What are some of the psychological, biological and/or medical challenges call center agents face when working the night shift face, and how can we be better prepared to handle these challenges?
One of the biggest challenges for agents, as well as any night shift personnel, is the disruption of their normal sleep cycle. The human body receives biological signals from the amount of light in the environment to regulate and control waking/sleeping cycles. Employees whose schedule requires them to sleep during the day are not receiving these signals from the light in the environment. This can result in difficulty in falling asleep and/or getting the proper amount of deep sleep the body requires. Switching from a night schedule to a day schedule on days off or during rotating work shifts can exacerbate these issues and create a jet-lag effect. Another consideration is the constraint that working a night shift imposes on social interaction and activities with family and friends. Call center agents working at night have reported that it was critical for them to set up a routine, establishing working hours, sleeping hours and "everything else" hours. When they started working the night shift it may have taken some time to "flip" their internal clock, but they were fine as long as they maintained their structured schedule going forward. When they switched back to a "traditional" schedule, it took a few weeks to re-adjust to the daytime hours. They also found that they were better off if they maintained their night shift sleep schedule even on days off. Other effective techniques included taking a short nap during the day if they needed to get up earlier than usual, exercising before work, making sure that the room they slept in during the day was dark, limiting caffeinated beverages towards the end of their shift, and not attempting to fall asleep for the first three3 hours after they got home.
Here are some recommendations for call center managers to that employers can do to help agents adjust to working the night shift:
1. Install full spectrum lights to keep the work environment brightly lit.
2. Minimize shift changes – do not ask agents to change frequently between night and day shifts.
3. Keep agents busy, even during slow hours. Suggestions for appropriate tasks for agents' off-peak hours include:
a. Online courses or call center eLearning programs: Establish/develop a library of online eLearning courses that agents can access to improve their knowledge, expand their skill set, or fulfill their development/career plan requirements. The courses should be set up so that agents can take them at their discretion and can start and stop a course as necessary.
b. Knowledge reinforcement/coaching: During low-volume periods, agents can use the quiet time to review online training and product materials. This helps build job knowledge and generally improves the quality of calls. If agents have performance development opportunities, such as low quality scores, high average handle times, etc., the low-volume periods are an ideal time to pair them with call center training agents who can help them improve their skills. This is an effective way to teach subtle, efficient communication/call management techniques and provide coaching and support. It is also a great way to recognize outstanding performers.
c. Assign agents to call center initiatives: The call center is a dynamic environment where constant change is the rule rather than the exception. New products and changes to policies and procedures are routinely introduced. During lulls in call volume, implement agent initiatives, such as updating online training materials, procedure guides, or quality criteria, to ensure that all materials are accurate and current. Additionally, agents can be trained as subject matter experts (SMEs) for a particular call center initiative. SMEs are valuable "go-to" resources, and can conduct informal up-training sessions to address questions from other agents.
d. Solicit ideas from call center agents: Agents are amazingly resourceful in coming up with creative, innovative and cost-saving ideas. Take advantage of off-peak hours to conduct brainstorming sessions with agents to gather their suggestions for effectively using low-volume time, ideas for improvements, or recommendations for call center initiatives to improve performance and morale.
e. Hold team meetings: If call volume is low, use the time to build camaraderie by holding team meetings.
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