Keep Your Help Desk Staff Happy: Page 2

Posted October 24, 2000
By

Valle Dwight


(Page 2 of 3)

Keep Things Cool

While changing the way a support staff works can reduce help desk stress, where it works also plays an important role. Help desk managers at Schering-Plough Corp. recognized that having help desk workers toil away in a drab room under the glare of harsh fluorescent lights contributed to help desk stress. "We've tried to make the environment as pleasing as possible," says Patty Kani, manager of support services. "They [help desk workers] like low-lighting, so we just use task lighting and no overhead lights. It makes a calmer atmosphere. We also have a refrigerator and coffee machine close by, and we encourage help desk workers to eat and drink at their desk. Spills are no big deal."

At least one of the support staff agrees. The mellow atmosphere helps to diffuse the natural tension of the job, says Boylan, who has worked at Schering-Plough for six years. "It's a hushed environment, and it reduces the stress," he says. "It helps. It really does."

Aside from low lights and comfortable surroundings, the managers of Schering-Plough's help desk also try to make it a fun place to work. "We sometimes buy toys," says Kani. And according to her, the biggest hit on the help desk is the "Jibber Jabber," a small rubber doll that squawks like a crazed chicken when you shake it. "We tell our employees to shake the doll when they really want to ring the neck of an impatient caller," laughs Kani.

Games have a place at the Schering-Plough help desk, too. There's a dartboard on one wall and a putting green in the aisle. "We don't encourage them to put photos of callers on the dart board," says Kani. Once managers gave everyone on the help desk oversized boxing gloves so they could pummel the company punching bag to relieve stress.
At a Glance: Schering-Plough Corp.
The company: Schering-Plough is an international pharmaceutical and healthcare products company based in Kenilworth, N.J. Its help desk staff is located in Memphis, TN.

The problem: Schering-Plough's support group, 15 help desk professionals answering 500 calls a day, is constantly threatened with high employee burnout and turnover.

The solution: Corporate strategies focused on offering better-than-average pay, great benefits, and a fun, comfortable environment to its help desk workers. With the introduction of games, such as a dartboard and a putting green, stress levels are down, and the result has been lower turnover. Five of its 15 help desk professionals have been with the company for 20 years or more.

The IT infrastructure: Schering-Plough has a multi-site Novell 4.0 WAN environment (around 200 servers) dedicated to disk storage and printer sharing. Its Windows NT WAN (about 100 servers) serves e-mail, shared databases, and Web access to approximately 12,000 employees located in offices in Tennessee and New Jersey, while providing the same services for 1,000 remote workers in the field.

The future: The company hopes to maintain its record low employee turnover rate by continuing to provide help desk workers with time away from the phones, employee appreciation days, improved benefits, and a relaxed atmosphere.

Reward Valued Workers

It takes more than changing job roles and enhancing the workplace to achieve a satisfied, stress-free help desk staff. Terry Allen, president of the Help Desk Institute's Dallas/Fort Worth chapter, says many companies are making strides in improving conditions on the help desk, but there's still a long way to go. Allen often hears familiar complaints. "Some companies have good employee satisfaction programs," he says. "But the vast majority of help desks aren't treated as well."

Allen, a consultant who advises companies on how to build effective help desks, says employee recognition is a key factor in improving job satisfaction. He sees that some companies now make it a point to let help desk workers know they are appreciated by sending company officers, such as vice presidents, to meet with the staff .

There are other ways to show help desk workers they are valued. For instance, Schering-Plough's help desk was awarded special recognition during a customer service week. "The theme of the week is to let the staff know they are appreciated," Kani says. In addition, the company catered lunch for the help desk, brought in a popcorn machine, and purchased gifts for the staff.

"Recognition is so important," says Allen. "It's not just about money." But money obviously affects job satisfaction. Help desk salaries rank near the bottom of contemporary IT pay scales. The average salary for a help desk employee is $48,000 per year. What's more, the average rate for independent contractors on the help desk is $23 per hour, according to EarthWeb's recent salary survey of help desk professionals.

Schering-Plough addresses this issue, and achieves a low help desk turnover rate, by offering its support staff salaries that are about 20% higher than regional averages, according to Kani. She says the company also offers good benefits, profit sharing, retirement plans, and free pharmaceutical products.


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