Agent Burnout: The Silent Productivity Assassin

employee burnout

The COVID-19 global pandemic kickstarted a major transformation in the contact center world. Companies have relocated their agents and implemented complete WFH procedures to aid them with this transition. Some companies even registered a boost in employee productivity and are so happy with the results that they’re even considering adopting this change permanently.

However, most are ignoring a silent factor that contributes to this short-term boost in productivity – people are working longer hours, blending their personal time with work time, quickly burning themselves out by wanting to deliver more.

Take a breather and listen to the story of how Steve Bederman managed to go from call center agent to CEO.

One study found that 74% of call center agents are at risk of burnout, one-third of them are at risk of serious burnout. And if it does not seem to be many, these numbers can be mind-boggling to call centers owners. Furthermore 30% of those agents are classified as having a high chance. That means they are just one unhappy customer interaction away from leaving your company.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying more productivity is inherently a bad thing. Many agents just adapt better to a WFH environment, delivering better results. It’s just that, in some cases, the short-term positive results aren’t worth the mental and physical repercussions your agents may start showing in a couple of weeks if they’re not handling the situation properly.

In this article we’ll be looking at:

  • the most common signs of agent burnout
  • how to train managers to detect and prevent it
  • what to do to avoid a long-term drop in productivity due to employee burnout.

Defining Burnout

Employee burnout, also referred to as job burnout, is a common phenomenon where overworked employees start manifesting symptoms of physical and mental exhaustion. It’s usually caused by a series of professional factors that, when unaddressed, generate frustration and detachment for the job.

Ultimately, burnout can lead to:

  • Exhaustion – both physical and emotional;
  • A detached cynical view of the job;
  • Weaker results due to a lack of accomplishment.

How to Detect and Prevent Call Agent Burnout

From a drop in productivity levels to frustration and disruptive behavior, employee burnout signs are consistent with negative behavior that usually attracts more negative feedback, creating a loop of frustration that piles on until one of the parties involved decides to end the collaboration.

In order to better address the now rising levels of call agent burnout, let’s first look at the most common signs of burnout. We’ll then review the most common causes of employee burnout in the contact center industry.

The Tell-Tale Signs of Employee Burnout

According to experts, the most common signs of employee burnout are:

  • Forgetfulness and Irritability
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Apathy and Disengagement
  • Exhaustion
  • Depersonalization

If an employee who usually had a hands-on attitude, delivered the bests results, and completed all tasks on deadline starts showing one or more of the above signs it’s time to take the bull by its horns and dig deeper to find the cause of the behavior rather then just punishing them for lower performance metrics.

Burnout cam manifest itself differently from employee to employee. And when caught in its early stages, it’s nothing you can’t fix by addressing the root cause of the problem and (preferably) throwing in a couple of vacation days.

However, if you don’t treat the cause and simply dismiss the symptoms, chances are you’re going to lose valuable employees.

Tired employee exhausted with work.

What Causes Employee Burnout and How to Prevent It

Now that you know how to identify the common signs of employee burnout in your team, let’s take a look at what causes burnout and how to prevent it from affecting your employees.

CAUSE: Increased Workload

At the moment, this is one of the leading causes of WFH employee burnout. Call centers are registering a significant increase in activity which translates in more calls, a stricter schedule, temperamental clients, stress and exhaustion.

SOLUTION: Smart Task Distribution

As times change, so do contact center solutions. Create automated responses to frequently asked questions and direct customer queries to agents only after filtering the emergencies from the common easily-solvable problems. A Dynamic Business Router can help you implement such a procedure for incoming requests on all channels.

CAUSE: A lack of boundaries between work and personal life

As agents move their office in their living rooms, kitchen, and other home spaces, the boundaries between work and personal life become blurred. Some overachievers may give up their breaks to manage more calls, working 8 or 9 hours straight. While this approach may generate results on the short run, it does lead to fatigue fairly quickly. The same applies for those that feel a need to clock in some OT to make sure all tasks (see previous entry) are completed.

