Improving employee engagement at your BPO: 5 tried and tested strategies

by Liam Martin
employee engagement strategies

For outsourcing companies, the depth of connection and support experienced by frontline employees has a direct relationship to how empowered and enthusiastic they’ll feel about solving customer issues. 

That has a flow-on effect to your client churn and operational costs. Yet many BPOs lack a strategic focus on increasing employee engagement levels as a means to boost performance and profits. 

In this blog post, we’ll outline why employee engagement is an imperative for BPOs and share five key strategies that leaders running outsourcing teams can use to improve engagement.

A renewed focus on employee engagement is essential for the performance of BPOs

Historically, business process outsourcing (BPO) operations have been characterized by large staffs, low pay, and high attrition rates. That means employee engagement has always been an important issue for BPOs, because these organizations need to limit the time and cost of recruitment if they want to scale their profitability. 

Making an effort to ensure staff feel connected to your company and aligned with your business goals has been a way for BPOs to:

  • Reduce the impact of employee turnover on productivity
  • Limit the loss of valuable knowledge, skills and experience
  • Minimize costs of hiring, onboarding and training new staff
  • Build a better reputation as an employer of choice
  • Maintain continuity and quality of service for clients.

While most BPO leaders understand that employees with a positive attitude to their work are likely to be more motivated and productive, in the past employee engagement may not have been approached in a strategic way due to firms’ focus on growth. In fact, high attrition may have been seen as an unfortunate necessity dictated by the conditions, job functions, and remuneration BPOs were willing to offer to remain competitive.  

However, times have changed. BPOs without a clear and effective employee engagement approach are now vulnerable to the impacts of changing employee expectations, a more volatile business environment, new business models, and a tightening global labor market.

Emerging challenges for BPOs without an engaged workforce

Anyone who manages a team or is responsible for the performance of people within a BPO needs to understand the value of employee engagement strategies in combating these challenges:

  • Today’s employees are willing to change jobs to gain flexible, remote working arrangements. They also value trust, a purpose they can get behind, career development opportunities, and genuine work-life balance. For BPOs, meeting expectations for flexibility must also be balanced with a good culture and adequate support, systems, and IT infrastructure.  
  • Increasing social and economic instability can make BPO jobs more stressful and unappealing. For instance, a study reported by HBR found that the ‘difficulty’ of contacts received by call centers more than doubled due to issues created by the pandemic. 
  • Around the world, the available talent pool is shrinking. As a result, time-to-hire can be lengthy. Both these factors make staff retention more urgent. BPOs can’t afford to be under-resourced lest they underserve their clients. Furthermore, BPOs are looking to provide more value-added and complex services: this depends on access to in-demand and well-paid skill sets including IT development and consulting. 
  • Outsourcing is increasing in competitiveness due to digitally-driven business models. Modern BPO-like businesses are leveraging technology to streamline client interactions, reduce the need for human intervention (e.g., conversational AI), and use remote-first workforces as standard. Some even engage offshore workers in a freelance capacity. While that won’t appeal to all workers, it’s clear there’s now more choice for people seeking flexible careers. 

Savvy outsourcing firms are now realizing that nurturing the energy and commitment of your human assets is perhaps the most critical competitive advantage available. 

Engaged workers do a better job for your clients. They support a stronger culture that makes it easier to attract and retain the most desirable talented people. And they’re more likely to stay with your company for longer. Enthusiastically loyal team members will also make your company more resilient — so you can more easily adapt to change and effectively meet client demands.

Developing and implementing specific employee engagement strategies helps you build a workforce that is emotionally invested in your BPO’s success. 

Employee engagement - BPO guide

How do BPOs benefit from targeted engagement plans?

Employee engagement is a term used to describe an individual’s psychological investment in their work — do they feel cared for in a way that makes them care enough to work hard and stick around? 

An engaged employee is one who wants to be involved and shows enthusiasm for meeting your company’s objectives. Engaged employees look for constructive ways to protect and enhance your organization’s interests. Since BPO workers are often representing a client (such as customer service representatives), when they’re highly engaged, they’re also more likely to safeguard your clients’ interests too.

The most obvious benefit for outsourcing firms trying to ‘do more with less’ is that engaged workers may be:

  • more productive and inspire a more hard-working attitude among their colleagues;  
  • more likely to be motivated and so are more likely to go the extra mile to get the job done (and do it with a smile). 

Gallup’s insights into global engagement levels reveals thriving workers have an incredible impact on a company’s profitability. It finds that “business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.” In addition, teams characterized by excellent employee engagement and wellbeing have lower absenteeism, turnover, and accidents, and higher customer loyalty.

5 key strategies to cover in your plan to drive better engagement and evidence for why they’ll make a difference.

1. Demonstrate a clear vision and values, especially through leadership.

The BPO industry has an image problem — workers may believe the work is boring and transactional. To win employees unbridled support you need to define and communicate a clear vision and values. 

This can be done through regular communication from leadership and events like town halls/webinars where the company’s direction is discussed. In the BPO context, you might also talk about the positive impact of your organization’s work for clients. Try to drive home the way that employees’ contributions make a difference.

Ensuring that your vision and values are actually reflected in the management style and processes that frontline workers experience also critical for keeping great workers enthused. Bad bosses who don’t ‘live the values’ of your company will contribute to employees feeling unappreciated, resentful and burnt out. For instance, if you say you value trust but have a culture of micromanagement.

