Scheduled Breaks – Why Bother?

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I recently started a small project with a client and had the shock of my life within the first 20 minutes.  Going through my usual checklist – what’s your opening hours, your service level targets, your Average Handle Time they casually mentioned “We don’t schedule breaks and we don’t want to – unless you think it would help.”


It really got me thinking – especially in the early days when we were missing Service Level.  Was it breaks causing the problem?  Were people vanishing when it was busy? Should I risk the wrath of the staff and schedule breaks so that I felt in control.  The it hit me is it the need to feel in control, and I guess blame others for not adhering to schedule when service level drops the real reason we want to schedule breaks.


Like many centres their staff are allowed the nominal 30 minutes a day – 2 x 15 minute breaks.  What was different is that this was intended for all their downtime (outside lunch) and we treat them like adults to plan their day.  If they feel their energies are better suited with 3 x 10 minutes – or even 4 shorter breaks because they need too pop outside for a smoke then all is good.  We just ask them to be flexible and adapt as people would if they were in a customer facing role – be aware of when it is busy and when it is quiet.  They know they are allowed 7% of their time per day and they know they will have a discussion if they go outside it.


Have I seen problems?  Yes!  Have I seen problems that would’t exist if we had scheduled breaks?  No!


One thing I have noticed is that the approach can cause service issues when you have short spikes of volume – say for 10 – 20 minutes.  The staff react as you would expect mature adults to, and take that extra call or two before going for their coffee.  But that may mean a slightly higher number than average popping off the floor at once – and another mini-queue can return before their 15 minutes away is up.  So you can see volumes yo-yo, that is seem volatile either side of the forecast line for a couple of hours.  But with scheduled breaks you may just have a consistent queue as everyone would be away at some point anyway.


It also gives benefits to staff.  They can occasionally lengthen their lunch – they do ask before doing it – or even hold back some break time and check if a slightly early finish is possible to allow them to get to an appointment.  It’s the exception not the rule – and we are happy to try and accommodate as allowing flexibility usually leads to staff being flexible when we need something in the future.


I’m now a convert.  True we are relatively small and are a single site operation, so we can see what is happening.  But I don’t think it is the reason.  I think explaining the parameters within the contract and associated working day – and allowing people to have some control and not be dictated to is a win-win and no scheduled breaks is certainly not compromising Service Level.  Would it work for you – well it is certainly worth considering.

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