In this article, we present three key steps to improving mental health and wellbeing in the contact centre with lots of tips along the way.
Step 1- To Improve Mental Health, Promote Wellbeing
The first step to developing a healthy, all-inclusive culture in the contact centre is to promote wellbeing, ensuring people are happy to talk about any issues that they may have. You do not want issues to linger and fester, becoming much worse over time.
If we promote issues like mental illness, we can encourage discussion and that is the first step to finding solutions, lowering absence and, more importantly, supporting advisors to lead a better quality of life.
Here are four ideas to promote health and well-being in the contact centre.
Appoint Mental Health Champions
Talk to your Team Leaders and ask if one of them wants to become a “mental health champion”, promoting the cause across the contact centre. It is better to assign the role to someone who is willing to talk about their own mental heath challenges.
Then, ask your first champion to share their mental health story, whether it was they who suffered or a close friend/family member, and spread that story across the contact centre. Make it available on advisor desktops, include it in a newsletter or ask your champion if they are comfortable enough to give a speech – create that conversation.
It is good to have a senior member of the team to spread this first story, as everyone will know who they are. This way, their story will heard by so many, others will put themselves forward to also become “mental health champions”.
Each champion will then be treated as equals, with no hierarchy, as they come together every month to discuss how they can promote wellbeing and encourage discussion.
Promotes Events Such as World Mental Health Day
Bringing the spirit of an event into the contact centre is a great way to engage the team with the overarching cause, as Tricia Clark, formerly the Regional Advisor for Mental Health and Learning in Yorkshire and Humber working for NIACE.
This will not only support the creation of a healthy environment but may also encourage staff to open-up about their mental health needs.
Tricia says: “There are things that can be done on a whole-organisation basis, like running ‘Positive About Mental Health’ events or campaigns that promote mental health and well-being.”
“You can use specific dates like World Mental Health Day (10th October) as the focus for these events. This will not only support the creation of a healthy environment but may also encourage staff to open-up about their mental health needs.”
One way to engage members of the team is to make pledges to the cause. But, don’t simply ask them to pledge a donation to a local social care charity, earn that donation.
For example, have a cake sale, wax a willing colleague and/or run a quiz, whatever works best for you. After all, you know your people better than us!
As the Manager, give organisers a little break here are there, while making sure that it is incorporated into the schedule and that should be all the input needed from you, once you’ve appointed champions.
Another idea to help celebrate is to ask the team to think of one way that they can improve their mental health or to ask them to compliment someone they don’t usually talk to, this will ensure that everyone engages with the topic.
Compile Resources on Your Intranet
Advisors need to know where they can go for support, without having to approach someone, if they are not yet comfortable. Having an Employer Mental Health (EMH) policy hidden away in the deepest corner of your system is no longer enough. Many advisors won’t even be made aware of what EMH stands for.
So, make health and wellbeing resources easily accessible to the team by creating a clear section on the intranet system. And, just as importantly, make all resources user-friendly.
Having a 50 page document that includes your health policy won’t engage anyone with the topic and, if you want to improve discussion, engagement is exactly what you need.
Make the section of your intranet enticing and include materials such as videos, personal stories and tips articles on subjects like “how to destress” and make any policies that you have easy to read.
It can also be a good idea to make mental health literature available in the break-out room, according to Valur Svansson, Principal Consultant at IP Integration.
Valur says: “Employers should find out what resources are available and help their staff make the most of them. Supply information about mental health helplines, healthcare resources, and your company’s own HR department.”
“This is as simple as putting posters up in the break room and making mental health awareness literature available.”
One tip that we picked up on our visit to the Which? contact centre in Cardiff is to organise monthly mindfulness sessions, where each month a different activity is run to engage the team with the topic of health and wellbeing.
Ideas that Which? use include bringing in speakers to run seminars on self-reflection, sleeping better and de-stressing, while you could also run yoga classes and hire masseuses for the day.
Mindfulness sessions do not only engage advisors with wellbeing in terms of work, but they also give the team tips to take home with them, to develop their knowledge and improve their work-life balance.
