking for ways to improve productivity and boost the bottom line.

One of the causes of workplace stress most often mentioned by employees is the lack of appreciation. It seems strange that so many people feel unappreciated. You pay them well. They have all of those hotshot fringe benefits: health insurance, retirement plans, holiday pay, and paid vacation. You might even provide free coffee and soft drinks in the break room. So why do so many employees feel unappreciated? Poor communications, that’s why.

Even though we spend thousands of dollars a year on employees, many don’t see it as a form of appreciation. Even if you list all of their benefits and show how these perks actually double their compensation, some employees will ask that you cut the fringes and put it in their paychecks!

Compensation doesn’t make people feel appreciated, but they know you care when you listen to them, ask about their families, understand what they are going through at home, at school, or at work. They feel valued when leaders compliment them on a job well done, even if their accomplishment is simply always being on time.

The comments you hear at a retirement party are a good indication of what employees value. If the departing person is a dud, the remarks are going to reflect their incompetence in a joking but revealing way. However, if people admire the honored guest, you’ll find out that it doesn’t take much to make people feel appreciated.

Remarks like these tell you what is important:

“I remember when she visited my daughter in the hospital. That’s when I knew how important I was to the company.”

“I don’t know how he did it, but I saw him on the shop floor everyday. He always came by and greeted me and asked about my family.”

“You know, the thing I appreciate most are the company picnics she started. She always served the potato salad herself, and she cleaned up when it was over. She’s just one of us.”

There might be some mention of a leader’s commendable management ability at the going away celebration, but the business achievements are typically left in the boardroom. What motivates and inspires people is the personal communication. Here are five easy ways to let people know how much they are appreciated:

A personal touch on the high-tech communications: Leaders can use a personal touch in the high-tech tools needed to communicate with large numbers of people or with remote locations. Merging first names into documents with short, personal notes can personalize sterile announcements. Everyone appreciates your attention to their welfare and your interest in their families.

Personalized follow up: Personal follow up by telephone means a lot to those involved in conference calls, bridge lines, or emails. You can make notes about individual input during the electronic meeting and follow up by phone to show employees that you were listening, and that you care about their ideas or comments. Your calls to explore subjects in detail can motivate people for future input and develop some profitable ideas.

Handwritten notes: Simple, personalized remarks written on the face of routine memos can make all the difference to employees who otherwise do their jobs and clock out at quitting time. Your “atta boy” remarks might be the only compliments some people ever receive. Many of these meaningful remarks will become souvenirs and kept forever.

Include first names with your compliment and you’ll be surprised how this short communication boosts morale and productivity. Write comments on items going home with people and impact the morale of the entire family. If staff size permits, write a personal note right on their paychecks, such as “Thanks, Bob. We couldn’t have shipped that big order without your help this week.”

Sincere notes to your people pay big dividends. Some employees will even write you a thank you note for your comments.

Public recognition: Recognize superior achievement with awards ceremonies. Highlight daily involvement with framed certificates of appreciation, letters of commendation, public announcement of achievements, extra vacation days, and documents recognizing the families’ volunteer efforts. Use these formal and informal ceremonies for emphasis and whenever possible, include family members so they can see how much their special person is appreciated.

Frequent contact: Showing concern for ongoing work is just as important as formal recognition. Make employees feel special and get a lot of information by asking things like: “How’s it going with the X project?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you get this done on schedule?”

Put your “walk-around” time on the calendar so you don’t feel pressured by other responsibilities. If you don’t have enough hours in the day to exchange remarks with employees, maybe you need to look at the stressors in your own life and delegate certain tasks to permit personal involvement.

In return, for your efforts, you may enjoy higher returns on your investment in people and improve your bottom line. These easy tips take only a few moments to make employees feel recognized for their efforts and show that you care.

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.

Keywords to Show Appreciation

Clip this list of key words for complimenting people on their work. Save it for easy reference and add phrases of your own to give your notes energy and variety.

  • Well done!
  • Keep up the good work.
  • This is excellent.
  • Nice timing.
  • Good advice.
  • Insightful.
  • Good perception.
  • One of the best ideas I’ve heard this year.
  • Great teamwork.
  • Brilliant!
  • You hit a home run.
  • Go for it.
  • Let’s talk about this great idea.
  • Thanks.
  • Thanks again.

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to the answer.” -Henry David Thoreau

[From the December 2005/January 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Accelerate the Quality of Every Meeting

By Peter deLisser

Accelerate the quality of every meeting the easy way. Expect every participant, from the meeting manager to each attendee, to accept 100% responsibility for the results. We can imagine what the first reaction of meeting participants will be. “Wow! How can I be responsible for the quality of each meeting I attend? Most of the time I am only a participant. It’s not my meeting.”

