improving employee culture
May 23, 2012 5:30 PM   Subscribe

how to improve employee culture

I work in a call center. Each year the leadership team (which I am a part of) meet to discuss employee culture and look for new ideas. We have had guest speakers from notable companies share ideas etc. This year is a bit different. Each of us has been asked to bring our own ideas for improving employee culture.

What ideas do you have that improve employee culture (a.k.a. job satisfaction) in the work place? Is there anything that makes things better, more fun, etc?

Ideas need to at least make sense from a business perspective (No, we can't give everyone a raise, extra vacation, etc.)

Any call center specific ideas would be great!

thank you,
posted by jseven to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Anything that costs money to do would be better spent increasing employee wages. Be honest - no one works at a call center to do anything other than make money. Be cognizant of the fact that if employees see their compensation being spent for them rather than given to them, they will be a bit annoyed.
posted by saeculorum at 5:54 PM on May 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

I've posted this idea before and it's a big hit. Have everyone write down one fact about themselves that no one would have ever guessed, then create a quiz having people guess who is who. For example:

One of the most athletic guys in our office, now an ultra runner, confessed that he used to weigh 300 lbs. A typical dinner for him would've been an entire pepperoni pizza.

I confessed that I was once almost arrested in college for throwing a lit cigarette into a drawer of a desk. It caught on fire and almost burned down a room in our dorm. No one guessed I was a smoker.

Everyone had a blast participating, and we had a small prize to the person who had the best score.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:56 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

No dress code. Employees are happier when they're allowed to wear comfortable clothes. We do this at my work and everyone loves it.
posted by Lobster Garden at 6:08 PM on May 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

Anything that costs money to do would be better spent increasing employee wages. Be honest - no one works at a call center to do anything other than make money.

This is actually, really, honestly, empirically-verifiably not true! People are generally at least somewhat intrinsically motivated to do a good job, and things like workplace culture really do have non-trivial effects on job and overall life satisfaction.
posted by downing street memo at 6:09 PM on May 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Anything that costs money to do would be better spent increasing employee wages.

A widespread notion, but counter-intuitively, not one that's empirically correct. People's jobs (even, yes, in call centres) are so much more than a way of getting money, there are many other things that supercede it when it comes to employee engagement, including "soft" cultural things, and "hard" systemic or logistical things.

I work in internal communications, specifically focused on employee engagement. Be aware there is a body of research that says what employees need to be engaged can very quite a bit from organisation to organisation, let alone sector. With that caveat out of the way, broadly speaking, three things that help produce positive feelings in employees:

1. An understanding of the company's goals, and how their work contributes to it, ie a sense that their work is meaningful.

2. A sense of autonomy. Do employees have the support, tools, time and discretion to make independent decisions themselves? Are they championed for it? Do they feel the organisations "trusts" them to make those decisions?

3. Recognition. Do employees feel their acheivements are celebrated? Are accolades accessible and widespread? Do they reward achievements, rather than a particular style of work etc? Do they recognise creativity and diversity?

I'm not gonna get into all the different ways you could try to address these things, get ye to google; there's tonnes and tonnes of research, writing and suggestions about this. But, if you focus on addressing some of those things, you will at least be targetting factors that research has demonstrated have a strong link to job satisfaction.

PS, recognition doesn't have to be cash. People always think that, but there are lots of ways to make recognition meaningful without blowing a lot of money, just people find meaning in jobs that don't have sky-high salaries.
posted by smoke at 6:16 PM on May 23, 2012 [15 favorites]

I'm not sure if you mean culture or morale. Culture is how a company acts, what it believes in, what it's behavior norms are. When we say describe a company as "political" or "high stress" or "old fashioned" we are talking about culture. Morale is simply about how happy employees feel. So the term company (or corporate) or corporate culture makes sense as does employee morale. It sounds from the rest of your question that your really mean morale.

The more people feel they have some control over their situation (even if its illusionary) the better they feel about the situation. Are there things that are controlled today where you could provide more flexibility to the employee. For example, if breaks can only be taken at a set time - could you allow people flexibility to take them over a range of time. The dress code suggestion above is a great example of this.

Do you really know what people hate about the job? - could you change it? Often stupidly small changes can have a big impact because they remove some minor yet irritating thing. If you have some of the line workers that you can trust - take them aside and ask what the irritants are. Ask "If you could change one thing about the job, what would it be?"

