Call center agents are extremely susceptible to stress within the workplace. They must meet the rising expectations of their customers, follow company policies and procedures, aim to hit performance metrics, and strive to meet the strict requirements of management. As a result, call center agents often find their jobs extremely demanding and stressful — and they have the numbers to back it up. Working within a call center is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs in the world (Malhotra & Mukherjee, 2004).
If proactive steps aren’t taken to ameliorate stressors within the call center, call center agents will undoubtedly find that their productivity, job satisfaction, and health decline as burnout sets in. But in order to effectively reduce call center agent stress and burnout, managers must first have a comprehensive understanding of burnout as well as some of the common causes of burnout within the call center. This blog post will define burnout, introduce the three levels of burnout and discuss the factors associated with burnout in the call center.
Call center agent burnout is an agent’s response to chronic emotional, mental, interpersonal and/or physical stressors within the call center. Burnout has three levels. As stressors accumulate, call center agents progress through each level:
- Emotional exhaustion — overstrain, extreme tiredness, and insufficient emotional resources to cope with workplace demands
- Depersonalization — in order to cope with emotional exhaustion, call center agents reduce their emotional and cognitive involvement with their work. As a result, they respond impersonally and uncaringly to customers, colleagues, and management. This serves to protect the call center agent from further emotional depletion.
- Reduced personal accomplishment — as stressors accrue, call center agents lose their ability to be effective within the workplace and are less productive
Burnout is an individual experience that is specific to the call center agent. Each call center agent may progress through the levels of burnout differently in response to certain stressors and report a different experience with burnout. This is because burnout it is influenced by interwoven interpersonal, organizational, and/or personality factors; thus the call center agent’s experience with burnout is unique to them. Below is a list of specific factors associated with burnout within the call center:
Increasing job demands
Work overload has been found to be directly related to emotional exhaustion. Within the call center, work overload often involves high frequency customer contact, continually making or receiving calls, ambitious performance targets, unrealistic time constraints, and pressure from management to reduce after-call work time. Agents who feel overworked or aren’t allowed sufficient downtime due to strict call schedules, ambitious quotas, or being assigned too many tasks can be left feeling overworked and exhausted.
When there aren’t enough personnel, equipment, supplies, or space to meet the job demands, call center agents often feel overwhelmed, underprepared or distracted by crowded work environments. Thus, a lack of sufficient resources to adequately perform their job can contribute to stress and frustration for the call center agent.
Lack of sufficient training
Agents who are not sufficiently trained to meet the needs of their customers often feel underprepared and under-qualified. This can lead to stress when companies expect excellent customer service interactions and call center agents feel as if they don’t have the knowledge or experience to meet the demands of the customer and their company.
Agents who think that their management is too strict, controlling, harsh, or overbearing can feel overpowered and ineffective. This can often lead to anxiety, feelings of hostility towards management and tension – all increasing the call center agent’s experience of stress.
Strict call monitoring practices
Excessive call monitoring increases anxiety and emotional exhaustion and is therefore highly associated with stress and burnout. Call center agents who feel as if they are under surveillance and their calls consistently scrutinized may feel frustrated by strict call monitoring practices.
Conflicting job demands
Agents who feel pressure to meet conflicting job demands are more at risk to experience burnout. For example, agents who are asked to increase the quality of customer service interactions and shorten call duration often feel conflicted if they cannot meet both expectations simultaneously. This can lead to tension, anxiety, and a lack of clarity of direction.
Call center agents often perform highly routine job duties. Their work becomes even more monotonous when they are required to adhere to a strict script. Agents who perform the same tasks day-in and day-out report higher levels of burnout than those who have less routine work.
When the call center agent’s role is not clear or they don’t have sufficient information to adequately perform their job, they may struggle to find direction. This causes confusion, feelings of lack of effectiveness and frustration.
Lack of managerial feedback
Call center agents who don’t receive effective feedback from management about their performance may feel unsure if they are adequately meeting the expectations of their customers, management and company. This tends to reduce morale, effort, and motivation and agents will gradually disengage from their work.
Lack of appropriate rewards
Call center agents who are not adequately recognized and rewarded for a good performance may feel underappreciated and unaccomplished. This increases cynicism towards their workplace, which breeds burnout.
Conflict with coworkers, management or customers can cause frustration for the call center agent. It can also contribute to stress, anxiety, and a diminished ability to adequately perform their job duties.
Distracting work environment
Call centers are often loud, crowded, and have less than optimal workspace for their agents. This distracting work environment compounds an agent’s experience of stress and can be a major factor contributing to burnout.
Agent personality characteristics
What agents bring to the table — their personality characteristics — have an impact on their experience of stress and burnout. Agents who are low on the resourcefulness and hardiness continua are more prone to burnout and stress.
The aforementioned factors can individually, or in combination, contribute to an agent’s experience of stress. Thus, managers seeking to reduce agent burnout and call center stress should identify whether or not these factors occur within their call center (and to what extent they occur), and work to reduce their negative impact on the call center agent’s experience of stress.