Working for 9+ hours a day and sneaking in some OT during the weekend just to check all tasks isn’t productive. Au contraire, it signals an unhealthy approach to work and an inherent lack of discipline that can lead to burnout and frustration in no time.

SOLUTION: Create a schedule and stick to it

Create a schedule for your agents, complete with mandatory breaks, and monitor their activity to make sure that they start and end their program at the established times. Never reward OT except for special situations when the company requires and compensates it.

CAUSE: Internalization

Working in a call center automatically means that sooner or later you’ll be managing difficult customers. Seeing as how the pandemic is amplifying negative emotions, making customers more irritable, the chances of agents handling angry persons increase exponentially. If agents don’t have a support system and a way of relieving themselves of the negative energies they’re accumulating during the work day, they will crack under pressure.

SOLUTION: Create a support system

Create a safe virtual meeting place where your agents and your managers can gather on a regular basis and vent about their difficult interactions. Remind them that customers are upset because of reasons unrelated to the agent

Mental health disorders and work related stress anxiety and depression symptoms

CAUSE: Insufficient resources

The current pandemic is imposing so many restrictions and bringing in an influx of customers that need your agents’ undivided attention. Working with outdated software solutions that require technology your agents can’t access from the safety of their homes can generate stress that can easily be avoided.

SOLUTION: Implement an Omnichannel Solution

You don’t need to work harder, just smarter. For example, with our omnichannel solution, your agents only need a laptop and a browser and they can handle requests from various sources (social media, voice and email).

CAUSE: Repetitive and monotonous tasks

More than 80% of an agent’s workload consists of client interactions. Out of those, at least 40% are repetitive in inbound call centers. In outbound contact centers, routine is even more pressing. While you can’t change the inherent aspects of the job, you can mix things up to avoid routine.

SOLUTION: Diversify agent tasks

Insert trainings and other activities and mix them up with routine activities, filling up idle time with engaging activities such as training or knowledge-sharing sessions. One idea would be to have your agents recount their worst client interactions and have their team comment on how they would have handled the situation differently.



CAUSE: Poor Management

An alarmingly high number of managers are promoted because they were good agents. However, not all those who are good at their jobs are also good at leading people. This generates tensions on both sides, causing agents to nurture negative feelings, become more detached and lose their enthusiasm for the job.

SOLUTION: Implement a 360-degree feedback system

Feedback works both ways. In fact, a 360-degree feedback system where employees are able to rate their managers and their colleagues offers you a complete perspective on the work environment and more control on how to shape the most productive teams and identify bad employees and bad managers with more ease.

CAUSE: Lack of reward and recognition

You can find overachievers in any group. These are the people that work the hardest to accomplish their goals and deliver exceptional results. They’re also the kind of people that you want to stay motivated and engaged. Sadly, a lack of recognition be it from the manager (see poor management) or from the company will quickly generate frustrations. They will compare their results with those of their coworkers and realize that their extra efforts are in vain, gradually decreasing their quality of work to better blend in with the general pattern.

SOLUTION: Set up a reward system

Employee performance is not dependent on a universal management approach. Some employees deliver better results when working alone, while others need constant attention from managers. However, all employees respond better in the presence of a well-defined reward system.

Starting from something simple as recognition for good work to monetary bonuses, it’s important to reward employees that have exceptional results and separate them from those who have a laxer attitude towards complementing their tasks.

Automation, on the other hand, increases agent performance. As it assists them in gathering preliminary case details from the client. When the correct rules are in place, it will then offer up relevant responses to your clients, freeing up the agents to focus on more strategic assignments and challenging issues. To perform simple record keeping, customize the technology so that automation happens in any communicaton channel you support.

Summing Up

Contact center companies have one of the highest employee turn-over rates in the industry. That’s partly because it involves direct client services, and partly because it’s an industry where proper management and technology solutions can make or break company culture and employee satisfaction (aka productivity).

So train your managers to be on the lookout for any of the burnout signs we’ve covered in this article, go out of your way to create a support and reward system, and never encourage OT unless you’re ready to properly reimburse it.

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