call center agents

Call center agents encounter daily stressors from customers, co-workers, managers and the demands of the company. They work in a distracting environment, face high consumer expectations and experience pressure to meet company standards. This pressure is compounded by the continuous expectation to exceed performance metrics while their service quality is continuously scrutinized by managers. All of these factors contribute to call center agent stress.

When these stressors become significant, they result in decreased productivity, job satisfaction and health; all of which have major effects on the call center. The average turnover rate in the call center industry is approximately 40% and the estimated cost of turnover is $10,000 per agent (James, 1998). This surmounts to $2.4 million per year in a 1,000 seat call center.

Call center stress affects the well-being of the agent, the effectiveness of the call center and the bottom line of the company. It is therefore a significant issue that warrants attention and immediate action.

This blog post will discuss the prevalence of stress in the call center, provide a description of stress and offer information about how managers can identify stress in their workforce.

Prevalence of Call Canter Agent Stress

Stress within the call center is a pervasive issue that impacts most agents. ACA Research (1998) reported that of the 433 call center agents surveyed:

  • 25% stated that stress in their job is high or very high
  • 47% reported a medium amount of stress
  • 70% reported experiencing at least one stress symptom
  • 80% requested training in stress management

Findings from this study suggest that stress is prevalent in the call center environment and agents are interested in reducing stress. Stress can have a huge impact on a call center agent’s mental health, productivity and well-being. It is therefore imperative that practices be set in place to help identify and combat stress within the call center.

What is stress?

Stress is the response of the body to any demand for change. Both negative and positive stressors can lead to an experience of stress and the stressor can be external (e.g. job demands) or internal (e.g. high expectations) or both.

There are two types of stress:

  1. Acute (short-term) stress is the body’s immediate response to a situation that is demanding, dangerous or exciting.
  2. Chronic (long-term) stress is caused by stressful situations or events that last a long period of time.

The intensity and duration of the experienced stressor can vary depending on personal and situational factors. These include physical health, emotional health, social support, social issues, job related issues, coping strategies, personality, temperament and previous experience with stress related issues. Stress is therefore a complex experience that varies for each individual.

How Managers Can Identify Signs of Stress in Call Center Agents

Stress is a complex, multifaceted and personalized experience. It can therefore be difficult to identify and combat. However, it is imperative that managers looking to reduce stress in the call center environment first understand the signs of stress in order to identify its source.

Managers in a call center environment must realize that every call center agent’s experience of stress is different. Signs of stress will therefore vary for each individual. In order to identify call center agents who are experiencing stress, they must be aware of all of the possible signs of stress.

Signs of stress can be:

  • Cognitive: memory problems, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty making decisions and exhibiting poor judgment.
  • Emotional: exhaustion, mood liability, irritability, pessimism, frustration, anxiety, worry, feeling overwhelmed and depression.
  • Physical: headaches, dizziness, backaches, neck pain, indigestion, sweating, tremors and nausea.
  • Behavioral: changes in eating and sleeping, jaw clenching, stuttering, blushing, isolating oneself, procrastinating and substance use.

Call center managers should be aware of all of these signs of stress and should constantly assess each call center agent based on this knowledge. Once managers identify which agents experience stress, they can look for the source of stress and understand stress’s effect on the call center. Finally, they can combat stress within the call center using 25 proven techniques.