Burnout is a problem for many workers, regardless of job title. But when your front-line agents experience this malaise, it creates challenges for your business.
Feeling disconnected and disengaged typically leads to declining performance, risking your reputation and a negative impact on customer satisfaction.
After all, call center 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.
That's why you invest in quality assurance assessments. That's also why many leaders invest in strategies to mitigate the potential for burnout.
The Tricky Problem of 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 caregiving jobs like nursing, but now it's used across industries.
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, and the result is the same. Work quality declines and valuable people choose to leave, take time off, or show up in a robot-like state.
Incentives to improve job performance are important to keep employees happy overall. But in order to reduce the chance of burnout, many business leaders implement action plans to increase employee comfort level and develop an environment where they can excel personally and professionally.
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 center prevents agents from hopping on to another call when they should be eating lunch, or opening up a web chat when they should be getting ready to pack up and go home. While you may love to witness 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 can include perks like gym membership discounts, healthy snacks in the breakroom and lunchtime walking groups or meditation lectures.
One call center company added an app to agent screens that led them through self-guided breathing exercises, so they could have a moment of "Zen" between customer chats.
2. Offer Manager Support
Agents typically handle client interactions on their own, but even experienced representatives need access to a support network. Managers should always be on-hand to provide assistance with a particularly challenging call or provide a listening ear for longer-term issues.
During quality assurance reviews, bosses should 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.
3. Improve Agent Autonomy
It's likely your call center agents already have 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.
Even if the job parameters are set in stone, you can support employees by letting them arrange their own shift changes when they need to take care of personal matters.
4. 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 those difficult conversations with those who are following behind for the benefit of your entire team.
5. Focus on Job Growth
Call center 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. Offer training for agents to learn new skills, followed by advancement opportunities. Growing in the company can make employees feel like they are making an impact.
For many people, small changes in the work environment and management expectations can do a lot to prevent burnout. As a management strategy, it's about taking care of the people who do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to customer support. Investing in your employees will make them work even harder to ensure the success of your business.