No! This is not true. It’s everybody’s meeting. Every participant is responsible for the two major components of a quality meeting — courageous participation and time management.

Courageous Participation Pays Off – For Everyone: A research director for a client company choose not to speak up in meetings. When asked why she didn’t speak up, she said, “I am not going to compete with all the sales and marketing people who talk all the time to impress people. I’ve been brought up to believe ‘self-praise stinks.’  I don’t have to impress anyone. Executives will call on me if they want information.” Since she was a research director, one of her strengths was asking searching and focused questions. It was suggested to her that in the next meeting she ask at least one question.

When sharing the results of that meeting, with a big smile she said, “Yes, I asked one question, and it changed the whole meeting.” She had asked the one question no one had considered and it shifted the whole discussion. What a responsible way for a participant to increase the quality of a meeting. She used her strength – asking questions.

50% of the Quality of Every Meeting Depends on Time Management: Here’s an easy way to make each meeting a success: ensure that both the meeting manager and all participants follow the same time management guidelines. This means the meeting manager and all participants need to spend 50% of their meeting time planning, 15% conducting/participating, and 35% following-up.

For the meeting manager, he/she must spend 50% of the time planning before the meeting by doing tasks, such as:

  • Determining specific objectives to be accomplished by end of meeting.
  • Deciding what kind of meeting it will be — information sharing or decision-making.
  • Selecting attendees based on the need for their contributions to the objectives.
  • Sending the agenda out in advance including stated objectives, assignments to prepare, expected formats, and time length.
  • Selecting an appropriate meeting room and audio/visual requirements.

The meeting manager should spend 15% of his/her time during the meeting:

  • Starting the meeting on time.
  • Sticking to the agenda so all who prepared get to contribute.
  • Providing a safe, respectful environment so all will participate fully.
  • Completing objectives within announced time frames and develops action plans.
  • Summarizing results and expected individual follow-up actions.

The meeting manager should also spend 35% of his/her time following-up after the meeting:

  • Sending out complete minutes including assignments and expected action dates for completion.
  • Providing periodic monitoring of people completing action plans.

Participants are also 100% responsible for the same time management. Their schedule is broken into the same increments -50% planning, 15% conducting/participating, and 35% follow-up. For the participant, the time management responsibilities occur before, during, and after meetings as well. They include:

  • Preparing assigned tasks and appropriate handouts prior to the meeting.
  • Arriving on time.
  • Remaining focused and avoiding side conversations.
  • Speaking responsibly (briefly, specifically).
  • Listening responsibly (clarify for understanding, ask questions).
  • Completing assigned action plans on time and professionally.

When these time guidelines are violated, we all know the results. Follow-up questionnaires indicate that participants think poorly of meetings when:

  • They are seen as unnecessary, spur of the moment, too long, or including the wrong people.
  • Attendees lack preparation, don’t participate, or refuse accountability.
  • The agenda is off target, hidden, or when the meeting lacks an agenda at all.
  • Unresolved issues arise, decisions aren’t made, or deadlines are missed.
  • There is no closure or documentation of results.

The Quality of a Meeting May Be Accelerated By Participants’ Risky Statements: What happens when meeting managers do not adhere to the time requirements? The participants are forced to accept responsibility for the quality of the meeting. Here are some risky statements or questions participants may consider to turnaround an unproductive meeting:

  • It would be helpful for me to know what the agenda is (none was handed out) so that we can plan our contributions and our time.
  • I’m confused. I am not sure which objective we are discussing. (Someone has sidetracked the meeting to his or her own agenda.)
  • I am having a hard time hearing the speaker (directed at the person next to you who is in a side conversation).
  • I’d like to hear what Mary and Bob have to say. (A major contributor has not spoken.)  We haven’t heard from them yet.
  • It sounds to me like the conversation is getting personal. (Two people raising their voices at each other.)  May we summarize each approach?

When are these statements or questions risky? They are risky when the meeting manager is a senior executive and not skilled in managing meetings. But if an organization’s employee vision statement says to develop “an atmosphere of trust and respect, in which management listens and responds appropriately,” they should respect and adhere to that vision. The effective management of all meetings is required if we expect all meeting participants to be responsible for the quality of each meeting.

Before your next meeting, whether as meeting manager or participant, consider spending 50% your planning for it, 15% participating courageously, and 35% following up productively. Accelerating the quality of the meeting will then be easy.