For more ideas like mindfulness sessions, check out our article: Employee Well-Being: How to Reduce Contact Centre Stress
Step 2 – Tackle Work-Related Sources
Once you are actively promoting healthy living and discussion in the workplace, the next step is to ensure that you aren’t the source of any problems that they may have. To tackle these problems, you must be encouraging discussion through step one, so you are tackling the right areas.
With frequent disgruntled customers and a role that can be repetitive, contact centres can be difficult places to work. By being aware of “problem areas” and actively combatting them, you are one step away from doing all that you can for the contact centre team.
With this in mind, here are two key ways for removing work related sources of stress and ill-health.
Train Team Leaders to Have Mental Health Conversations
While appointing separate mental health champions is important, it is a fundamental part of the Team Leader role to be able to spot Advisor problems and have those difficult conversations with the team. However, this can be tricky, so Team Leaders need training.
Firstly, they need to know how to identify signs of depression, anxiety and stress, which goes beyond looking at unexplained absence rates.
For example, Team Leaders also need to be taught to consider if an individual is:
- Struggling with the demands of the job?
- Coming into work late and looking tired?
- Mixing well and forming relationships with their colleagues?
Team Leaders also need to be supported to hold conversations with Advisors at the end of each one-to-one about their wellbeing. Make these conversations normal, so the advisor can expect to discuss their stress levels and mental health, which helps to reaffirm your organisation’s support.
In addition, remember as well that it isn’t just Advisors that may struggle with these issues, everybody can. So, create an environment where everybody has somebody that they feel comfortable talking to.
Consider the Physical Environment
The physical environment can impact advisor wellbeing in a number of ways. For example, closed spaces can discourage communication, dark corridors can demotivate and excess noise can cause stress – both vocally in the contact centre and emotionally.
So, look to create open spaces, with lots of greenery, to help encourage motivation. Studies also show that bright light, both natural and artificial, help to guard against health problems such as depression, fatigue and agitation.
To cut out excess background noise, you can go as far as installing acoustic ceiling tiles, using white noise machines or giving advisors noise-cancelling headsets – each of these options will help to cut any excess noise.
But, the first thing to do before you invest in any of these options is to talk to the team. Maybe the background noise isn’t their biggest concern, they may just want cleaner toilets or a different room temperature – these factors are also key to the team’s wellbeing.
For more tips to lessen background noise, read our article: 12 Quick Ways to Deal With Call Centre Noise
Step 3 – Support Employees With Mental Health Issues
The last step is in supporting the team to overcome any struggles that they may be facing. While you may be tackling all the sources of ill-health from within the contact centre, we cannot protect advisors from those that lie outside of the organisation.
However, what we can do is create an environment where the team feel as though they are accepted and can talk to people that care about them.
While you won’t be able to create a culture like this overnight, here are four tips to help you on your way.
We earlier discussed spotting the signs of mental illness, but what can you do when you’ve spotted a potential problem? You need to be as supportive as early as possible.
When you, as a Team Leader, notice a pattern in absence, lateness or a dropping performance, start a spontaneous conversation to “air-out” any problems the advisor may have. Don’t feel the need to wait for a one-to-one, although this is a good time to have a conversation.
When you notice a pattern in absence, lateness or a dropping performance, start a spontaneous conversation to “air-out” any problems the advisor may have. Don’t feel the need to wait for a one-to-one.
Once you’ve had that early intervention, keep a close eye on these warning signs and monitor other key metrics like quality scores, these will help to show you if more support is needed.
When approaching mental health issues, it is important to give employees the benefit of the doubt when approaching absence issues, as Valur Svannson reminds us.
Valur says: “Always give employees the benefit of the doubt when approaching something like absence.”
“I would open a dialogue by saying: ‘I’ve noticed that you have missed several shifts on Mondays – do you have an obligation in your personal life that makes this shift difficult for you to get to?'”
Provide a Confidential Email Address
When a member of the team does feel confident enough to reach out for support, but wants to discuss the matter in private, provide a confidential email for them to contact – so the advisor can feel assured in getting help and feels “guarded” from being treated differently.
