I’m calling on the readers’ help with this one. A reader writes:
I recently took a job in a call center doing order entry. I’m very overqualified but it’s a job and my unemployment ran out so I had to find something with an income.
As part of being a call center agent, I’m expected to maintain certain stats. One of them is called “accountable time,” which means the amount of time you were clocked in vs the amount of time you were logged in on the phone. We’re supposed to maintain a level of 90%, which doesn’t sound so hard. For a 30-minute day, that gives you 48 minutes leeway, including two 15-minute paid breaks. The problem is that the company uses something called “required time off.” This is where the call volume is low and they don’t need as many agents answering the phone. I understand why they do that, it’s better to send a few folks home early than to lay them off permanently.
I’m not too thrilled that I took a 40 hour a week job that rarely results in 40 full hours but that’s not what ticks me off. What does tick me off is that when they figure out your accountable time, they don’t seem to take into account the fact that they send you home early and after you’ve already taken both of your paid breaks. For instance if I’m sent home an hour and a half early I only have a 39 minute leeway and with just 9 minutes to “play” with that cuts it kind of close when you’re waiting for the computer to boot up or adjusting your chair (since we don’t have assigned seats, I have to readjust the chair wherever I land that day).
I’m not normally the type to complain about a simple rule like this or claim something isn’t fair but this detail ticks me off. The first week I was on the phones and didn’t get sent home, I had no problem meeting this 90%. Since then I’ve been sent home 3-4 days a week and haven’t hit the 90%. And of course you never know if/when you are going to be going home. Further, after my probationary period of 60 days, they look at your performance including these stats (and others, this isn’t the only one) and decide whether or not to keep you on. So now I’m worried because of this problem that I might be out of a job once the probationary period is over. (It is an at-will state and I fully understand that I could be fired the day after my probationary period ends for whatever reason they like.) Since this isn’t an ideal job for me, I haven’t stopped looking elsewhere and I hope something else comes up, but given that I was out of work for so long I fear that I won’t be able to find anything and that I’m at the mercy of this company.
I’m not sure what to do. Do I skip my breaks? Or only go long enough to use the washroom? Is it right for them to make people’s job dependent on a statistic that they have so much control over? I’ve pointed this out to my manager and he just told me to work on getting my number back above 90%.
First, in case anyone else makes the same mistake I did at first: When I first read this, I thought they were requiring you to be at 90% of a full 40 hours, even if they only allowed you to work 32 hours that week. But that’s not it; the issue is that you’re taking breaks during the day on the assumption that you’ll have a full 8-hour day to make your 90%, but then they send you home early without warning, which throws your numbers off.
What do other people there do, people who do regularly hit 90% or above? Do they skip their breaks? Eat at their desks while they continue to work? That’s the first thing I’d look at.
It’s also worth mentioning that call centers are notorious for being miserable workplaces. I don’t know why — I assume it has something to do with the high turnover meaning that they don’t really care about people’s quality of life, because they’re not making a point of trying to retain people. Therefore, my usual advice about trying to make a rational argument to your manager about how this is impacting you probably doesn’t apply, because they probably don’t care.
In fact, it could be that they’re hoping this system will actually encourage people not to take breaks, which is obviously really jerky.
I’d love it if any readers with call center experience weighed in on this one.