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8 Ways to Avoid Call Centre Agent Burnout


A picture of someone who has burned-out

Dick Bourke of Scorebuddy shares some advice for avoiding call centre burnout, which resonate strongly in these difficult times.

The coronavirus has changed work as we knew it for the foreseeable future. Many companies have moved to remote work, including call centres.

The key is to tackle the coronavirus crisis and take the necessary measures to protect your organization, your employees, and your customers.

McKinsey offers some solid insight into COVID-19’s implications for business.

No matter how your business decides to handle the crisis, one thing you must prepare for is increasing stress in the call centre, which leads to burnout.

How can your organization curb burnout during a crisis, especially in the call centre?

First, you must understand what call centre burnout is and who gets it. Only then can you make plans for how to mitigate it.

What Is Call Centre Burnout?

If you’re not sure how to define burnout, you’re not alone.

Although few would dispute that it exists, medical literature still reflects a debate about whether burnout comes from other psychological conditions or arises from environmental factors.

When the term was first coined back in the 1970s, it applied only to care-giving jobs like nursing, but now it’s used across industries.

According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), employee burnout is a “Syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Specifically, it’s characterized by three distinct outcomes:

  1. Feelings of exhaustion or lack of energy.
  2. Feelings of negativity or cynicism related to the workplace, or a feeling of increased mental distance from one’s job.
  3. Reduced efficiency in the workplace.

Burnout has serious consequences at the macro level. In healthcare spending alone, it costs $125 to $190 billion annually and contributes to 120,000 deaths per year – according to Harvard Business Review.

Also, for employers, 95% of HR leaders agree that burnout sabotages workforce retention, according to a survey by Kronos.

When employees feel disconnected and disengaged, it leads to declining performance, risking your reputation and a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

Everyone Can Get Burnout

Burnout is a phenomenon that’s specifically related to work (not life outside the office), and it can be more prevalent among certain occupations over others.

However, it’s a feeling that can impact almost anyone, and it’s a problem for many workers regardless of job title. Managers aren’t immune to employee burnout, and neither are frontline agents.

According to a Deloitte survey of 1,000 full-time US professionals, 77% of workers have experienced employee burnout at their current job, and more than half have experienced it more than once.

Also, for 23% of workers, they feel burnout at work often or always, according to a Gallup study.

The problem is that with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting businesses at all levels, there’s increased pressure on call centre agents.

Employers expect their agents to be empathetic even while they answer increasing numbers of calls and deal with emotionally charged customers, which causes immense amounts of stress, ultimately leading to burnout.

And when it comes to call centre agent burnout during a crisis, the impact is even greater, and so too are the consequences for your business.

After all, call centre agents don’t just placate customers; they interpret and enforce your policies and communicate your value, and in so doing, help maintain a consistent public face of the company.

Call Centre Burnout Rate

Customer support is one of the functions most at risk for burnout, especially during a crisis.

According to one study by Toister Performance Solutions, 74% of call centre agents are at risk of burnout. And 30% of those individuals are at severe risk of burnout.

Contact centres also have some of the highest turnover rates in the country and the average call centre agent lifespan is just three years – according to ContactBabel.

Behind such a high call centre burnout rate and turnover rate are the expectations placed on agents. Call centre agents must be patient, positive, happy, and helpful.

All traits that are difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate when stressed and in the midst of a crisis.

It’s why so many call centres around the world are struggling right now.

There’s also increased stress at this time that goes along with hitting KPIs such as average time on call and first call resolution, which can also add to the call centre burnout rate.

The reality is that many of your agents could be just one angry phone call or customer chat away from reaching their breaking point—a point where they don’t care how they handle customers.

So, what can you do to beat these call centre burnout statistics? First, you have to learn how to recognize burnout and then overcome it.

The Tricky Problem of Call Centre Agent Burnout

Typical signs of burnout are quite clear: exhaustion, poor job performance, and a growing cynicism about the workplace.

Often, it’s spoken of interchangeably with job stress, but the consequences of call centre agent burnout cannot be denied.

Burned-out employees are, according to Gallup:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day;
  • 6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job;
  • 13% less confident in their work performance;
  • 50% less likely to discuss performance goals with their managers.

In short, burnout causes work quality to decline, and valuable people choose to leave, take time off, or show up in a robot-like state.

How to Overcome Call Centre Burnout

Incentives to improve job performance are important to keep employees happy overall. But in order to reduce the chance of burnout, business leaders need to implement action plans to increase employee comfort level and develop an environment where they can excel personally and professionally.

We’ve outlined eight potential strategies to mitigate call centre agent burnout in your business.

1. Prioritize Stress Reduction

Burnout is less likely in a company culture that values break time and leaving when a shift is over.

This kind of culture in a call centre prevents agents from hopping on to another call when they should be eating lunch or opening a chat when they should be getting ready to pack up and go home.

While you may love this initial enthusiasm for the job, it can quickly fizzle out and turn into burnout.

Through your policies and example, remind employees the job is a marathon and not a sprint.

A simple office wellness program during the coronavirus outbreak can include perks like healthy snacks in the breakroom, breaking up shifts to keep agents empathetic and effective, remote work opportunities for employee health, and cleaning breaks to keep phones and workstations sanitary.

For example, one call centre company added an app to agent screens that led them through self-guided breathing exercises. This simple change provided agents a moment of “Zen” between customer chats, which helped reduce stress and increase agent effectiveness.

2. Offer Manager Support

Agents typically handle client interactions on their own, but even experienced representatives need access to a support network. And that’s especially the case if your call centre has removed to remote work during the crisis. Even from home, management needs to be available.