Peter deLisser is an international speaker, author, and leadership coach. Author of, “Be Your Own Executive Coach,” he has over 30 years of experience motivating and training from the sports arena to the boardroom. For more information, call 212-551-3543.

[From the June/July 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Remote RNs Can Help Ease the Nursing Shortage

By Sherry Smith, RN, MSN, MBA

The nursing shortage is striking all practice arenas and geographic areas nationwide. Almost daily, we are exposed to news about the shortage, its effects, and implications for the future. While many efforts are being made to draw more candidates into the field, the fact remains that many health care organizations will be competing for a limited supply of resources in the coming years. This article addresses some of the factors contributing to the nursing shortage, the benefits and value of telecommuting, and how those in the call center market may be able to offer virtual opportunities as a competitive advantage.

No Shortage of Causes: There appears to be a number of factors predominantly responsible for the current and projected nursing shortage. These include an aging nursing workforce, an aging patient population, and advances in technology, which will cause a predicted increase in demand for nurses at 40 percent over the next two decades.

Nothing can be done to slow the aging process of nurses or patients. Likewise, the organizations that employ nurses cannot control shifts in health care delivery brought on by advanced technology. Instead, technological advances can be utilized to make working in alternative care sites an attractive option. According to a study published by Dr. Linda Aiken and her colleagues in the May/June 2001 issue of Health Affairs, more than 40 percent of nurses working in hospitals said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, experiencing burnout, and planning to leave the profession.

Telecommuting: Organizations that employ nurses where little to no direct hands-on patient care is performed (such as in ambulatory care settings and phone triage call centers) should explore telecommuting as a viable tool for recruitment and retention. Telecommuting continues to grow in popularity. In 2004, nearly 45 million Americans were telecommuters, working from home one day to full time annually. Of these, 24 million worked at least one day/month at home, representing 18.3 percent of employed adult Americans, or nearly one-fifth of the workforce.

Research published to date on this phenomenon is overwhelmingly positive:

  • Over two-thirds of telecommuters express increased job satisfaction.
  • Almost 80 percent feel a greater commitment to their organization and most report they plan to stay with their employer.
  • Almost three-quarters of telecommuters report a major increase in productivity and work quality.

For the telecommuter, the work/life balance is the predominant factor leading to a boost in job satisfaction. Some estimate that eliminating a 40-minute twice-daily commute adds eight weeks of time off. Other benefits include lower costs for food, clothes, and transportation. Workers who telecommute report improved quality of life, better morale, less stress, increased personal control, a more harmonious work/family balance, and fewer commute-related stresses.

AT&T in the Telework America Survey of 2001 noted a 63 percent reduction in absenteeism and sick time. Issues related to tardiness as a result of unavoidable commuter problems are eliminated. Physical constraints of space and overhead costs are reduced for the employer. Nortel Corporation launched a telecommuting program in 1994 and with over 15,000 employees participating, they have saved over $20 million in real estate costs.

Concerns about productivity suffering when there is loss of control by direct supervisors or managers has not been validated. The value of telecommuting is well documented on a variety of fronts by many companies. There is also potential for better use of under-employed groups such as retired or disabled persons.

Some of the challenges that require consideration when exploring this model include equitable compensation, equipment, and connectivity. The potential for isolation of the employee needs to be considered and methods should be used to keep him/her engaged as part of the team.

The Remote Model as a Solution for the Nursing Shortage: The question remains on how to adapt telecommuting to the needs of health care organizations struggling with shortage of nurses. Many also face limited resources needed to attract and retain nursing professionals.

In non-traditional settings, the opportunity to telecommute is a viable option. Currently, not much exists in the literature relating to the success or failure of telecommuting registered nurses. Industry trends in the disease and management space clearly indicate a move in that direction. The remainder of this article will outline items to consider when exploring the opportunity to employ more of the RN workforce from home in a remote model.

Remote workforce issues can be broken into three categories: technology, performance/practice metrics, and leadership capabilities. Technology issues would involve ensuring nurses working from home have the same connectivity, stability, speed, and quality of phone/system connections as on-site staff. Access to content, reporting, client specifications, and feedback mechanisms is essential.

Outlining performance and practice metrics requires in-depth planning. Issues such as choosing candidates, training, education, communication, and scheduling take on a whole different meaning. Adherence to quality, confidentiality, and meeting national standards have to be factored into the implementation items. Compensation, performance monitoring, and at home pre-requisites such as ergonomic requirements need to be outlined so that all nursing team members have the same expectations.

