How to Prevent Advisor Burnout in the Contact Centre


David Reid discusses the challenge of advisor burnout in the contact centre, while giving his tips for overcoming the challenge.

The Challenge

How do we manage to lead a successful and productive life in the workplace, and a healthy and fulfilling life with our families and friends?

Customer service and contact centre operations are high-stress environments. There is always something to do and there is always something that has to be done.

Contact centres are very dynamic environments. The sheer number of factors that influence contact centre operations makes spending a lot of time “fire fighting” inevitable. The prevalence of smartphones and mobile devices means that many people do not and cannot stop working when they walk out of the office door.

So, how do we succeed in this environment in the long term? This is not easy for individuals or for organisations.

Let’s start by reviewing staff burnout. According to a survey of 614 HR leaders in the US conducted in 2016 by researchers Kronos Incorporated, 46% of these leaders say that burnout is responsible for up to half of their workforce turnover. Unreasonable workload and after-hours work were identified in the same survey as 2 out of the 3 top contributors to burnout.

It is still costing organisations more in terms of recruitment and training as a result of staff attrition. When senior or specialised staff leave, a wealth of practical experience and expertise walks out of the door.

Managers burning out make mistakes which can cost the company thousands in terms of lost productivity. They may let their own behavioural standards slip. Leadership suffers. They may not follow up on planned coaching sessions or hold their subordinates accountable for completing tasks properly and on time. This leads to a loss of respect and falling standards throughout the organisation. Agents and other staff may leave the organisation as a result, which further contributes to staff attrition.

The Acceptance Phase

Errors will be made. Nobody can walk into a contact centre and expect it to work smoothly. Blaming people will increase stress levels leading to further mistakes.

Mistakes need to be seen as learning opportunities resulting in corrections and then implementing measures to prevent them happening again, rather than as a cue for blame and punishment. This includes educating employees on what went wrong, what needs to be done in the future to improve and why. And most importantly it needs to be baked into the organisation’s leadership culture so that it becomes standard practice and accepted that it is OK to fail, just fail fast.

Managers must prioritise effectively so that when they only manage to get 2 or 3 of the 10 things they planned done on that day, those 2 or 3 things are the things that have to be done. The other tasks which get put on the “back burner” are the tasks which can wait because they are not so urgent; nor are they so important.

It’s imperative for managers to manage expectations, get their own houses in order and lead by example, both of their internal and external customers. In this way, others can plan their own work based on reliable forecasting of what can be achieved within a certain timeframe.

Stop, Rest and Reset

It is up to leaders to set an example when it comes to stopping, resting and resetting themselves. We have all experienced the feeling when the fog comes down in our brains and we find ourselves struggling to solve problems that we would normally find simple. This is when a supervisor should take a short break such as a quick walk around the building to get some fresh air. This resets the mind and body so that when they come back, their minds will be refreshed and clear.

Vacations are important too. According to Fortune magazine, 54% of American employees did not take all of their allotted vacation days, sacrificing 662 million vacation days in total. Many employees in all levels of the organisation also take their laptops with them on vacation and spend at least part of their time working and handling the most stressful problems that can’t wait until they get back to work. Is that really a vacation?

Not taking a break affects employee morale, performance and reduces productivity. David Reid himself says “I have witnessed employees across all levels of seniority fall short here. Whether it be eating lunch at a desk or not taking a couple of days away from the hustle and bustle to reset your mind. There is a much greater risk of high stress and wrong decision making. I have experienced this first hand and have now learnt the importance of a rest and reset. Just taking a short walk to speak to your peers and employees helps reset your mind. We must see this as an investment not a cost.”

Individuals and Accountability

The final factor is accountability. In an article in “Forbes”, Victor Lipman tells us that “many managers, even senior managers, are surprisingly weak at accountability”. According to a  Harvard Business Review study, 46% of high-level managers were rated poorly on the measure “holds people accountable, firm when they don’t deliver”. He quotes another HR manager who states that: “Good managers ‘avoid the avoidance’.”

Individuals work differently with different strengths and different weaknesses. They usually work best when they are allowed to play to these strengths and stray far enough from their comfort zones to be challenged, but not so far as to be scared rigid.

They still have to contribute to the team. Accountability is not blaming people for mistakes. It is when leaders make sure that their staff and colleagues are doing what they are supposed to do properly and on time. Other team members will then have the time they require to fulfil their duties correctly instead of “carrying” their colleagues who are not doing their assigned jobs. With everyone doing what they are supposed to do, the team’s productivity will improve.

The Take-Away

Acceptance & Expectations

Leaders in contact centres need to accept that they work in a very dynamic and high-stress environment. Things change constantly, the unexpected is what you can expect the most. It is up to leaders to manage their own and others’ expectations. Errors will be made, things will go wrong. These need to be taken as opportunities for learning and growth to make the organisation stronger.

Burnout & Reset

Burnout is a real issue with real and substantial costs for both individuals and the organisation itself. Leaders should know when to stop, how to rest and reset. Doing so benefits everyone, including the business. Therefore, it is a good practice to embed into the culture and drive it through the business.

Accountability & Individuality

Individuality in terms of working style and preferences needs to be balanced with accountability. All staff ought to know what they are supposed to do as part of their role and get this done first; other members of the team depend on them to do it. If something or someone is not working right, address it or expect problems to persist.

David Reid

David Reid

There is a fine line between brilliance and burnout. How well managers walk this line is a measure of their ability.

Open Questions & Talking Points?

How does your organisation’s culture respond when employees make mistakes? Is this the same for all areas of the organisation, or does it vary from one role to another?

How does your organisation encourage and manage staff to “stop, rest and reset?”

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Be All Ears

Published On: 24th May 2018 - Last modified: 8th Jun 2018
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