We’ve now been through the first 5 steps to improving employee engagement in your call center. The foundation has been laid (steps 1-3), the walls are up (steps 4 and 5) and now it’s time for the roof (steps 6 and 7). Unfortunately, I see many call center leaders start and pretty much end with step 6, recognize employees. There is a difference between motivated employees and engaged employees. Motivated employees will continue to perform according to standards as long as they are rewarded. They are emotionally invested in the reward, not the organization. They are roughly analogous to mercenaries who will charge up the hill, not for king and country, but for the money. It is difficult to tell the difference between motivated and engaged employees as long as the rewards are a given, in other words it is easy to claim a reward. You see it; call centers with so many rewards and recognition programs that it appears you have walked in on a Barnum and Bailey show rather then a call center. Awards for the day, awards for the week, awards for the month, awards for the quarter, and on and on. Workstations are plastered with ribbons, certificates and trinkets. Pictures of those recognized cover the walls. As long as the circus atmosphere continues, the marginally engaged (those in the middle) will be content and motivated. They will place their value and their reason for being at work on the rewards. What about the actively engaged? They may view the circus atmosphere as amusing and fun, but over time will begin view all of the rewards as unnecessary and actually being a drag on productivity. What about the actively disengaged? They are receiving the fewest rewards, but when they receive them they will be motivated for a time. The size of the reward will determine the length of time they are motivated.
How does a call center become a circus? The leadership may look around and wonder, ‘how did we get to this point?’ It’s all about process. The call center needs a process, that includes employee input (remember step 5), to develop and create new rewards programs, and also a process to prune or eliminate rewards programs. Without a process that the employees have helped develop, there is resistance to eliminating programs; it looks like a takeaway. Without a process, and not wanting to lower motivation, managers just keep piling on the programs.
As for motivation versus engagement, engaged employees are invested in the organization’s success through its values, through understanding the value of the organization to the company and their value to the organization by linking operational metrics to value. You see where this is going; employees are motivated by rewards but engaged through executing all 7 steps in this series. Rewards and recognition is just one step in the improvement of engagement. Note that it is step 6 rather than step 1. Rewards and recognition cannot be the driver (foundation) of an engagement improvement program.
When your process does call for another rewards program, make sure it is SMART – Specific to a behavior, based on Measurable results, Actionable (or reinforcing a desirable behavior), the reward is Relevant to the employee, and the reward is Timely.
As a leader, I want you to be watchful for programs that reward with time off of the phone (or chat queue or email queue). This sends the message that time on the phone is somehow punitive. That is clearly the wrong message to be sending. This practice also takes your best and actively engaged off of the phone and away from the workspace, therefore unable to be a mentor and model of good behavior. Beware also of the reward to be able to work from home. Again, you will be removing your best models, your best examples from the workplace, thereby reducing the number and percentage of actively engaged employees in the workplace. If you do want to reward employees with time off the queue, have them leave the call center area. Make it a ‘special project’. Have the employee shadow a support team in the call center, or a back-office team. Give them a deliverable and recognize the deliverable. That way the special project becomes the reward rather than ‘time off the queue’. If you do send employees to work at home as a reward, you need to have a program in place that has them coming back into the center either after a time limit or periodically. When they are away, ensure mentorship programs are still being followed, so they continue to be a mentor.
Work towards engaging rather than just motivating employees. Ensure programs are SMART and that you have a process-based approach to develop and to expire reward and recognition programs. Always remember that step 6 should be approached with the other 5 steps firmly in place, so that rewards and recognition programs support the values of the organization, the value of the organization, are based on open and honest communication, and take advantage of employee input.