How to Curb Call Center Burnout

As a call center manager, there are times when your team’s performance might not hit the mark. You’ve hired talented people, yet many of your team members seem disengaged or aren’t reaching their potential. Your employees may be suffering from call center burnout.

With an industry-wide turnover rate as high as 45%, call center leaders are familiar with burnout. Yet, it’s a problem that’s intensified with companies shifting to remote work during the pandemic. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, burnout and employee disengagement cost employers $8.1 trillion in 2021.  

Whether you’re an experienced or newer contact center manager, knowing how to identify agent burnout can help support your team and keep employees engaged.

Read on to learn more about how you can navigate call center burnout and reignite your team.

What is call center burnout?

Call center burnout is when customer service agents experience chronic stress due to the structured work environment and the nature of a customer support function.

People suffering from burnout often exhibit physical and mental exhaustion. They may also have a pessimistic outlook toward their job and lower productivity. If unaddressed, people with high workplace stress face health risks.

People suffering from burnout often exhibit physical and mental exhaustion. They may also have a pessimistic outlook toward their job and lower productivity. If unaddressed, people with high workplace stress face health risks.
Source: Gallup

Who experiences burnout? 

According to Gallup’s research, the risk of burnout is common across every industry., Nearly eight in 10 professionals face burnout to some degree on the job. 

Employee burnout has been on the rise since the pandemic, particularly among remote workers. Survey data from Indeed found that two-thirds of workers believe burnout has worsened lately. Work-from-home employees are 10% more likely to agree than those working in the office.

A high volume of angry customer interactions leads agents to burn out at higher rates. Contact center agents balance workplace metrics, call flows, and emotional wellness. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. 

Reasons for call center burnout 

Despite how common burnout is, it’s essential to understand why it happens. Microsoft reported on workplace trends, where Dr. Mary Donohue, social scientist, concluded the following:

“The exhaustion we’re feeling can be blamed on the speed and urgency of virtual work. In-person conversations give our brains a chance to assess things like tone, social cues, and body language to make meaning. But technology can create digital static: ‘the gap between what you try to communicate online and what the person receiving the message understands.’ 

And as that digital static increases, so does employee fatigue, anxiety, and burnout rates — while motivation and engagement decline.”

– Dr. Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center

Looking at call center work, this “digital static” leads to higher rates of burnout in the profession.  Contact center staff must be available for customers more than ever. A company’s contact center software adds to the stress by rotating between several tools and data sources. This inefficiency contributes to a poor work-life balance and high anxiety, overworking, and exhaustion.

Gallup’s research suggests that mismanagement has a significant influence on call center burnout. Therefore, call center managers need to be aware of the common burnout signs to build a more engaged team.

1. Long hours and overworking  

Many call centers have shifted to remote work, so employees can work anywhere. They must cater to the needs of a multi-channel customer experience. As such, customer satisfaction scores are likely to decrease among overworked employees.

According to Indeed’s Employee Burnout Report, 38% of remote employees feel pressure from managers to work more hours. And 21% feel the same pressure from customers and clients.
Source: Indeed

Remote call center professionals feel more pressure to work longer hours. According to Indeed’s Employee Burnout Report, 38% of remote employees feel pressure from managers to work more hours. And 21% feel the same pressure from customers and clients. 

Working longer hours with less time off is a recipe for employee burnout.

2. Digital overload

Virtual call center employees struggle to keep up with the surge of business software.

Time spent in virtual meetings has more than doubled since the pandemic. The average user sends 45% more chats per week and 42% more chats after hours. This style of workplace messaging is also unstructured, with 62% of Teams meetings unscheduled. 
Source: Microsoft

Time spent in virtual meetings has more than doubled since the pandemic. The average user sends 45% more chats per week and 42% more chats after hours. This style of workplace messaging is also unstructured, with 62% of Teams meetings unscheduled. 

Despite the higher volume of meetings and emails, half of the workforce responds to chats within five minutes.