A huge part of good morale is if people believe they are been treated fairly. Frankly they might accepts pretty poor conditions as long as everybody gets the same thing. Much better conditions less equitably distributed cause a lot of bad feeling. Stupid things like assigned parking for managers fall in this category. So how fair is your workplace? how could that be improved.

How good is the food? really bad food in an employee canteen is big downer.

And on preview - what smoke said - that's pretty good advice.
posted by Long Way To Go at 6:18 PM on May 23, 2012

I've posted this idea before and it's a big hit. Have everyone write down one fact about themselves that no one would have ever guessed, then create a quiz having people guess who is who.

Be careful with things like this. My old office was really into them, and that's one of the major reasons why I left recently. I do not want to have to play Fun Party Games! with my co-workers. I have work to do, and I have actual friends, don't waste my time on this crap. (I don't mean any offense to the people that like it, as I'm sure many do, but many don't, and we're good at faking it while hating you on the inside).

At my current office, the stuff like free coffee, vending machines that are at cost (so a soda is a quarter and thus not a ripoff), rooms where we can go make a private phone call, and overall general feeling of respect for employees just makes a huge difference.
posted by brainmouse at 6:20 PM on May 23, 2012 [19 favorites]

I once temped at a place that had a popcorn machine and fountain soda machine in the break room. FREE MR. PIBB ALL THE TIME! God, did I love that job. I don't remember anything else about it except how the Mr. Pibb flowed. Please give your employees free soda.
posted by jabes at 6:27 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

IANAManagement-type person, but I worked in a call center once. It was one of the most miserable environments I'd ever encountered in a temp job, and that's saying a lot. Some of what made it such a horrid job was probably inherent to call centers and impossible for you to change. But one thing they could have done was make the break rooms nicer. I remember the lunch break was so short but staying in the building just felt gross, so I always went out. Improving that area would probably have been not too expensive and made the employees feel slightly more valued. Also, this was pre-smart phones, but having a few computers where email etc could ne checked on a break would have been nice. There was something very trapped-feeling about being in front of a screen typing all day, yet not being allowed to look up tomorrows weather or the news headlines. And it would have been nice if there had been assigned stations/desks. Obviously they would be shared bc of different hours/shifts, but knowing that the same 2 or 3 people share a phone and keyboard would have felt much cleaner that just having to sit wherever every day and wondering who'd been drooling on that phone earlier. It's not so much making $7/hour, but being reminded that you're only worth $7/hour that begins to feel icky.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:32 PM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

The key word is in your question "culture". In most cases the biggest improvements can come from how employees are treated by their managers, and how they are allowed and encouraged to support each other. Find ways to build up each employee's strengths rather than trying to grind away their weaknesses (and treat each person as the individual they are).

Without knowing specifics I can only recommend a terrific book: First Break All the Rules.
posted by meinvt at 6:37 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Support, trust, recognition (not necessarily via food, money, games but through, you know, giving a shit), being a part of something (but not in a culty way), autonomy.

By and large things that cannot be quantified (which makes them less likely to be implemented).
posted by mleigh at 6:47 PM on May 23, 2012

Recognition is nice, especially unprompted, positive recognition.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:12 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alter things that insist to the employees that they are scum. (For example, if a clock-in machine skims off time unfairly, so it rounds up against the employee when they're early, and suddenly ceases to round up when they're late, it adds another brick in the this-company-is-your-enemy-and-an-asshole wall, every day).

Job satisfaction and pleasantness of work environment is also greatly affected by being surrounded by friends. A weekly social-time-in-disguise (ON the clock!) can give the opportunity and prompting to join conversations involving coworkers that you don't normally talk to, as discussions form and grow, etc. More mingling means more coworkers start to know each other personally on a friendly basis, and this can pay big dividends in companies (like call centers) where workers operate from a collective knowledge pool and frequently need to find information that will be known by... someone.

Get serious about saving money by keeping plaguebearers from infecting staff. It is cheaper to offer decent sick leave and insist that people USE it, than it is to save a few bucks and have the sickness spread to everyone and have the call center staffed by sick people who can barely think straight.
Make it company culture that if you're sick, you damn well don't come in, and you get paid to not come in, because you're awesome and we want you to get well soon! (and to not make us sick and miserable!)

Fix things that aren't on the level. If the handbook says you have sick leave (to use the above example) or this or that, but managers actually punish people for using them, that's shitty and makes people despise working there and despise their management.

