When IT departments are understaffed and working overtime, what can you do about it? At one company I worked for, the execs not only listened, but also acted on our findings. The positive change was wonderful and welcome.
At this large corporation, our IT department supported many subsidiaries in a major metro area. In the IT client support group, we dealt with help desk tickets and were the first line of support for users in multiple buildings and offices throughout the region.
We were assigned geographical areas, and on any given day, we could battle traffic and travel up to 30 miles to provide user support, including VPN and WAN access, network printing, local and remote server access, and other typical services.
We were understaffed and working extra hours, but for as long as anyone could remember, company employees -- including the IT department -- had clocked in for only 40 hours week. Overtime was never noted. People didn't like it, but any attempts at change in the past hadn't gone anywhere.
Let's look at the numbers
Then a new CEO was hired, and he insisted on benchmarking all aspects of the corporation internally and externally, including conducting employee surveys. The results convinced him that the corporation needed to focus on customer satisfaction. We didn't hear anything about improving employee morale at this point.
One day, we were told that all of the company's employees were to undergo training in Total Customer Satisfaction (TCS) and the Issue Resolution Process (IRP). I was a little skeptical -- I had heard similar buzzwords and programs before, and they never worked as advertised.
As it turned out, the training even covered people with my attitude: They were OK with our doubts because "skeptics are unsure if something will work or not, but they will do their best to try and make it succeed." However, they didn't want cynics because "cynics refuse to try new things and are resistant to change, and will try to defeat new processes." I was definitely a skeptic; even if I didn't know if something would work, I would do my best to make it work until it succeeded (or failed).
Everyone in our IT client team were hard workers, but our daily load was more than we could complete in our allotted eight hours, let alone in two or three days. Our customer satisfaction surveys consistently reported low scores on response times, and we certainly weren't happy that we couldn't get to the customers' problems in a timely manner.
We could find more than 100 reports that gave specific details on parts spending, hours worked, our busiest times of the year, and more for all aspects of the corporation, and the execs wanted each department to analyze the relevant findings. Our IT client support manager called a meeting to go over the results of the report of hours worked in the department.
It doesn't add up
It was the first time we'd seen it laid out like this, but the results didn't seem right. When we looked at the hours that each of us had logged, the report showed that we were over-staffed by one person. I looked at the numbers, and they were not correct for me or for most of the members of our team. When I commented on this to our manager, the reply was, "These are the hours that are recorded. If these numbers are not correct, then you are not reporting your time correctly."
That was it! Because the corporation did not want to pay overtime, my co-workers and I had not been correctly reporting our time -- specifically no time over 40 hours. As we discussed it, we found out that most of us were not recording our travel time, either. Thus, the hours for our payroll system and our help desk system matched, but they weren't accurate, and our manager had incorrect information because of this. Our dedication to our customers by working longer hours wasn't helping any of us in the long run.
We spent time in two meetings using the IRP to come up with a process of recording our time properly for all of the work we were doing, even if we weren't being paid the extra hours when we were working 10 to 12 hours a day. We had a strong sense of loyalty and dedication to our customers and wanted to continue, but it seemed that the company might be making positive changes to help our workload and make it better for all involved. We could hope, anyway.
Real change can happen
Within two months, the numbers showed that we had a deficit of 2.5 people. That was an incredible turnaround now that we were reporting our time correctly. We'd also became more realistic about travel time and on-site arrivals, now that we weren't jumping through hoops to minimize our recorded hours.
Our manager passed along the reports to upper management, and they had feedback to share with us. "We are working on getting more people, but it will take two to three months for hiring and training, and we will be starting employee vacation time shortly, too. We need to find a way to cover for illnesses and vacations when multiple people are gone."
After three meetings and going through the IRP, we finally came up with a workable solution. It was a pie chart with everyone's name as a slice of the pie and a number assigned to every name. We figured that for our group of eight support people, there could be up to two people gone from every workday.
Under each person's name, we put another person's name/number as their primary backup support, and under that another person's name/number as the secondary support. We now had a good plan in place for team absences.
As we looked at it further, we realized that we could use this same process when we were overloaded with calls at any given time by checking what tickets our primary and secondary people had, stepping in where we could, and check in with each other if we found ourselves without an immediate problem to deal with.
Within six months, our customer satisfaction surveys improved with very few customers commenting on resolution or response time issues. One unexpected bonus was that we developed a better sense of trust within the IT team and relied on each other.
The managers looked at the new corrected hours and worked with employees on a process to approve overtime, depending on the circumstances. The new time-reporting process worked very well for everyone. I guess I went from a "skeptic" who thought such training and processes wouldn't actually make change to a believer who saw, in the right circumstances and with the right management, things can improve.