stress within call center

Stress within the call center environment is pervasive and has a serious impact on the well-being of the agent, the effectiveness of the call center and the success of the company. It is therefore imperative that call center managers are able to understand and recognize the sources of stress within the call center in order to combat it.

Below is a list of 27 sources of stress that call center agents experience.

1. Role conflict

Role conflict is defined as the simultaneous occurrence of two or more types of pressures such that compliance with one would make the compliance with the other more difficult.

The conflicting demands between pressure to improve operational efficiency (response time, waiting time, productivity and service level), maximize customer satisfaction and achieving excellent information gathering all create stress within the call center environment.

2. Inconsistencies between performance expectations and evaluations

Stress can result from inconsistencies between job performance expectations and performance evaluation criteria. Agents who are asked to increase customer satisfaction but are being evaluated based only on KPIs such as service level will feel torn between meeting expectations and improving how they will be evaluated.

3. Role ambiguity

Role ambiguity results when the call center agent is uncertain about job requirements, supervisory expectations or when or how their performance will be evaluated. This creates stress as they lack concrete and helpful guidance in order to perform their job adequately.

4. Lack of appropriate resources

Call center agents who are provided little training, feel that training was ineffective or have inadequate equipment experience more stress than those who feel more prepared to execute their job perfectly. This is likely because they feel their performance would be better and customers would be more satisfied if they had appropriate resources.

5. Excessive monitoring

When call monitoring practices are too frequent, too intrusive or feedback resulting from call monitoring is too harsh agents experience more stress [1]. Some call center agents have reported that intensive control measures and rigid surveillance systems are oppressive and emotionally demanding. Additional research has suggested that high levels of monitoring and low levels of job control can be positively correlated with anxiety, depression, diminished job satisfaction and turnover rates [2].

6. Overwhelming job demands (aka overload)

Working in a fast-paced environment with ambitious answer rate goals can put a lot of pressure on a call center agent. When the demands placed on the agent exceed their capacity, this creates stress for the agent.

7. Lack of social support

Lack of social support from both supervisors and co-workers has an effect on burnout. Agents who perceive little social support within the workplace are more likely to experience stress.

8. Lack of control

Call center agents who are bound by strict rules to follow a script, tight performance measures, regimented break schedules and ambitious individual targets will feel more confined and less capable to adequately perform their job. This lack of perceived control increases stress in call center agents.

9. Monotonous work tasks

In an attempt to ensure a higher degree of consistency in service level and reduce costs, call centers have shifted to oversimplify tasks, encourage the adherence to strict scripts and standardize processes for their agents [3]. These shifts reduce the amount of mental stimulation, creativity, autonomy and decision-making discretion that the agents are able to exercise. The result is a work environment that can be highly monotonous and unchallenging [4, 5]. This leads to frustration, disengagement, low sense of self-efficacy and stress.

10. Lack of appropriate awards

Call center agents who feel they are not sufficiently rewarded for their work experience more stress than those who feel that they are. Insufficient financial rewards (incentives), lack of social rewards (acknowledgement) or lack of intrinsic rewards (lacking pride in doing something important and doing it well) can all contribute to the experience of stress.

11. Feeling undervalued

Call center employees often feel undervalued in their role within the company. They feel their contribution to the company is not acknowledged or appreciated and that their work has no impact on the company. This can lead to frustration and stress.

12. Lack of status associated with position

Call center agents often state that society fails to appreciate or recognize the interpersonal, communication and relational skills required for their work. These perceptions demoralize call center agents and diminish their attachment to their job.

13. Lack of pride associated with position

One study suggests that for the majority of call center agents, their occupation was not part of their career strategy [6]. Most of the call center agents surveyed stated they sought employment as a call center agent due to financial hardship, lack of available alternatives and lack of skills or qualification for other lines of work. As a result, there was little personal identification with call center work or attachment to the call center industry. This lack of pride associated with their position can lead to an experience of stress while on the job.

14. Inflexible or difficult working hours

The shifting trend to provide 24/7 phone support to customers has resulted in more rigid or difficult (e.g. graveyard shift) shift hours for call center employees. Call center agents are asked to work extended hours and are increasingly bound by inflexible shifts systems [6]. These conditions are conducive to stress and burnout.

15. Unfairness

Unfairness in the workplace such as unequal workload, lack of appropriate pay, cheating or when evaluations and promotions are handled inappropriately leads to stress within call center agents.

16. High consumer expectations

Customers are becoming more savvy consumers and as a result their expectations for customer service are increasing. This pressure is compounded by the pressure placed on the call center agents by increasingly high managerial expectations and performance targets. Agents feel compelled to meet the demands of the customer as well as their company and management expectations.

