Stress within the call center is not only widespread, but costly. Stress causes half of all absenteeism and one-fourth of all voluntary turnover within call centers (Mattenson and Ivancevich, 1987). With an average turnover rate of approximately 40% and a cost of turnover at around $10,000 per agent (James, 1998) call centers that don’t address workplace stress can be setting themselves up for failure.
This blog post provides eight simple stress management techniques for call center agents. Whether you’re a call center executive determined to decrease call center agent burnout, a call center manager striving to reduce agent attrition or a call center agent searching for ways to increase your performance, this is a great place to start.
Before discussing the specific techniques, it is important to state how these techniques impact the body. Stress management techniques help to:
Taken together, these physiological benefits have an impact on the call center agent’s performance, productivity and effectiveness. Specifically, engaging in stress management techniques improve:
Thus, call center agents that can effectively manage their stress will be more satisfied with their work, more effective at handling calls and more productive. It is therefore imperative that call center agents are trained in stress management techniques and encouraged to practice them daily.
The following are the top eight stress management techniques that call center agents can engage in at the workplace.
4×4 breathing is a simple and effective deep breathing technique that helps to counter the effects of stress. “Deep breathing works by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure,” says psychologist Judith Tutin. It is something that call center agents can do every day to help buffer themselves from the detrimental impact of stress and help lower their physiological arousal after a particularly tough call.
Take a few minutes throughout your day to practice 4×4 breathing. First close your eyes and sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale out your mouth for four seconds and wait for four seconds. Then repeat this four times. 4×4 breathing is a simple technique that you can use at any time throughout the day and will have a huge impact on your ability to effectively manage stress.
As a call center agent, it can be easy to perseverate on that one call that went horribly wrong or to worry about what your boss might say in your meeting later in the day. Thinking about the past or worrying about the future can significantly increase stress. Combat this by focusing on the present.
Take a small break, walk outside and engage your five senses. Notice any sounds like the buzz or traffic, birds chirping or trucks driving by. Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Try to notice any smells. Study a leaf or a tree as if you were looking at it for the first time. Notice how the sun feels on your skin and the breeze on your face. Notice the taste a piece of candy or some coffee. When you spend time in the moment focusing on your five senses, you’ll end up feeling less tense and ready to rock!
As a call center agent, sometimes the last thing you want to do is talk more than you have to. However, this can be a fatal mistake when it comes to managing stress. After a tough call, go talk it out with some friendly colleagues. Most likely, just discussing it is cathartic enough that you’ll feel better. But sometimes your colleagues will take it to the next level and help give you a new perspective on the issue (e.g., “That guy called last week about the same issue”), much needed support (e.g., “Wow that guy was an A-hole. I bet you were mad!”), or reassurance (e.g., “I had a similar call and our manager said it was fine”). This peer support can go a long way to decreasing your experiencing of stress and will help you put that tough call behind you.
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If you are really stressed out or angry, there is an incredibly effective technique to calm you down immediately. Placing your head in ice cold water (making sure the water hits your face just below the eyes and above the cheekbones), putting an ice cold gel mask on your face, or running ice cold water on your wrists activates the parasympathetic nervous system which functions to calm us down. Eminent psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan explained that this technique works best if you hold your breath and bend over for 30 seconds as it activates the mammalian dive reflex that relaxes your body. Regardless of which technique you use, putting something cold on yourself can be an effective technique to use when you notice that your emotions are getting the best of you.
Laughing is a natural way to lower the stress hormone cortisol and increase endorphins which improves your mood. When you need a good pick me up, put on your favorite funny YouTube videos, look at a funny quote, or read some funny jokes. Just a few seconds can have a huge impact on your experience of stress.
Listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, reduce your heart rate and decrease anxiety. While you are performing after call work or during your break time turn on some classical music to reduce your experience of stress. A little relaxation can go a long way.
Exercise is another quick fix to increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain which decreases your experience of stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block at lunch, go up and down a few flights of stairs on break, or stretch it out with head rolls and shoulder shrugs at your desk. All can be a quick way to help you reduce the amount of stress you experience at work.
When you feel stress getting the best of you, shift your focus onto things that make you happy. Take a minute to write out a list of some of the things you are grateful for and make sure you include things about your job. Maybe you are grateful that you can save the money to pay for your son’s college, or perhaps you are grateful for your supportive colleagues, or maybe you’re grateful to work from home on occasion. Whatever it is, take some time to write it down and reflect on it. That cognitive shift may be all it takes to get you back to your A-game!
Call center agents have a stressful job. But they don’t have to let stress impact their performance. By employing the right strategies, call center agents can effectively manage their experience of stress at the call center. Many of the aforementioned eight techniques don’t take a lot of time or effort but can have a huge impact on performance. Try them out and see how you can benefit!