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  • Writer's pictureDan Rickwalder

What the Heck is an FTE?

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

The following article is an edited re-post (with permission) written by Dan Rickwalder – you can find the original HERE

As a baby WFM’er, I was having a hard time explaining staffing to my contact center managers. They had traditionally hired full-time employees and just recently started hiring part-timers to better fill coverage gaps. They were fine talking about the number of people working in a day, but as we got to budget planning and hiring things got confusing fast. To them, an FTE was a “Full-Time Employee” and if I was ever going to get part-timers to work, I had to teach them the real meaning: Full-Time Equivalents.

On the surface, the definition of an FTE is easy: One FTE is the equivalent of a full-time employee’s hours. In most contact centers a full-time employee works 40 hours. So two part-timers working twenty hours each is equal to one FTE. Whew! That was easy…talk to you next week!

Well…not quite…

Counting people in a contact center gets complicated quickly. We need to look at monthly budgeted headcount, weekly staffing requirements with shrinkage, daily staffing, and even “bums in seats” by half hour. All these different timeframes and qualifiers make the answer to “How many people do we need?” pretty complicated.

For example….

We pay an FTE for 40 hours, but…

We allow 2 weeks of vacation, we have absenteeism and other out of office time equaling about 6 hours a person (about 15% all-in) so now we have 34 hours we expect an employee to be in the building.

Then we need to subtract for off phone time for meetings, coaching, projects, and etc. etc., etc, let’s call that 2 hours per person (or about 5%)

And then there are breaks…also about 2 hours a person (5%)

So now we are down to 30 hours on the phones.

Finally, we have to subtract for non-compliance (hours the agents were supposed to be on the phones but weren’t) and availability (the time agents sit available between calls). I’m going to assume a total of about 15% of those remaining 30 hours or 4.5 hours. That leaves us with 25.5 hours talking with customers or wrapping up calls

Wow! We really weren’t done yet! So how do we deal with all that from an FTE perspective?

My choice is to simplify to just 2 definitions and reconcile them. I use both the Paid FTE and On Phone FTE for planning.

Paid FTEs are good to use for longer-term planning down to the daily level, but they do not extend easily to the interval level because you do not typically look at vacations by interval. Paid FTEs tell you how much servicing your customers will cost and exactly how many FTEs you need. This is a critical number for budgeting and hiring.

I then use On Phones FTEs for short-term planning because this tells you exactly how many “bums in seats” you need to hit your Service Level goal. It can roll all the way up to budget level and be as detailed as interval level. This is the number of FTEs needed to cover phone-only work. It includes talking to customers, hold time, wrap or ACW time, and time waiting for the next call. This is also the number represented by most Erlang calculations and WFM software.

In any given week, a Phone FTE will equal about 30 hours while a Paid FTE will give you 40 Hours. But they both equal 1 person’s contribution to that week, just at different levels.

We all know that a full-time employee works eight hours a day for a total of 40 hours in a week (or some other combination like 7.5 hours a day for 37.5 hours in a week etc.). But this is easy maths, it only starts to get complicated when you want to figure out how many FTEs you need by interval. To the left is an example of interval requirements by hour for a contact center that is open from 8 AM to 8 pm. How many people do you need for the day?

Well.....If people work 8 hours a day and I have a 12 hour day I need at least 6 to start and 8 to close so that gives me 14 in the middle of the day but I need 33 do I have to add 19 so I need 33!!!!

ummmmm...well that sorta works....but try explaining to your boss. and try extrapolating it across an entire week. With a half-day on Saturday...

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem and it's just math.

To calculate the number of FTE's needed in a day, simply add up the interval requirements and divide them by the number of hours you plan for an FTE in a day (in our case 8). So if I add up all of my intervals I get a total requirement of 253. That number is actually hours needed to handle calls so I have 253 hours needed. Divide that by 8 and you get 31.6 FTEs required.

To expand to a full week, you would just calculate the total hours for the week and divide by your weekly FTE number (in our case 40). Like this:

I added up all of my intervals and got 1,094 hours. I divided that by 40 hours per FTE per week to come up with a weekly FTE requirement of 27.35. That's all there is to it.

But, As the genie in Aladdin said, "There are a few, uh, provisos, a, a couple of quid pro quos."

Some things you will want to keep in mind are that:

  1. Interval requirements usually do not include shrinkage, so your 8 hours should be minus that. In reality, I would use closer to 6.4 hours a day for an on phone FTE to accommodate 20% shrinkage. The number does, however, include occupancy so that should be separated out. Some centers choose to only remove set-off phone time like breaks and would then use 7.5 hours per day. However, the reality is lower than that.

  2. Your interval length may vary. Most centers use 1/2 hour or 15-minute intervals. In those cases, you must adjust for that. An 8-hour FTE would be equal to 16 half hours or 32 15 minute intervals. So you just need to divide your total hours by the right number.

  3. Part-day shifts can mess you up. If we were only open 4 hours on Saturday, an FTE could only work a maximum of 4 hours, so you have to adjust your definition for the week and that day. That gets a little complicated.

  4. Likewise, part-timers mess up your total hours per FTE per day or week. You'll have to adjust for that too.

Check out the weWFM Podcast on Apple or Spotify

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