Contact Center Trends

How to Identify Burnout in Call Center Agents

By Shauna Geraghty

0 min read

Burnout in Call Center Agents

Call center managers seeking to optimize the performance of their team must be on the lookout for symptoms of an epidemic that plagues call centers – burnout.

Burnout is a complex psychological syndrome that results from chronic emotional, mental, interpersonal, and/or physical stress within the call center. It often results in low morale, low productivity, and high agent attrition rates. Therefore, identifying and ameliorating symptoms of burnout can have a significant impact on service quality, workplace satisfaction, and the company’s bottom line.

Below are 14 symptoms of call center agent burnout as well as how you can identify burnout in your agents:

1. Exhaustion

Prolonged exposure to call center stress can cause call center agents to feel fatigued and exhausted. In order to reduce the negative impact of exhaustion, call center agents often ask for time off, leave early, or take longer breaks. When assessing for burnout in your call center, keep in mind that exhaustion isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign that your call center agent is exerting too much, and this deserves your immediate attention.

2. Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating

Burnout and chronic stress interfere with a call center agent’s ability to attend to and remember information. This is because when they are under a significant amount of stress, their attention is consumed by the stressor. Dr. David Ballard of The American Psychological Association explains, “Our bodies and brains are designed to handle this [stress] in short bursts and then return to normal functioning. When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues for a long time and we have difficulty paying attention to other things.” Thus chronic stress negatively impacts call center agents’ ability to attend to information, solve problems, remember information, and make decisions.

3. Apathy, anhedonia, and disengagement

Agents who experience burnout often lose interest in the activities of the call center and tend to interact with colleagues less frequently. They may not show up to social gatherings, eat lunch alone, or leave work early to avoid happy hours. They are also less interested and more negativistic about their work and as a result isolate themselves from their team. Thus, if you notice a call center agent pulling away from the crowd, check in with them to assess for burnout.

4. Irritability and anger

Irritability and anger often result from some of the cardinal symptoms of burnout – fatigue as well as feeling unimportant and ineffective. A call center agent in the early stages of burnout may present as more impatient, frustrated, tense, or irritable. As burnout progresses, you may start to notice anger outbursts and full blown arguments with callers. Knowing these early warning signs are crucial to stopping anger – and burnout – before it starts within your call center.

5. Decline in interpersonal effectiveness

Call center agents who lack the effectiveness they once had when interacting with customers might be experiencing burnout. They might be too tired to put in the effort that was once required or may be responding impersonally to customers as a result of one of the core features of burnout – depersonalization. In order to cope with the exhaustion of burnout, call center agents reduce their emotional and cognitive involvement with their work and thus respond uncaringly to customers. This serves to further protect them from the detrimental effects of burnout. So when you notice a decline in interpersonal effectiveness, check in with your call center agent to assess their perceived level of stress and burnout.

6. Negativity, pessimism, and cynicism

Call center agents who are disillusioned with their job, colleagues, and workplace are likely experiencing symptoms of burnout. They may find their jobs increasingly more frustrating, are negativistic with coworkers, and develop a cynical attitude towards their managers. This is usually very apparent and a telltale sign that something is amiss.

7. Drop in productivity

Chronic stress and burnout prevent agents from being as productive as they once were. You may start to notice that they are failing to meet basic deadlines, have declining KPIs, or their to-do list keeps growing. If their job performance and productivity have significantly declined from prior months or years, it may be a sign of burnout.

8. Loss of motivation

A significant sign of burnout is loss of motivation. This may manifest as the call center agent who is consistently late to work, cuts corners when speaking with customers, frequently calls in sick, or fails to meet routine deadlines and performance metrics that they once met with ease. Once lack of motivation sets in, performance in all or most aspects of the job will also decline, unless measures are taken to address the issue.

9. Less adherent to schedules

When symptoms of burnout set in, agents are less engaged with their work and will avoid interacting with customers whenever possible. They typically become less responsive to occupancy levels and service level and will often fall short on these metrics. You may also see an increase in tardiness, taking longer breaks/lunches, or leaving work early. Thus, when monitoring for symptoms of burnout, it is a great idea to keep an eye on their adherence to schedule.

10. Increase in escalated calls to management

Call center agents exhibiting signs of burnout may be less patient with customers, less motivated to problem solve, and more inclined to pass difficult callers off to someone else. Additionally, customers are more likely to complain about service or ask to speak with a manager when interacting with an agent who is burnt out. Taken together, with agents experiencing burnout, you are likely to see an increase in escalated calls to management.

11. Missing upselling opportunities

Agents who are experiencing symptoms of burnout are often less engaged with their work and less motivated to perform optimally. This may become apparent when agents who are normally proficient at upselling and cross-selling start to miss these opportunities. Keep an eye on agents who consistently miss clear selling opportunities as they may be exhibiting signs of burnout.

12. Utilization of unhealthy coping strategies

When experiencing burnout, call center agents will often utilize unhealthy coping strategies. For example, they may engage in substance use, start smoking, increase their sedentary behavior, eat too much unhealthy food, not eat enough or not get enough sleep. Take note of your call center agents’ overall appearance and habits so that you can pick up on early warning signs of burnout.

13. Increased absenteeism

A red flag that your agents may be experiencing burnout is an increase in absenteeism. When agents are exposed to stress for a prolonged period of time, their immune system weakens. They are therefore more susceptible to contracting illnesses and infections and more likely to take sick days. Additionally, when emotionally or physically exhausted, their natural inclination will be to rest it off – and a day off from work can be extremely beneficial. Finally, when experiencing burnout, it is difficult to gain enough motivation just to show up to work, thus the agent may be more inclined to call in sick. Taken together, weakened immunity, low motivation, and emotional exhaustion all contribute to significant absenteeism in the call center.

14. More conflict with coworkers and managers

Call center agents who are experiencing burnout tend to engage in more conflict with their customers, coworkers, and management. This typically occurs for two reasons: One, they are more irritable, less patient, and more argumentative, and two, they withdraw, tune out when people talk with them, and put less effort into the interaction, causing tension. If conflict starts arising where it typically hadn’t before, dig a bit deeper to see if the agent involved is experiencing burnout.

Call center managers seeking to enhance productivity within their call center must have a comprehensive understanding of burnout, its causes, and how to identify symptoms of burnout in their call center agents. Doing so will enhance their ability to detect burnout in its initial stages and employ early interventions so that burnout doesn’t negatively impact their call center environment.

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Shauna Geraghty

As the first U.S. employee, Shauna helped to scale Talkdesk to over 1,000 employees in 7 offices globally. During her tenure, she has built Talkdesk's Marketing, Talent and HR functions from the ground up. Shauna has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has applied foundational knowledge from the field of psychology to help propel Talkdesk along its hyper-growth trajectory.