17. Angry customers

The majority of call center agents report receiving calls from verbally aggressive customers daily. As a result, call center agents handle emotionally demanding calls with little or no time to recuperate because of the constant pressure to continue to make or receive calls. The consequence of continual verbal aggression is increased experience of stress, emotional exhaustion and absences.

18. Out of date computers or software

Call center agents who are ill-equipped to effectively handle customer interactions due to out of date equipment are more stressed than those who are not. Slow boot and processing times, inefficient call center software or working from too many different office systems can frustrate call center agents. They feel that their level of efficiency is not optimized and their productivity suffers. If they are under additional pressure to perform due unrealistic evaluative measures, they may feel added stress as their performance is restricted due to being ill equipped.

19. Low or questionable job security

Call center agents who feel their job security is questionable or compromised may experience the constant stress of not knowing when they will be let go. This lack of perceived control over their job security can lead to the experience of anxiety and stress.

20. No opportunities for advancement

Call center agents often report limited and inadequate opportunities for training and career development [7,8]. The lack of opportunities for advancement may decrease their motivation to perform their job well, to feel a sense of pride in their work and to feel attached to their position, all of which result in the experience of stress.

21. Lack of training or development opportunities

Call center agents complain that the repetitive and monotonous nature of their work offers little opportunity to expand their capabilities and skills base. Additionally, the training and feedback they receive based on their performance can be minimal or ineffective. As a result, career development is hindered given the lack of transferable skills.

22. Physical demands

The restrictive and repetitive nature of tasks that call center agents engage in, coupled with the requirement that they remain seated and take breaks only when scheduled can be very physically demanding. As a result, call center agents have been found to experience eye sight difficulties, occupational voice loss, sleeplessness, back and neck pain, postural problems as well as headaches.

23. Unpredictable work environment

The unpredictable nature of call traffic contributes to stress by creating uncertainty for workers. They must maintain a constant level of alertness in anticipation of the next call and often worry that they might miss an important call while on break. In addition to the unpredictable nature of call traffic, the call center agent can never predict how the next call will proceed, its level of complexity or how much effort will be required to successfully engage with the customer. All of the aforementioned factors contribute to stress.

24. Poor ergonomics

In a recent report by the workplace technology foundation (2003), poor ergonomics such as poor posture, the use of excessive force when hitting keys and inappropriate computer monitor distances all contributed to workplace stress within a call center.

25. Ineffective or poor management

Call center agents are increasingly quitting or refusing jobs at call centers where there is a deficiency of people management skills [7]. For the agents who work in these call centers, poor or ineffective management likely affects their levels of stress.

26. Difficult work environment

The work environment in call centers can also be conducive to stress. Many call centers are loud, crammed and agents are often “wired to the desk” by telephony and computer equipment [7]. These work environmental factors can cause significant emotional and physical strain.

27. Low salary

Call center agents often express dissatisfaction with the relatively low salaries [4,5] which result in financial strain.

All of the aforementioned factors can be sources of stress on call center agents. The sheer number of stressors implies that call center agents likely experience constant stress from many different sources and that this has an impact on their performance and well-being.

The effects of stress on call center agents are significant and necessitate importance of addressing stress related issues in the workplace.

References:

[1] Aiello, John R., and Kathryn J. Kolb. “Electronic performance monitoring and social context: Impact on productivity and stress.” Journal of Applied Psychology; Journal of Applied Psychology 80.3 (1995): 339.
[2] Holman, David. “Phoning in sick? An overview of employee stress in call centres.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 24.3 (2003): 123-130.
[3] Deery, Stephen, and Nicholas Kinnie. “Call centres and beyond: a thematic evaluation.” Human Resource Management Journal 12.4 (2002): 3-13.
[4] Kinnie, Nick, Sue Hutchinson, and John Purcell. “‘Fun and surveillance’: the paradox of high commitment management in call centres.” International Journal of Human Resource Management 11.5 (2000): 967-985.
[5] Huws, Ursula. “Working at the interface: call-centre labour in a global economy.” Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation 3.1 (2009): 1-8.
[6] Watson, Aileen, et al. “Changing constructions of career, commitment and identity: The call centre experience.” MANAGEMENT RESEARCH NEWS 23.9/10/11 (2000): 158-160.
[7] URCOT, 2000
[8] Crome, Matthew. “Call centres: battery farming or free range?.” Industrial and Commercial Training 30.4 (1998): 137-141.