Overcome the divide between temporary and permanent staff

It’s frequently the case that there are differences in performance between permanent and temporary staff, but there may also be a big divide between the two.

Alison Mathiebe looks at the practical steps that you can take to overcome this divide.

Temporary agents are often effectively employed in call centres to handle simple transactions and call peaks, or to run short-term campaigns. Call centres may also consider employing temporary agents on a longer-term basis in order to avoid a commitment to increasing or replacing permanent staff. In this case, the employer needs to be aware of staff resentment issues which can emerge when the same duties are performed by both temporary and permanent staff on a long-term basis, and how to prevent and resolve these problems.

Once temporary staff are fully trained and have sufficient experience, a performance division can occur between the temporary and permanent agent groups. In particular, where permanent staff are burnt out and no longer find the work challenging or interesting, they can be outperformed by newer temporary staff wanting to prove their capabilities so they can be kept on for more work.

At the same time, temporary staff can resent being paid less for the same work and being strung along with hopes of permanent work which may never materialise.

Despite ongoing positive feedback, temporary staff may feel that their good work is unrecognised because they haven’t been awarded a permanent role, when the reality may just be that these roles are rare because of the organisation’s hiring restrictions and there is a lot of competition when a permanent position becomes available.

When performance levels between temporary and permanent staffing groups become obvious to everyone in the team or centre (e.g. call taking or quality scores are consistently higher amongst the temporary staff) this can cause deep divisions within the team. Long-term permanent agents can resent the positive attention received by the outperforming temporary staff.  As a result, there may also be objections to reward and recognition schemes which publicly reward the best agents and, by default, reveal which staff are never or rarely rewarded.

Permanent staff may believe that their permanent status and long period of service for the organisation makes them superior to ‘the temps’, even when job descriptions and duties are the same. In some sense, this is correct as permanent staff will be treated more favourably in times of cutbacks; however, this feeling of superiority can set up a situation for bullying if left unchecked.

In addition, where there is a performance division between temporary and permanent staff, the call centre’s service provision will be more seriously affected if the higher-performing temporary agents are automatically let go at a time of staff cutbacks.

While these issues are usually caused by the organisation’s HR policies (such as a freeze on hiring permanent staff and/or a performance management system which doesn’t have strict consequences for consistent underperformers), the call centre manager can do a number of things to prevent and resolve any such problems:

  • Where possible, differentiate the duties of permanent and temporary staff.
  • Set expectations at the time of employment so that temporary staff have an accurate picture of how long their tenure will be, the likelihood of contracts being renewed and other opportunities within the organisation becoming available.
  • Continue to call coach and performance manage all staff to encourage continuous improvement, goal setting and career planning.
  • Encourage long-term staff to apply for internal vacancies including any parent/subsidiary company or wider government department opportunities.
  • Unless there are clear ‘temp to perm’ guidelines in place, let temporary staff know where they can see the call centre’s and organisation’s vacancies and how they can apply. Do let them know that to be in contention for a permanent role they have to apply rather than receiving the job out of the blue as a reward for good work.
  • Organise work placements where call centre staff can do buddy/shadow work in other sections of the organisation for a limited time during low call periods.  This is an opportunity for agents to increase their skills and creates awareness of what other work they may like to apply for in the future.
  • Encourage career planning for all – good temporary staff to permanent roles, long-term permanent staff to other opportunities within the organisation, and succession planning within the centre such as training possible future team leaders.  While this may be detrimental to the call centre’s attrition rates (and even service level temporarily) it is better than an unmotivated workforce who see no future opportunities and therefore no need to improve their performance.

Alison Mathiebe is the author of How to Survive (& Thrive) in a Call Centre, available from amazon.co.uk