The Complete Guide to Preventing Agent Burnout in Call Centers
by Shaundalee Carvalho | May 20, 2022, 09:49 AM
The term “burnout” has been thrown around a lot in recent years. It seems like everyone, from big celebrities to the person in the cubicle next to yours, is talking about it. But what exactly is burnout? Why is it such a problem? And most importantly, how can it be prevented? This blog will answer these questions.
What is burnout?
Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is considered an occupational phenomenon and is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Burnout involves feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, increased mental distance from or negative feelings towards one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Online dictionary Dictionary.com, defines burnout as “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.” No matter how exactly you define it, burnout is a problem many employees face in today’s world.
Why is it a problem?
Obviously, burnout is a problem for the person experiencing it; nobody wants to feel stressed and exhausted at work. But the impact of employee burnout goes beyond the individual employee. Gallup reports that employees who say they “very often” or “always” experience burnout at work are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, 13% less confident in their performance, and 2.3x as likely to be actively seeking a different job. Burnout increases absenteeism and turnover while reducing productivity within an organization, ultimately impacting the bottom line. In fact, the American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs the US industry more than $300 billion in losses. Similarly, work-related stress costs the US $190 billion in annual healthcare costs.
How can it be prevented?
The best time to deal with burnout is before it happens. Rather than waiting until agents are already burnt out and trying to figure out what to do about it, organizations need to be proactive and focus on prevention. Gallup identifies the top five factors that correlate most highly with employee burnout as unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support, and unreasonable time pressure. Preventing burnout requires finding ways to address these problems. Here are some specific ways that you can address these and other issues within your organization that could contribute to agent burnout:
Set Clear, Realistic Performance Goals
Having clear, realistic performance goals in place can address some of the factors that lead to burnout.
- Base Goals on Existing Metrics – Performance goals are more realistic if they are based on the improvement of an existing metric rather than an arbitrary value that you think your contact center should be reaching. For example, you may not want your customers to wait more than one minute in queue. But if your current average time in queue is 15 minutes, expecting to reduce it to one minute (without hiring significantly more agents) is unrealistic and will cause unnecessary stress for your agents. Instead, use the contact center reports available to examine baseline metrics and strive to improve by a realistic percentage.
- Provide Objective Opportunities for Advancement – One way to address the problems of unfair treatment and unclear communication from managers is to clearly provide an objective, standardized career path to advancement. Explaining what goals need to be met for agents to advance in their careers leaves no room for bias or favoritism. This ensures that agents are treated fairly and they understand the bigger picture of how to move forward in their careers.
Assign an Appropriate Workload
Unmanageable workload and unreasonable time pressure are two of the top five factors that lead to burnout. Ensuring that you assign an appropriate workload to be completed within a given time period can help to prevent burnout.
- Schedule Resources Based on Historical Demand – It can be hard to know the right number of agents to schedule at any given time. Scheduling too few will overwhelm them, while scheduling too many will leave some agents bored if they don’t have enough to do. Integrating a workforce management (WFM) tool into your contact center can help you overcome this issue. The integration uses historical contact center data to predict demand and automatically create agent schedules to meet expected staffing needs. This ensures there is an appropriate number of agents to distribute calls to, preventing unmanageable workloads for any individual agent.
- Offload Routine Tasks When Possible – Avoid overwhelming agents with an excess of simple but tedious or unfulfilling tasks by using automation and artificial intelligence when possible. Chatbots and self-serve IVRs can handle frequently asked questions and routine tasks like order look-ups, saving agents’ time and energy for more complicated matters. Similarly, automated outbound notifications can handle appointment reminders, shipping updates, and more so that agents don’t have to.
- Provide Resources That Make Agents’ Jobs Easier – Providing agents with the best tools and processes to help them ensures that they work as efficiently as possible. Using an omnichannel contact center is one way to keep agents efficient by allowing them to work within a single system rather than having to constantly navigate between multiple interfaces, depending on contact type.
CRM integrations can further improve efficiency by screen popping relevant context about a contact. This allows agents to work on resolving the customer’s problem right away, rather than spending excessive time asking identification questions. CRM integrations can also enable the auto-insertion of activity records, meaning agents have less tedious data entry to do after each interaction. Screen popping agent scripts can provide guidance for agents when they’re not sure what to do or how to respond to an inquiry. Maximizing call center efficiency prevents work from piling up in the form of overloaded queues that can be overwhelming and stressful to agents. No matter what tools will be most beneficial to your agents, it is important to provide them adequate resources to do their jobs efficiently to prevent burnout.