McKinsey research into the Great Resignation found that uncaring and uninspiring leaders were a key trigger for many people to quit their jobs. Whereas a factor rated highly by employees that drives retention is ‘meaningfulness of work’. 

Strong leaders who continually make an effort to illustrate the high-level worth of a BPO’s operations will have more chances of keeping employees engaged. 

2. Promote flexibility and a healthy work-life balance.

Employees now rank flexibility highly. Post-pandemic, workers are eager to continue working from home at least some of the time. Research shared by SHRM shows many would seek out a remote position for their next job. 

As well as considering ways to offer flexible arrangements, hours and shifts, BPOs need to promote a healthy work-life balance for their employees. Perks are great (like discounted gym membership) but also consider systematic approaches such as carefully monitoring overwork and leave balances. This enables managers to encourage breaks during the work day and vacations when appropriate. 

BPOs adapting to a remote or hybrid model should think about ways to provide visibility to managers without adding pressure on employees. A non-intrusive activity tracking tool like Time Doctor for instance, which is structured to empower both leaders and individual workers to understand productivity drivers while maintaining balance.

Employee wellbeing programs are one of the top five reasons employees stay in a role according to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2022-23 survey based on more than 11,000 responses across 16 geographies. The report identifies that a key trend shaping organization’s people agenda is that relatable employers: “actively encourage healthy, rewarding and sustainable work behaviors and offer personalized support during moments that matter.”

3. Encourage employee feedback and listen to suggestions.

Employees want to feel like their voices are being heard by leadership. BPOs can encourage this by:

  • setting up regular feedback sessions (both 1:1 and more broadly);
  • creating accessible and anonymous channels for sharing issues or ideas for improvement; and 
  • regularly sending out surveys. 

It’s important to establish people and processes for reviewing and acting on this feedback, and closing the loop by communicating what has happened back to employees.

In HR News, the COO of Virgin Incentives shared how listening to employees via a feedback platform helped inform the organization’s employee engagement transformation journey. This included closing the business for a day to run a workshop to discuss key business values and other initiatives that resulted in a rise in their engagement score from 54% to 73% in 12 months.

When it comes to encouraging a sense of belonging and psychological safety, remote-friendly workplaces — where technology helps to democratize collaboration — may have an advantage. Glint’s Employee Well-being Report from 2021 found that compared to peers at other organizations, employees at remote work-friendly companies were 14% more likely to feel safe to speak their minds. They were also 9% more likely to say their leaders value different perspectives.

4. Invest in team-building, employee development, and internal mobility.

Social cohesion and opportunities to grow are both critical aspects in determining how engaged an employee feels. BPOs should invest in initiatives that promote teamwork and individual development opportunities, whether they’re structured or unstructured. 

This can include training programs, mentorship programs and peer-to-peer learning, or providing a budget that individuals can use as they see fit. By investing in their employees, BPOs will see a return in the form of increased engagement and productivity.

A lack of development and career advancement opportunities is a compelling reason for people to leave an organization, especially when early in their careers. HR industry research has found 21% would consider quitting due to poor development benefits. A recent work trends report from Microsoft found many people feel there’s not enough internal growth opportunities in their company: 55% say changing jobs is the best way for them to develop their skills.

Embedding team building activities into your BPO workflows can also be a powerful way to engage workers. Strong interpersonal connections between team mates also encourages employees to share information and take responsibility for their work results. A study that involved surveying outsourced IT project workers in India, found that interpersonal interactions between employees influenced how well teams work together. The study’s authors said: “…despite the challenges with motivating empowerment and building rapport within offshore project teams, these factors are critical drivers of project success.”

5. Recognize and reward employees for their accomplishments.

In many ways, efforts to boost engagement focus on ensuring employees feel ‘seen’. Reward and recognition activities are explicit in their intention to highlight the contribution and value of workers, and offer a specific benefit in turn. 

BPOs can recognize and reward their employees for their accomplishments through formal recognition programs and software platforms, or more informal efforts to share praise and celebrate achievements like events.

Recent McKinsey research found that many workers are in the midst of re-assessing why and where they work. The research revealed that employees of companies with a great employee experience (EX) are “more inclined to surpass work expectations, having a 40 percent higher level of discretionary effort.” McKinsey posits that creating ‘moments that matter’ — such as acknowledging and rewarding good work — is essential for implementing a successful EX model.

‘Rewards’ on offer may include financial incentives but money is not the only way to make employees feel prized. HBR reports that more symbolic rewards, like a personalized card/note, public recognition by management, or a physical gift, can make employees feel significantly more valued. And feeling valued leads to workers being more productive, satisfied with their company, less likely to leave, and also setting an inspiring example that uplifts the performance of colleagues. 

Create an outsourced workplace people don’t want to leave 

Developing and implementing a specific engagement strategy is a wise move for outsourcing companies with a large staff and high attrition rates, primarily because it forces a re-think about how you can best empower your talent in a sustainable way. 

Engagement hinges on promoting satisfaction, meaningful work, wellbeing, collaboration and transparency across an organization — which benefits both individuals and your BPO’s overall culture and performance. 

It can lead to a more open and effective workplace where people genuinely care about their work and their employer, even if they’re not always happy. That makes it easier to identify and address problems, further pushing your team and business towards better ways of working, together.

 
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