Call center shrinkage refers to the lost productivity and efficiency that call centers experience due to factors like high employee turnover, absenteeism, and poor training. It’s estimated that the average rate of call center shrinkage falls between 30% and 35%, leaving a big impact on a given center’s productivity.

Naturally, most call center managers seek ways to reduce or avoid shrinkage—because it directly impacts their bottom line.

However, many of the common tactics used to lower shrinkage (such as monitoring bathroom breaks) can actually demoralize employees. This, unsurprisingly, can further lead to increased turnover rates as employees feel micromanaged.

Nevertheless, there are better ways to improve the productivity of your call center without keeping an eye on your employees 24/7. The key is to find the right balance by using proven techniques appropriately, ultimately leading to happier, more engaged teams and greater customer satisfaction overall.

How to Calculate Call Center Shrinkage

To understand how much shrinkage your call center faces, you first need to calculate it. The formula is relatively simple:

Call Center Shrinkage = 1 – (Actual Staff Time Worked / Potential Staff Time Available)

Imagine a call center with 50 agents working 40 hours per week.

The potential staff time available would be as follows: 50 agents x a 40-hour work week = 2,000 hours per week.

However, the call center may actually only have agents actively on the phone for a total of 1,500 hours in a week after accounting for breaks, meetings, sick days, and other miscellaneous reasons.

In this case, the shrinkage would be calculated as follows:

1 – (1,500 actual hours worked / 2,000 potential hours) = 1 – 0.75 = 0.25, or 25% shrinkage.

This call center is losing a quarter of its potential productivity to shrinkage factors. Of course, some losses are inevitable, but smart managers are aware of what they can and can’t do to minimize unnecessary shrinkage.

Causes of Call Center Shrinkage That Are Out of Your Control

The main factors that contribute to call center shrinkage are often necessary or even legally required parts of the job—including things like paid time off, sick days, lunches, and regular breaks. As much as managers may want to optimize these areas to lower shrinkage, it’s a slippery slope to start messing around with them.

For instance, scrutinizing sick days and implementing strict policies around bathroom and lunch breaks often leads to resentment among employees. Even if they show up, it’s likely that they’ll be less engaged and lack motivation. Employees who are fed up will probably start looking for jobs at other companies before your new policies show you any results.

Instead, you should set clear guidelines for time off and breaks that meet both industry standards and legal obligations. Communicate the expectations and then get out of the way. Let your employees self-manage within reasonable boundaries.

If certain individuals take excessive sick days or unreasonably long lunch breaks, address it discreetly as a performance issue with that person rather than instituting blanket policies that punish all of your employees.

The key here is balancing your productivity needs with keeping your employees happy, healthy, and engaged in the workplace. At the end of the day, without good staff, any gains in efficiency are temporary at best.

How to Lower Call Center Shrinkage

Beyond legally mandated breaks, a major productivity killer is the tendency for call centers to structure their agents’ day-to-day work inefficiently. It’s estimated that 20-30% of an employee’s time gets lost on non-essential tasks like meetings, preparing/finishing work, reporting, internal communications, and other distractions.

As a manager, being strict about streamlining your internal operations and minimizing administrative work is one of the most effective ways to reduce unnecessary shrinkage. Start by evaluating every meeting, report, and email while asking yourself if it adds value.

You can also reduce your internal processes to include no more than the bare essentials so that your employees can focus better on serving customers. This means reducing redundant reports, consolidating excess meetings, enabling self-service instead of email requests, and implementing tools that automate administrative tasks whenever possible.

Your end goal should be to craft a system that sets up your call center agents to spend their days helping customers rather than writing emails and getting sucked into pointless meetings. Of course, accomplishing this requires a lot of self-evaluation and help from management, but the end result is typically a better bottom line for your call center.

Why Call Center Shrinkage Is a Silly Metric to Use

Many call centers fall into the trap of trying to add 20% more agents to account for a 20% shrinkage rate—but this usually results in a never-ending cycle of hiring more people to make up for the unavailable time of those new hires.

Instead, the key is to shift the focus from paid hours to working hours in all of your projections—and analyze the actual average workable hours per agent.

For instance, over the last three months, imagine that your call center agents only worked an average of 25 hours per week out of 40 paid hours. That equates to a 37.5% shrinkage rate when you consider the time available to handle calls versus total paid salaries.

Rather than simply adding more agents to cover the gap derived from paid hours, try to use that lower 25-hour-per-week figure for capacity planning and projections. Thereafter, if you’re not hitting those reduced numbers, then you’ll know if your non-working hours are due to excessive breaks, meetings, or even staff.

The reality is that many call centers only have a 50-80% true availability when comparing paid versus workable hours. Knowing this, tracking real hours worked can help you plan appropriately no matter the shrinkage rate.

Seasonality Impacts Call Center Shrinkage in a Big Way

When looking at shrinkage trends, it’s important to consider that most call center employees don’t take time off evenly throughout the year. The majority of paid time off and sick days get used in big spikes around major holidays and summer seasons.

Winter months often see absence rates double or triple between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, in summer, prime vacation weeks for families tend to fall between June and August.

As a manager, it’s critical to plan for these seasonal spikes in shrinkage rather than being caught off guard. To avoid this, you should keep a close eye on upcoming PTO requests and model for a 10% buffer in your capacity to account for any unexpected variations.

Of course, no formula can ever fully predict when employees will be out on leave—but knowing seasonality trends can help you prepare for 20-30% shrinkages around holiday stretches. Ultimately, being proactive on capacity planning while also being reasonable for worker flexibility is the balanced approach to navigating these seasonal hiccups.

Building a More Productive Call Center Environment

Reducing call center shrinkage can feel like a war of attrition, and most of the common tactics for lowering shrinkage end up being short-sighted fixes that actually demoralize staff over the long run. A better path is to shift your focus away from viewing shrinkage as a metric of failure and instead focus on the actual number of hours worked by your agents to streamline your operations.

Remember, letting go of tracking your call center shrinkage rates in favor of simplification, staff empowerment, and capacity awareness will free you up as a manager. Meanwhile, your agents and customers can enjoy the benefits of a productive, satisfied call center environment. That’s when you know you’ve struck the right balance.