Friday, 11 January 2013

Idle time: Why should we pay for it?

One of the main complaints of any employer is the productivity of their employees. Some of the largest companies spend thousands of hours and huge sums of money to try and understand their employees and what motivates them best. Even the most intense interview process will not always ensure the right candidate is in the job. Being an employer means that you have to accept that everyone is and individual, the larger the company the more difficult this becomes so you have to create general rules and guidance to staff and their managers to say what is and is not deemed acceptable for performance.

Sales targets are one way that companies ensure they get their bang for the buck but what if you dont work in a sales driven environment how can you measure productivity. What if the output is not determined by quantity of words written or emails sent? Well productivity can usually be measured backwards by setting an expectation of what amount of time is acceptable to be away from your work, Idle time.

The main component of idle time is Lunch breaks, the standard given is an hour which for many employees is too much at one time and prefer shorter 15 minute breaks in morning and afternoon with only half hour break at lunch time. There are many ways to divide this up. There is then toilet breaks and you cannot begin to track that as its both distasteful but can also be deemed as discriminatory to those with specific toilet requirements. Here are some example ways companies can track idle time:

Clock in - Clock out

In telephony units when the agents telephone is set to idle this tracks total time spent on that selection. On most basic aspect and other brand telephony equipment you can set specific keys to determine if employee is on call, idle, break etc. This is the most accurate and can be targetted to say 10% average over a week and any excess to that will highlight as a potential problem and can be addressed.
For non telephony based employers you can also have a clock in and out system, whether it be a computer, till or hole punch on the wall. This is all a way to determine where your staff are and what they are doing right now.

Manager Observation

This is unfortunately the most difficult to manage and costly as you need to spend time observing your staff. Certain things are true about human nature, when being observed you are always more likely to do things correctly than if you are left to your own devices when shortcuts can become appealing. Also when you are not busy you make the work stretch to fit the time you wish it to. Have you ever been into a bank on a busy day, the teller works quickly to serve and move to next customer, however if queue is only small and they don't want to have to move onto other non teller activity they may provoke more conversation from customers to avoid having to move away from the front of house thus making the work fit the time. The other element to managerial observation is very difficult to approach a member of staff and say i think you could go faster without damaging their confidence and potentially having a reverse effect.

Self Assessment

By far the best solution is to have a system with allows the employee to enter in their own shift pattern throughout the day. this means that the employee is giving an accurate reflection of what activity they have been doing throughout the day, this can be done using a simple excel sheet and can be capture using drop down boxes at 30 minute or even 15 minute intervals. With engagement of staff being critical to the smooth running of a business allowing this manual keying means you are empowering staff to take the initiative and often you will find the results remarkably honest. When an employee can see they have not been perhaps as productive as they can be they will often approach you for extra duties and tasks to ensure they can successfully fill their day. By putting their activity down in writing it often bring to life just how long they are perhaps spending on activity that should be quicker, it can also help you identify efficiency savings in your business practices.

For more details on this solution please contact the author

Written by
Steven Hill