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Call Center Burnout: A Complete Guide

by Shaundalee Carvalho | Published On May 20, 2022 | Last Updated March 12, 2024

Employee burnout is a major problem in call centers. Learn about the signs and best practices to prevent call center burnout.

The term “burnout” has been thrown around a lot in recent years. It seems like everyone is talking about it, from famous celebrities to the person sitting in the cubicle next to yours.

But what exactly is burnout? Why is it such a problem? And most importantly, how can it be prevented?

This guide will cover the most common signs of burnout, the negative effects of burnout on employees and employers, and how you can prevent burnout in your call center.

What is Call Center Burnout?

Burnout in call centers refers to the state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion experienced by employees due to prolonged exposure to high-stress environments and demanding job requirements.

Call center agents typically handle high call volumes, deal with a variety of customer issues, and often face strict performance metrics and targets. This relentless pressure can lead to feelings of overwhelming stress and disengagement among agents, ultimately impacting their job satisfaction and well-being.

Call center burnout can be identified by 3 key features:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Symptoms of burnout may include decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, heightened levels of frustration, and a sense of detachment from work.

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.

No matter how exactly you define it, burnout is a problem many employees face in today’s world.

Why is Call Center Burnout a Problem?

Burnout employee at her desk

Burnout in call centers is a significant problem due to its negative effects on both employees and the overall performance of the organization. 

Obviously, burnout is a problem for the person experiencing it; nobody wants to feel stressed and exhausted at work. When agents experience burnout, they are more likely to suffer from decreased job satisfaction, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover rates, leading to additional recruitment and training costs.

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 can also negatively impact customer service quality since burnt out agents may be less attentive, empathetic, and efficient in handling customer inquiries and concerns. This can result in lower customer satisfaction, damaged brand reputation, and ultimately loss of business. 

But the impact of employee burnout goes beyond the individual employee. The mental and physical health consequences of burnout not only affect individual agents but also contribute to a toxic work environment, diminishing morale and productivity across the entire call center. 

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.

Common Signs of Burnout

Recognizing signs of call center burnout is crucial for addressing issues early and preventing the situation from getting worse. Here are the most common signs of burnout in call centers.

  • Decreased productivity: One of the most obvious signs of burnout is a noticeable decline in productivity. If employees who were once efficient and proactive start missing deadlines, making mistakes, or struggling to focus on tasks, it could be a red flag for burnout.
  • Increased absenteeism: Burnout often leads to a lack of motivation to come to work. Call center agents who frequently call in sick or request time off without valid reasons might be experiencing burnout. 
  • Physical symptoms: Burnout can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and even stomach issues.
  • Irritability and mood swings: Burnout doesn't just affect employees' work lives; it can spill over into their personal interactions. If you notice sudden changes in mood, increased irritability, or conflicts with coworkers, it might be a sign that someone is struggling with burnout.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Mental exhaustion can impair employees' ability to concentrate and make decisions. If you notice individuals struggling to stay focused during meetings, forgetting important details, or seeming indecisive, it might be a sign of burnout.
  • Increased work hours: Paradoxically, burned-out employees may end up working longer hours in an attempt to keep up with their workload or meet unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, this behavior can exacerbate burnout.
  • Social withdrawal: Burnout can cause employees to withdraw from social interactions at work. If someone who used to be outgoing and sociable becomes increasingly isolated, avoiding team events or lunch gatherings, it could be a sign that they're struggling with burnout.

How Can Burnout Be Prevented?

Addressing burnout requires proactive measures from management, including providing adequate support, implementing effective stress management techniques, and fostering a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

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 five main factors that correlate most highly with employee burnout. Preventing burnout requires finding ways to address these problems:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Unclear communication from managers
  • Lack of manager support
  • Unreasonable time pressure

Keep reading to learn how you can address these and other issues within your organization, and ultimately overcome agent burnout.

Tip 1: 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 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.

Tip 2: 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 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.

Tip 3: Promote a Culture of Well-Being

Employees helping each other

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. Ensuring that employees actually take their vacation time is essential to preventing burnout. 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. 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. Walking meetings are generally best for smaller groups.

Encourage and Respect Boundaries

With online availability becoming more prevalent  and 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

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 board games into the office for people to play at lunch.

Provide Flexible Work Options

Many call center employees have realized the benefits of 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 agent burnout, embrace this technology and give your agents the option of working remotely when it makes sense.  

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.

Tip 4: 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 can help address unclear communication from managers and lack of manager support, which are 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 own 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 gather new ideas for further improvements.

Summary

Symptoms of burnout may include decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, mood swings, and physical health issues. Recognizing and addressing call center burnout is crucial for maintaining a healthy and productive workforce.

There is no quick fix to prevent agent burnout in call centers. 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.

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