This often happens inadvertently when lower management gets assessed by metrics that can be swayed by bullying people. Eg, if their team is assessed by call volume per wage hour in a month, but there isn't a mechanism to remove sick leave wage hours from the equation, then lower management can boost their score by punishing people if they dare take sick leave. Then workers are bullied, while simultaneously being made sick and miserable by plaguebearers. and THE TEAM LOOKS GREAT on paper! Give that manager a bonus!
So be careful with metrics. People will game the system. Tweak metrics so that gaming the system helps, instead of hinders.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:07 PM on May 23, 2012

a regulation foosball table in the break room. better yet 2, so you can have tournaments at lunch.
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:45 PM on May 23, 2012

Ugh, call centers. I've had a bunch of those jobs. Free or at-cost drinks/snacks in the break room are definitely nice. When I worked as a telemarketer for a summer, they had the best employee environment of any job I've ever had. Work was great when I wasn't on the phones. My supervisors continually asked what they could do to make our jobs better (because the phones were awful), and we played a lot of win-an-xbox type games. We had silly dress-up theme days and free coffee. We had a big motivational board so that everyone knew when a sale was made. We also had a lot of silly motivational meetings.
posted by woodvine at 9:09 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I worked in a call center there was a culture of constantly rewarding people who had strong customer feedback (so, like, when a customer asked to talk to a manager to give positive feedback, or if they gave a strongly positive response on the survey afterwards). We got a nominal cash bonus but weirdly the thing that everyone was really into was that the bonus came with a little button that was pinned to your shirt. People kept rows and rows of buttons in their personal areas. It was a real source of pride for call center "lifers" to have all these buttons, and newbies in the call center would be universally congratulated when they got their first one. I thought it sounded lame when I started (like "flair" from Office Space) but I have to say when I got my first button it was still pretty exciting. I think the key was that you didn't *have* to act enthusiastic about it, but people would act like it was a big achievement and be genuinely congratulatory about it. I think the bonus was very minimal - like $25 or maybe $10.

Free coffee, free tea, free throat lozenges. Call center work is hell on the throat and drinking hot beverages is so key. Spring for a slightly nicer tea than standard Lipton's...maybe change it up, or have tea tastings where the office votes on new teas?

I was in tech support (this may be trickier for telesales) but it was really important to me that my manager always sided with me in cases of abusive customers, no questions asked. One of my clients made me cry in my first few weeks on the job, and my manager took me aside and told me he was really sorry I'd been through that and that I should have involved him way before she escalated it emotionally. It meant so much to know my boss was in my corner and that if a customer was rude or disrespectful to me, I didn't have to take it.
posted by town of cats at 11:36 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read somewhere recently that employee satisfaction goes up exponentially if employees are able to have control over the temperature of the office.

More importantly, when you have a boss who you really know is in your corner, it feels really nice. Even if the job is crappy.
posted by manicure12 at 11:47 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make sure everyone has adequate training to do their job, and that customer resolution and satisfaction is an important part of people's SLAs. When I started my call center job supporting Windows 95 (hi, I'm old), we had 10 days of very intense training on it, and the leaderboard in the call room was ordered by resolution percentage. It wasn't a great job, but I felt like I was doing useful work. By the time I left, the training had been reduced to a single 12 hour day, the leaderboard was ordered by average call time, and I felt like I had basically been hired to hang up on people.

Highlight the ways in which your employees are making a difference in your customers' lives -- the aforementioned leaderboard is one, or you can have a bulletin board or weekly digest email with notes from happy customers. And, for the love of GOD, have a way that people can take a break after a difficult call without it impacting their performance metrics; some callers can get horrifically abusive, and it is really important for everyone's mental health that an employee be able to get backup and a break after one of those.
posted by KathrynT at 10:12 AM on May 24, 2012

Free or cheap beverages and snacks are nice, as is the occasional free meal. Even if I don't like the food that is being served, I still appreciate the sentiment. Whatever fun activities are planned, there will always be at least one person who complains or criticizes. Don't let them ruin it for everyone. Of course, if a significant number of people complain, then it's time to listen.

Is there one job or duty that everyone hates? If so, do not use it as a punishment. Rotate or divvy up the job so that no one is stuck doing it all the time. Whoever does it gets an extra break that day or maybe 5 minutes added to an existing break.
posted by soelo at 2:26 PM on May 24, 2012

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