Attrition blues ring in louder at BPOs

Updated: Nov 21 2005, 05:30am hrs
Ashu Punni was an agent with a leading voice based callcentre. When she decided to quit the job to pursue further studies, it was not quite as easy as it seemed. She was called to an exit interview, the organisation offered to allow her to continue her studies while she continued studying and also offered to pick up half the college expenses as well. Ashus was by no means a unique case. as an executive handling advanced collections on car loan delinquencies, she was an asset to the organisation. Having invested in her training and built her up to a level where she was independently handling the delinquency calls, it made more sense for the organisation to continue investing in her education to retain her.

In another instance, Keane Worldzen offers employees it wants to retain an offer of scaling up to IT jobs if they work well for a requisite time period. This gives them the required push to not only perform but also curtains their desire to move on.

Unplanned and undesired exits such as Ashus account for upto 33% of the attrition in BPOs. According to an extensive research done by HR consultants HayGroup, the largest disruption in BPOs is caused by unplanned, undesired exits. This accounts for roughly a third of the BPO attritions. These are departures that the BPO would much rather have stay on. The planned departures are those that the BPO had planned like on fixed term contracts. The desired exits are those that the BPO would much rather let go due to performance concerns.

When BPOs evolve strategies to counter the effects of high attrition rates, unplanned and undesired attrition is what is largely the crucial factor. Says Shailaja Puranik, Chief Operating Officer of a leading BPO, Every year BPOs draw up a list of top achievers which account for about 15% of the workforce. This group is then trained in advanced processes, a large part of our investment too is in this group. When there is attrition at this level, the impact is significant.

Sanjiv Handa vice president, global operations, Keane Worldzen feels that in voice processes the attrition can be as high as 60-80% while in advanced data processes it may be in the range of 25-30%. But on an average, the impact of unplanned and undesired exits from BPOs, he reckons, would be as high as $1,000-1,200 per employee.

The revenue lost is not so much in the training the employee alone but in the revenue lost when the employee quits and an untrained agent has to be retrained for the role. This leads to loss of efficiency and consequent loss of revenue as well.

Today BPOs are evolving a range of solutions to contain this revenue loss due to attrition. While training, offering higher education at subsidised rates and value adds and perks to retain employees are strategies employed today, the industry has been talking of ethical guidelines in terms of no-poaching agreements and careful checks of employee backgrounds to stop the mindless movement. But Handa has an even more significant observation. The team leaders today have between 3-4 years experience. With little experience the human resources issues take a backseat and poor team management leads to attrition.

But even though BPOs heads have honourable intentions, when it comes to short-term gains and long term ethically sound attrition free business modules, almost all fall prey to the short-term goals. They all freely poach without any deep research into employee backgrounds. Since all BPOs today offer perks such as good food and work environment, that is hardly an issue. Therefore there have to be more concrete steps to ensure better industry standards.

Today the losses have reached a level where the losses are quantifiable and large. Therefore the push to improve the situation is significant too. As Puanik explains Matching a higher salary offered by somebody else is not the solution. We have to create a situation where the employee can be retained by us because of better work environment or career prospects. Which is what Keane too does with the carrot of moving to IT from the BPO segment. But for all of this the employee has to be the one that the BPO wants to retain.

(With inputs from Harsimran Singh)