When an email comes through, take a quick assessment of the team member and match them with a champion who has a similar personality type and has been through a similar struggle
At first, just exchange private emails, but – if everything goes smoothly – you can start having one-to-ones. Having someone that you feel comfortable speaking to about these issues is important and makes the work environment feel a lot more friendly.
Make Workplace Amendments to Help People Cope With a Bereavement
It is good to have processes in place that make workplace adjustments simple, when it becomes clear that you need to protect your team’s health, according to Rusty Livock, Deputy Chief Executive at Connect Assist.
“For example, if somebody has had a family bereavement, we might offer that person alternative duties to being on the phone. Taking calls can be something that actually triggers their sorrow.”
“I often tell employees in this situation that getting back to work fairly quickly and keeping a routine is likely to aid their recovery. Work is good for people.”
Consider Outside Help
As organisations, it is important that we remind ourselves that we are not here to recommend what colleagues should be doing, but to give support and make options available to them.
So, it is good to provide an option that goes beyond the walls of the contact centre and accept that not everyone is going to be comfortable sharing their problems with the people that they work with.
One option, as recommended to us by a couple of different organisations, is to work with a company called Remploy, which won’t cost you a penny.
Remploy is a free service that offers members of your workforce confidential support. Your advisors will be supplied with a phone number that they can talk to someone and together create a wellbeing plan and discuss coping strategies.
To find out more about Remploy, take a look at the video below:
Mindfulness Employer Plus Program
Another option is to sign-up to the Mindfulness Employer Plus Program, which will provide you with a number of different resources, a confidential phone number for advisors to call and mental health awareness training for managers and other members if the team. All of this can be delivered in your contact centre.
Much of the above is free, but signing-up to the charter requires an administration fee of at least £50 (for up to 50 employees) £75 (50-250) £100 (250+).
Yet, despite of the price tag, mental health now accounts for over 10% of worker sick leave, so it may be worth the investment.
In fact, the case for doing so strengthens when we consider the stigma around mental health probably means that the actual percentage of workers who take sick leave due to mental health reasons is much higher.
10 More Tips From Our Industry Expects
We asked four contact centre experts for their experiences and advice on dealing with mental health issues in the modern workplace, to get even more advise. Here are 12 he
1. Train Managers to Handle Mental Health Issues Without Ignorance
Contact centre leaders aren’t doctors, and they can’t be expected to have a detailed knowledge of the requirements of people dealing with different conditions.
However, they should have the kind of training that means they can confidently respond to staff with mental health issues without embarrassment or total ignorance.
2. Monitor KPIs so You Can Offer Assistance Before a Problem Escalates
When people are given medical leave they tend to extend that time as much as possible, because coming back to work seems like an ever bigger challenge.
We try to pre-empt these situations by closely monitoring absence and other indicators such as lateness or drops in KPIs. That way we can offer assistance before the problem escalates.
Pre-empt these situations by closely monitoring absence and other indicators such as lateness or drops in KPIs. That way we can offer assistance before the problem escalates.
From a manager’s ‘macro’ point of view, their best friend is going to be the WFM system. This is how you will pick up on changes in employee behaviours regarding the quality of their work or their attendance.
With that information in hand, you can find out to what extent their behaviour conforms with their peers; if they are outside the average performance, that’s when it might be time to get involved.
3. Managers Need to be Able to Liaise With HR to Offer the Right Support
Leaders need to be able to liaise comfortably with HR to make sure that specific monitoring and support can be offered to members of staff who need it.
In the most effective contact centres, mental health issues are part of the discussion for management and recruitment, as well as HR.
With thanks to Valur Svansson
4. Create a Safe Place for Internal, Non-prejudiced Conversations
In Britain, about 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health condition. Where I work there are, like anywhere, numerous mental health conditions, most commonly related to anxiety and stress. The fact that some contact centres don’t think about it amazes me.
The main preventative measure is being open. As a company, it’s incumbent upon us to see that people are adequately trained to talk about mental health.
We have a company secretary who sits in a closed office and deals with employee matters; our team leaders know that if they want to have a non-prejudiced consultation, they can go to the company secretary.
