Should we be available 24/7?
Possibilities and effects of an availability culture
“The customer is king. We are always there for the customer. I expect 24/7 availability from you.”
These were the words, a verbatim quote, of a corporate executive to a group of assembled leaders of the organisation. Silence. No questions were asked. Quietly, they went their ways. No discussion followed whether a 24/7 availability makes sense or can be guaranteed at all. A staff turnover that is twice as high as the industry average and recruiting costs almost three times higher speak for themselves.
Other organisations already have to be available at high frequency due to their business model.
Is 24/7 availability possible? Can such an approach be implemented in organisations at all?
By saying that you require 24/7 availability, you are building up pressure. Managers or employees can demand that you put this order in writing, even if it is only in an e-mail. The factual pressure built up in this way is already very unpleasant for most employees. However, suppose such requirements are not written down often because management knows that these requirements are not compatible with labour law in many countries. In that case, you open up an unnecessary conflict.
However, far more consequential than the factual pressure is the emotional pressure. Suppose it is already made clear when you join an organisation that “going the extra mile” is the standard (you can insert any euphemism here). The message remains: work a lot, more and even more…and don’t ask for payment for overtime). In that case, you may not feel as excited as your employer expects you to be.
An availability culture has side effects. It is not impossible to realise high availability, but it requires excellent organisation. In the IT industry, high availability is the standard when customers request a solution. After all, IT is always running — twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. However, an unsustainable approach leads to numerous side effects. A high level of sick leave causes the challenge that you are constantly struggling with absenteeism. It is even worse when employees show up at work while being ill due to emotional pressure, possibly infecting more people and creating even higher absenteeism. Presenteeism is even more problematic than absenteeism. The psychological side-effects of latent and immanent pressure are even more severe if there is no help and, above all, no prevention. Simply ordering people to be available to customers no longer works today. As you can see, careful planning is required if you want to realise such a scenario.
There are solutions, and in this case, IT already offers the best answers from real-world practice. In some organisations, so-called SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are already in use, although unfortunately mostly only in IT and a few other organisational departments. SLAs define precisely which service is available during which times, in which form the delivery takes place and what price charged will be. These agreements create clarity for all parties involved, especially for customers. Even though internally deployed agreements are often called SLAs, the correct term is OLA (Operational Level Agreement). Special contracts for individual departments or suppliers and partners can be concluded as UC (Underpinning Contract). This procedure is based on ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) model. The aspect of agreements and availability contracts can be applied to the entire organisation. After all, availability is always working time and should be seen as such and must be paid accordingly. A precise regulation, preferably according to best practice approaches, avoids conflicts in advance and creates clear definitions for all parties involved.
More on 24/7 availability in this week’s podcast: click here to listen and learn.
Is the topic of leadership and availability important to you?
Let’s talk: NB@NB-Networks.com.