According to a Gallup study, employees who feel supported by their managers are overwhelmingly less likely (around 70%) to experience burnout.

That’s because good managers offer an opportunity to discuss difficult situations, provide support during rough times, and work collaboratively to reduce stress.

Managers should always be available to provide assistance with a particularly challenging call or provide a listening ear for longer-term issues.

During quality assurance reviews, managers should also emphasize what agents have done well and where their strengths are, so they don’t feel like they’re on a hamster wheel of unsatisfied customers.

As part of this, a coronavirus pandemic call centre playbook should be available to answer important business questions. It should include information on:

  • Cancellations, refunds, and postponements
  • Business continuity
  • Product/service discounts
  • Etc.

Managers should provide their call centre team with everything agents need to handle crisis-related concerns, questions, and escalations.

3. Encourage Your Call Centre Agents

A prosperous and productive call centre starts from the top down, but you cannot create positive customer experiences or a positive culture without highly qualified agents. After all, your contact centre is only as good as your team.

It’s essential to focus on encouraging your agents who demonstrate customer service soft skills such as adaptability, initiative, teamwork, empathy, integrity, problem-solving, communication skills, and emotional intelligence.

It’s these skills, which are hard to measure and teach, which are the best indicators of success and happiness in the call centre, especially during a crisis.

When you encourage your call centre agents by offering job security in the midst of a crisis, regularly communicating thankfulness for their work, and recognizing agents who go above and beyond, it’s proven to boost employee satisfaction and customer service, reducing burnout risk.

4. Improve Agent Autonomy

It’s likely your call centre agents already have the discretion to appease customers within certain parameters.

Review the amount of autonomy granted to your agents and poll staff to ask whether they’d like a bit more leeway to make choices in order to improve client care.

Autonomy makes employees better engaged, better able to serve customers, and better able to stick out the job over the long term. This includes offering the ability to work from home during this crisis.

Even if the job parameters are set in stone and you cannot allow your employees to work remotely, you can support employees by letting them arrange their own shift changes when they need to take care of personal matters.

When you allow less stringent call procedures and policies, you reduce the feelings of frustration and stress, which will improve performance and decrease emotional exhaustion.

5. Incentivize Call Centre Agents

Working as a call centre agent can be a tedious and sometimes thankless job. Agents spend hours every day talking to customers, many of whom are often upset, demanding, and unkind.

Even under the best circumstances and with the best employees, this can wear agents down.

The key to a successful incentive program is to identify the behaviours that most impact your bottom line and then find a way to recognize top performers. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a monetary reward.

Instead, match the reward to the agent. An employee who loves TV might love a few months of free access to a streaming network while another employee might enjoy a gift certificate for takeout from a nice restaurant.

6. Protect Talented Agents

In many sectors, burnout affects the most talented members of the team, because they’re frequently given the most difficult tasks.

It’s great to have your successful agents coach your new recruits, but take care to protect those agents from an untenable situation where they are providing support while having to complete their usual workload.

When you tap a senior member to perform training, do so with a realistic assessment of how much time that’s going to take.

Reduce their regular duties and integrate the changes into their quality assurance assessments.

Give them a buffer of breathing room in case the coaching proves more difficult. If they don’t need that buffer time, think of it as a way of rewarding an employee you want to keep.

Also, don’t forget to nudge your underperforming agents to improve and give them the training, support, and quality assurance metrics to do so.

Failure to boost their performance will invariably cause those who are doing the most work (your talented agents) to burn out.

Engage in difficult conversations with those who are following behind for the benefit of your entire team.

7. Improve Call Centre Training

According to research conducted by Middlesex University, 74% of workers believe a lack of training is their biggest hurdle to reaching their full work potential.

On top of that, 94% of employees admit that they would stay at a company longer if they invested in helping them learn.

Your agents want training to do their jobs better and handle any situation that’s thrown at them.

It leads to better employee engagement, improved employee retention, and more employee satisfaction, all of which can reduce burnout.

The key is to build creativity into your call centre training in a way that fosters engagement and teamwork and encourages learning. Call centre training games are great for this.

Games might seem trivial, but they are linked to improving agent communication, problem-solving, professionalism, and customer service.

Just make sure that the games you use and the call centre training ideas you implement are based on reality.

8. Focus on Job Growth

Call centre work is often repetitive and tedious. Once agents gain experience and feel comfortable in their jobs, they may fall victim to an overwhelming sense of boredom.

Offering advancement opportunities to agents can make employees feel like they are making an impact and they are going somewhere.

Just make sure that an adequate salary accompanies job growth.

Employees who are not compensated for their work feel underappreciated, are less motivated, and are far more prone to symptoms and signs of burnout.

There must be a way to recognize high-performing agents through financial rewards and job growth. Without this, your call centre agents will look for ways to grow elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

For many call centre agents experiencing burnout during this crisis, small changes in the work environment and management expectations can do a lot to reduce stress and increase their job satisfaction.

A thumbnail image of Dick Bourke

Dick Bourke

It’s about taking care of the people who do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to customer support.

By investing in your employees and providing them with the tools they need to overcome call centre burnout during COVID-19, you’ll help them work harder and ensure the success of your business.

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Scorebuddy – View the original post

To find out more about Scorebuddy, visit their website.

About the author

Scorebuddy Scorebuddy is quality assurance solution for scoring customer service calls, emails and web chat. It is a dedicated, stand-alone staff scoring system based in the cloud, requiring no integration.

Call Centre Helper is not responsible for the content of these guest blog posts. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Call Centre Helper.

Published On: 20th Mar 2020 - Last modified: 24th Mar 2020
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