She is able to talk about the challenges in dealing with a particular individual, and that is one way that we can identify when there might be something going on with a colleague.
5. Sign up to the Mindful Employer Initiative
We have also signed up to the mindful employer initiative, which is a charter used to self-regulate.
It basically states that we are committed to promoting positive attitudes in the workplace around mental health.
6. Create a Culture Where Mental Health Issues Aren’t Seen as a Failure
Stress gets us out of bed in the morning, and we need some stress to complete an assignment or get to work on time.
What we don’t need is the kind of overload that occurs when there are things going on in every corner of our lives. It becomes something which we’re no longer able to respond to.
One thing I aim to do is create a culture in which the issues you are dealing with are not failure.
It has to be ok to talk about your mental health in the workplace without feeling that you are making yourself vulnerable.
With thanks to Rusty Livock
7. You Need to Have a Culture of Support From the Top Down
There are four principles to our customer service philosophy: be humble, be open, be friendly, and remember that our diversity gives us strength.
However you exercise that in practice, having it on paper really sets a standard. You have to have a culture of awareness and of support, which comes from the top management and filters down.
We have a ‘Manager of Employee Satisfaction’ who runs a whole department.
8. Advertise a Direct Support Line Which Anyone Can Call at Any Time
We have a direct support line with BUPA which anyone can call at any time, and we advertise that around the office.
They provide a free counselling service which is independent of our business. If someone has an issue they don’t want to take to their manager, that service is in place.
9. Protect Your People – Instead of Burning Them Out
As a coach you are supposed to encourage people to develop, and to address problems with the way that they work, but you’ve got to be very conscious not to push anyone too hard and to respect what they’re doing.
Staff turnover is a massive problem in this industry, and even for a company that pays well and invests in employees, that problem is still present.
If you are a manager who is losing staff it can reflect badly on you, and that gives the managers additional impetus to protect their people.
From a business point of view, you don’t want to be hiring people all the time, burning them out and then hiring new people.
With thanks to Matt Clark, Training and Quality Coach
10. Review Your Processes to See How They May Contribute to Stress and Anxiety
You should also review your policies and procedures – are they effective in promoting well-being, or do they actually contribute to stress and anxiety?
Robust policies are needed for challenging discriminatory or abusive behaviour such as bullying, and appropriate training can help staff to understand what is expected of them.
Devise ways to ask people how they think your organisation can promote positive health and well-being. Involve them in developing their ideas and in monitoring the effectiveness of any new initiative.
Your staff are a resource; devise ways to ask people how they think your organisation can promote positive health and well-being. Involve them in developing their ideas and in monitoring the effectiveness of any new initiative.
With regard to people who have mental health difficulties, it is situations that are challenging and not the people themselves.
Behaviours or situations which are perceived to be challenging most often indicate an undetected or unresolved difficulty or unmet need.
There is rarely, if ever, any intention to be disruptive or challenging. If people present in this way, it is usually because they are challenged by the situation or the environment.
With thanks to Tricia Clark
The three suggested stages of helping to improve health and wellbeing in the contact centre are; promoting wellbeing, tacking work-related challenges and supporting Advisors.
To start, just focus on getting the conversation going, so that everybody feels is engaged with the topic. Assigning champions, ensuring resources are user friendly and creating a separate “wellbeing” section to the intranet are all key to doing this well.
To tackle any work-related sources of any health problem, talk to Advisors and train Team Leaders to have challenging conversations with the team, to help unearth any potential issues.
Finally, just be there for your team and make sure they feel supported. Do this by offering a number of different support options to them, instead of forcing them down one route.
Many of these tips were sourced from a CCMA seminar. For information on their future events, visit: www.ccma.org.uk
Additional resources for companies and employees:
- Time to Change
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists
- NHS Health at Work
We also recorded an episode of The Contact Centre Podcast with employee wellbeing expert Helen Ginman, which you can check out below:
The Contact Centre Podcast – Episode 32:
Employee Wellbeing: Take Care Of Your Team!
For more information on this podcast visit Podcast: Employee Wellbeing: Take Care of Your Team!