Promote a Culture of Well-Being
Ensuring that your agents’ physical and mental health is well taken care of is an important piece of keeping agents productive while preventing burnout.
- Encourage Breaks and Vacations – Michigan State University reported that 52% of American workers did not use all of their vacation time, for various reasons including heavy workloads, lack of coverage, and fear they’d be seen as replaceable. Addressing the workload issues using the methods above is a good place to start. But to ensure that employees actually take their vacation time, you may have to go one step further and actually tell them to do it. Make sure they not only feel that they can take their vacation, but that they should. Emphasize the importance of taking time to themselves to relax and recharge before coming back to work rejuvenated and ready to put their best work forward.
Similarly, short breaks throughout the day can positively impact employees’ mental health and help prevent burnout. Encourage employees to use their break times to step away from their desks, clear their heads, and maybe enjoy some social time with co-workers before returning to work refreshed and ready to focus again.
- Try Walking Meetings – For short meetings that don’t require visual aids or constant note-taking, try bringing the meeting outside and taking it on the go. Under the right circumstances, walking meetings can be a great way to make sure agents are getting some fresh air and physical activity during their day, which can be beneficial for mental health. Matthew Ellis, HR Technician at Berkeley County School District, says these meetings are best for small groups.
- Encourage and Respect Healthy Boundaries – In today’s world, with mobile access to work at any time of day and with the recent rise in remote work, it can be difficult to separate working time from personal time. You can help employees set healthy boundaries by encouraging them to shut down their computers and mute email notifications on their phones after hours to ensure that their work time doesn’t overflow into their personal lives too much.
- Have Some Fun at Work – To paraphrase an old proverb, all work and no play makes your workplace dull. Scheduling workplace socials is a great way to encourage breaks, help your employees get to know each other and better enjoy each other’s company, and reward employees for their hard work. Consider scheduling themed events, getting a team together to join a local business sports league, or even just bringing some cards and board games into the office for people to play at lunch.
- Provide Flexible Work Options – While many people were forced to work from home due to the pandemic, many employees have realized the benefits and have come to enjoy working from home. Whether they’re getting more time to themselves by eliminating the commute from their day, enjoying saving on gas money, or simply prefer a quieter, less busy environment to focus in, employees have many good reasons to want to work from home. As long as you’re using a cloud contact center, your agents should have the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection. To prevent burnout, embrace this technology and allow your agents to work from home (even on a part-time basis) if it suits them.
- Schedule Regular Team Check-Ins – Some people find it difficult to speak up or ask for help when they’re struggling. Unfortunately, you can’t help someone when you don’t know they have a problem. To prevent burnout, schedule check-in meetings to provide your team with an opportunity to talk about any issues they’re having, get support from peers who may have faced similar challenges, and redistribute workload if necessary. This ensures that everyone feels appropriately supported, and any potential problems can be addressed before they become overwhelming and lead to burnout. Tip: These check-in meetings are a great candidate for walking meetings!
Start From the Top
Culture creation and other workplace initiatives cannot thrive without participation by management at various levels. In fact, leadership is such an important element of the workplace experience that, in a 2018 survey by Randstad, 60% of respondents said they have left or would leave a job because of a bad boss; on the other hand, 58% of respondents said that they would stay at a job with a lower salary if it meant working for a great boss. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that leaders within your organization are fully on board with the different ways to prevent burnout.
- Encourage Open Communication – Whether managers implement an open-door policy, schedule regular check-ins, or find some other way to encourage open communication with their teams, it is essential that agents feel heard and understand what is expected from them. Open conversations address unclear communication from managers and lack of manager support, two of the top factors associated with burnout.
- Lead by Example – If supervisors encourage agents to take breaks and vacations, participate in workplace socials, and set boundaries, but aren’t following their own advice, the message may not seem genuine and may leave agents feeling conflicted. Ensure that supervisors are setting a good example by taking care of their well-being and preventing burnout in their own lives.
- Train Supervisors in Burnout Prevention – A leadership style that promotes well-being and prevents burnout may not come naturally to everyone. Make sure that all supervisors are trained to understand the importance of work-life balance, practice a culture of well-being, and set reasonable expectations.
- Actively Seek Out Feedback – To make sure your burnout prevention efforts are working, actively seek out feedback from employees. This can help you discover what’s working and what’s not. It can also help you realize new ideas for further improvements.
There is no quick fix to prevent burnout. But there are a lot of changes that can be made to help. By setting clear and realistic goals, assigning appropriate workloads, promoting a culture of well-being, and starting at the top of the organization, you can work towards eliminating burnout and its associated negative impacts on your organization. For more tips on contact centers and workplace challenges, subscribe to our monthly newsletter!