Leaders responsible for managing diverse teams across different geographic locations have to begin considering how to keep the team and corporate spirit alive. There is great potential for isolationism and lack of communication when person to person contact is no longer available. Remote workforce management is a leadership style unique in its own right, with a fair amount of published literature now becoming available to assist managers. Leaders must rally full buy-in and commitment to the program while being able to champion the program to various stakeholders within the organization. Inherent in the process is financial costs, savings, and reliable reporting mechanisms to prove ROI. Collecting data at baseline is clearly essential, with projected goals and outcomes outlined as well.

For organizations faced with the challenge of attracting talented and competent nursing professionals to provide telephonic nurse services, remote options should be explored. The technology is available to deliver key functionality of telehealth services while ensuring quality, no degradation of service, and saving employers significant amounts of money. The additional bonus will be certainly recognized by recruiting and retaining RNs from a shrinking resource pool.

Sherry Smith, RN, MSN, MBA is a Consultant for 3CN (Call Center Consulting Network), a network of medical call center experts available to assist with strategic, operational, or technical projects. You may contact Sherry at 603-707-0151 or sherry.smith@3-ct.org.

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

How to Manage at Work: When You’re a Caregiver at Home

By LeAnn Thieman

Are you one of the 54 million Americans who care for a family member? Are you one of the 20 to 50% of employees who tend to a loved one before going to work, then return to care again after a long hard day on the job? For these workers, feeling torn between both “jobs” and trying to perform well at each, causes so much stress that working caregivers are often plagued with more mistakes, conflicts, and stress-related illnesses. These simple tips will help ease that stress:

Talk to Your Employer Honestly: Tell your supervisor about your caregiving demands at home. Make an appointment to discuss this at a time when you are better rested and feeling your strongest so you can state the situation in a professional, emotionally controlled manner. Don’t offer excuses, but instead reasons for changes he or she may note in your attendance, work schedule, or attitude. Explain why you may need to decline additional hours, a promotion, or a transfer. Reassure him or her that you are committed to the organization and its peak performance and will remain accountable to your duties.

Ask for What You Need: Once you’ve reinforced the above commitment, your employer will be more receptive to ideas to make the workplace and schedule more manageable for you. Come prepared with suggestions that will help – for example, coming to work early, staying late, working from home, or taking longer lunch hours to check on your loved one, make personal phone calls, or take a nap. Brainstorm with him or her about other workable options. Often employers allow flexibility in the use of comp time, sick days, and vacations. In many organizations, fellow employees are allowed to donate accrued time off to help a caregiver during a crisis period.

Take Care of Yourself: Caregivers have higher than normal incidents of illness. Those taking care of someone with a chronic illness have a 63% chance of dying early; another 63% say depression is their most common emotion. Caregivers often become so depleted they cannot maintain the stamina to continue caring for someone else. Therefore, you must take time daily to nurture yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

  • Physically: Eat well-balanced meals on a regular schedule. Take a daily multivitamin. Exercise regularly, even if it’s simply taking a walk. As difficult as it may be, strive for a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep a night and nap when possible. Get regular medical checkups and treatments for aches and pains before they turn into something more serious.
  • Mentally: Pay attention to your own feelings and emotions and seek counseling if needed. While it’s impossible to always leave the stress and heartache in the parking lot, try to keep emotions in check at work. Vent feelings to trusted family members or friends, not coworkers. Schedule time for yourself. Use relaxation or stress management techniques, such as meditation, visualization, biofeedback, and yoga. Stay actively involved with friends and hobbies. Create a support network or join a support group.
  • Spiritually: Take time, even as little as 15 minutes per day, for prayer or meditation. Read or subscribe to inspirational magazines or books to uplift your spirits. Seek the counsel of a minister or religious leader you trust and respect.

Seek Support: Ask for help. Friends, family, and church groups are often eager to assist and are only waiting to be asked and directed. Find respite care so you can regularly take time out for yourself. There are countless community, state, and national resources to support you not only at work, but also at home. Many cities have programs to assist the caregiver.

The National Family Caregiver’s Association is an excellent place to start in accessing this information. Another great resource is the Area Agency on Aging. With the passage of the National Family Caregiver Support Program in 2000, all AAAs have a mandate to address the needs of family caregivers. Finally, if needed, you may be able to utilize the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For more information on this national policy, please contact a local labor attorney or human resource specialist. Following these tips will help you better tend to your job, your loved one, and even yourself.

LeAnn Thieman is a speaker, nurse, and co-author of the New York Times best seller, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul as well as the recently released, Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. For more information, please call 877-844-3626.

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

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]