With frantic workdays and the enormous expectations placed on virtual employees, it’s no wonder that burnout is on the rise.

3. High call volumes and rude customers

Call center leaders should not forget the taxing work their direct reports carry out. Frontline call center agents resolve a wide range of customer or client issues. As such, they become immersed in the caller’s emotions and struggles. This can be emotionally exhausting, especially at high call volumes.

Not all customer interactions will be resolved smoothly. Customer service soft skills remain paramount to turning around uncooperative customers. Nevertheless, call center employees can burn out after hearing from angry customers day after day.

4. Strict policies and micromanaging 

Employees feel someone is always watching. In contact centers, schedule adherence and handle times are tracked and reported. Add in extensive customer service QA, and this feeling becomes a reality.

No one wants to feel like they are being watched. This feeling undermines morale if employees don’t sense they’re in a trustworthy work environment.  

Strict policies and micromanagement are counter-productive. For example, a study from UC Riverside found that employees perform better when completing tasks on their own.

5. Lack of positivity 

With pressure to reach metrics, call centers can be competitive or even hostile work environments. Call center employees need positive feedback and incentives to keep them motivated.

Many virtual teams lack employee engagement. Without intentional teamwork, remote employees may feel isolated from each other.

6. Lack of resources and technology 

Telework requires cloud-based technology to thrive. With the overnight shift to remote work, countless employees lack the right tools.

Outdated technology like using personal messaging apps hurts the bottom line. Disparate customer data results in disjointed customer experiences. Unfortunately, call center employees often grow frustrated from compensating for this gap.

Signs your employees are experiencing burnout 

With contact centers going virtual, employers might not know frontline employees are struggling. As Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft 365, explains: 

“Impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them.”

– Jared Spataro, CVP at Microsoft 365

Source: Microsoft

Remote work can be a quiet, focused environment for customer service agents. However, employees have fewer venues for casual leadership interaction.

If employee input isn’t sought, call center managers may never hear the legitimate concerns. As a result, employees are prone to feel undervalued within the organization.

Even in a hybrid setting, call center leaders should be able to spot the following warning signs of burnout.

1. They’re tired and they avoid work

Exhaustion is a textbook symptom of burnout and manifests in several ways. Employees suffering from workplace stress may also have trouble sleeping. This can lead to physical health deterioration in addition to mental health effects.

Gallup observed that burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day. While an employee taking a few sick days is not cause for concern, absenteeism is. Call center managers should notice if an employee is often taking time off due to illness.

Additionally, if employees sign on late, sign off early, take numerous breaks, and skip team events, they’re likely disengaged.

2. They’re discouraged and irritated 

Call center agents experiencing burnout feel hopeless, pessimistic, or even angry. If employees conflict with each other or appear irritable, it may be due to call center burnout. Dig in to find the root cause of their stressors.

3. They’re less productive and make more mistakes  

Declining professional efficacy can be another indicator of employee burnout. If productivity declines or carelessness increases, intense workplace stress can sap their energy.

Call center managers should take an active role in these instances. Burned-out employees are less likely to seek a manager to discuss performance goals.

4. They’re quitting   

Gallup research shows that burned-out employees are six times more likely to seek a new job than satisfied employees. So keep track of employee retention and trends in exit interviews. If there’s an exodus of call center team members, you likely have issues with company culture and should focus on that first.

High turnover rates can damage the organization’s morale and the bottom line. Recruiting and training are costly. Senior team members may grow exhausted if they train and build relationships with new hires only to see them leave.

Ways to help employees overcome burnout 

Recognizing that employees are experiencing burnout is the first step. Now, it’s time to assist them in developing a healthier, more productive work environment.

