By Roger Avats
March 18, 2010
Today’s economy has made business survival, much less business growth, quite challenging. Labor costs continue to represent a large proportion of a business’s operating expense, and employees’ varying needs have made the traditional 9-to-5 schedule a thing of the past. Successful organizations, though, are those who are flexible - developing alternative approaches to work that help them manage their operating costs without adversely affecting growth.
According to the Workplace Forecast by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 57 percent of HR professionals agreed that there will be an increased demand for work-life balance in the coming years. In another study by SHRM, difficulty balancing work-life issues was perceived by HR professionals as a moderate or large threat (41 percent) to employee retention.
Differing points of view
The familiar terms ‘flexible working’ and ‘work-life balance’ hold different meanings for different people. To the employer, flexible working often means a way to ensure staff availability at right times to meet customer demand. To the employee, work-life balance usually means freedom to pursue outside interests, whether leisurely pursuits, education, or family commitments, and to schedule work around these activities.
As a result, there is a daily battle of managing the conflicts between staff preferences and business need. Fortunately, tensions between both employee and employer can be reconciled within the same organization - both for small businesses and large corporations - by using technological advances such as work force management (WFM) technology.
Manage flexibility preferences
With flexibility being the key to creating a well-balanced work-life workplace, manually managing employee preferences can be incredibly time intensive, prone to errors and hinder productivity. For instance, an employee’s schedule preferences may differ by day of the week, which makes manual management virtually impossible. However, technological advances, such as WFM software, can be a cost-effective way for organizations to deliver flexible working options while improving performance and reducing costs.
An effective WFM solution, for instance, has been proven to reduce the number of hours supervisors spend producing and managing schedules by as much as 80 percent. Depending on the size of the organization, this can translate into thousands - even millions - of dollars or more in savings per year, as well as productivity and revenue gains from higher employee satisfaction and customer service.
If designed hastily or improperly, working pattern changes are not always productive. However, WFM solutions take into account the impact of employee schedule preferences, sickness, training, meetings and many other work/availability exceptions, and automatically factor these into the schedule.
Two technology-driven cost containment success stories
Since 1969, TDS Telecom has evolved from serving a few rural communities into one of the six largest independent telecom service suppliers in the U.S. With wireless and wireline operations in Michigan, the multi-service Telco serves more than 1.2 million residential and business customers in 29 states.
To broaden its work force and cast a wider net for call center agents, TDS Telecom deployed WFM technology to give employees flexible scheduling, including part-time schedules and after-hours and weekend hours. As a result, TDS Telecom now has a staff of 10 employees who manage contact center scheduling - which is about half of the staff it previously needed. This move saves the company roughly $250,000 a year in this area alone.
With more than 60 golf superstores in the U.S., including three in Michigan, Golfsmith has grown to become the only true national golf retailer. Recently, Golfsmith was able to add teleworkers (virtual home-based agents) - in addition to full and part-time staff - to meet its expansion goals by installing WFM technology. As a result, Golfsmith can forecast and create precise staffing schedules 12 weeks out based on predicted call volume, as well as agent availability and skill set. In addition, the company was able to reallocate the 20 to 30 hours per week spent on time-intensive forecasts and scheduling to other higher-value tasks.
An advanced WFM solution, together with your organization’s commitment to creating a flexible work-life balance environment for employees, can eliminate any conflicts between business need and employee preference. In the end, your company will benefit from a perfect balance of bottom-line impact through employee retention and productivity - all while saving money.
Roger Avats is president, chairman of the board and co-founder of GMT, an industry leader in enterprise workforce management and performance optimization solutions for clients such as BB&T, Golfsmith and Eurostar.