Which of the following would help you to avoid or reduce experiencing worker burnout? Top answers include: Reduced hours worked, more paid time off, more supportive manager, receiving better mental health policies, access to free therapy from employer, mental health and wellness apps, mental health benefits from employer.
Source: Spring Health

1. Focus on company culture 

Companies that encourage healthy work-life balance help ease employee stress. Contact center managers should design human resources policies that:

  • Encourage leaving work on time, taking occasional breaks, and taking PTO 
  • Express gratitude for  hard work and reward good performance
  • Make employee mental and physical wellness a priority

One company that does this well is Zappos. In Delivering Happiness, CEO Tony Hsieh writes that culture is the best way to build a brand for the long term. Leaders at Zappos wanted their culture to become a defining brand promise. The company offers courses, life coaching, flexible work schedules, and volunteer opportunities to all call center employees. 

2. Encourage autonomy

Employees are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have autonomy over their schedule. Therefore, avoid micromanaging and trust your employees to self-manage their time.

Allow your call center staff ways to build teamwork by peer-led duties. Rotate assignments and responsibilities to increase skills and aptitude.

Survey team members about their satisfaction and long-term pursuits. This way, you can increase customer support functions and keep staff engaged longer.

Salesforce’s Kelly Singsank explains it like this: 

“When you have historical data on the conditions that can guide decisions, agents should be able to make the right call without their manager. 

Remember, autonomy doesn’t mean that customer service agents should feel like they’re all on their own. It means they should feel a greater sense of owning the results they deliver.”

– Kelly Singsank, Head of Solutions Marketing UK & Ireland at Salesforce

Source: MyCustomer

3. Invest in technology that lessens the workload 

Outdated technology is a shared pain point for customer service representatives and customers. Legacy software doesn’t promote collaboration or real-time customer care.

Shifting to a cloud call center platform enhances the reliability of a virtual workforce. With calls and chats handled by agents, customers can avoid long wait times and get the help they need. Contact center software gives managers easy ways to track call volume and agent performance.

Automated customer service can lighten the workload and enhance the customer experience. As a result, employees can give each customer a higher level of attention and care. In addition, instead of being overloaded with tasks, agents have more enjoyable customer interactions.

4. Create outlets for open communication  

It can be challenging for supervisors to know when remote employees are struggling. Open communication happens over the phone, video, and chat. Performance reviews also need a central source of stats, so assessments aren’t subjective.

Unified Communications (UCaaS) provides an array of meeting and collaboration tools for employees. Paired with CCaaS, agents can handle interactions in and out of the call center.

Employees who feel supported by their managers are about 70% less likely to face burnout. So, managers should empower employees to ask for feedback or provide suggestions. They should also keep scheduled check-ins with employees to:

  • Find out which tasks feel impossible or unimportant
  • See if team members treat them with respect
  • Look for opportunities to optimize processes
  • Allow employees to take time off if they feel overwhelmed
  • Provide feedback and discuss performance goals

5. Improve training and clarify roles 

For remote work, defined roles and adequate training are crucial. Develop protocols and invest in technology to ensure seamless onboarding of new hires.

Instead of live training, set up an onboarding program with videos and playbooks. New team members can absorb material from screencasts and recorded phone calls. Apps like Loom or Yac make this super simple.

Once they hit the floor, try displaying metrics publicly to inspire friendly competition. Even a daily briefing can help keep the team engaged with the right stats and KPIs.

Document responsibilities, titles, and top metrics for each member of your team. This serves as a guide for 1:1s and performance reviews.

Benefits of addressing call center burnout 

Burnout happens in every industry and line of work. So, why should you address it?

Mitigating the burnout causes retains top talent, increases morale, and saves thousands in recruiting.

People in the contact center industry carry stress on both sides of the phone. They hear from angry customers and stats-focused managers that want more and more.

In a nutshell:

  • Studies show engaged employees provide better customer service, resulting in happier customers.
  • Prospective new hires are more likely to join a company with favorable Glassdoor reviews
  • Senior employees can mentor and coach newer employees. 

Now you know all the ins and outs of call center burnout. But, it’s much more than an ill-equipped leader, a bad day, or irate customers. It’s a combination of all the above.


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