[Updated October 2023]
Whether it’s inbound, outbound, or blended work, call center life is known for its fast pace and intensity. But when does pressure on the phones become a problem? Evidently, the answer is “too often.”
Many call centers are no strangers to turnover. But the burgeoning issue of call center burnout does not need to become the norm at your own operation.
In this guide to addressing spiraling call center stress, we look at this issue by the numbers, examine its root causes, and offer strategies on how to overcome call center burnout.
What Is Call Center Burnout?
For call center agents—and workers of any kind—there’s everyday stress, and then there’s burnout. Call center burnout is like runaway stress; it’s the result of chronic work-related stress that goes improperly managed, or unmanaged entirely, for too long.
Officially recognized by the World Health Organization in 2019, burnout is an all too common issue for call center agents and something all stakeholders should take seriously and work to prevent.
The WHO describes the symptoms of burnout as including:
- feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy
Call Center Burnout Statistics
With one study indicating that as many as 74% of contact center agents are at risk of burnout, it’s clear that call center agent stress is an industry-wide issue. Yet too many decision-makers might be quick to shrug off the problem as a natural consequence of the high-speed, high-performance, and, yes, even high-stress call center environment.
A survey of the stats on burnout, as well as the issues it creates for both agents and their companies, shows why the problem can’t be overlooked any longer.
Burnout, Turnover, and Opportunity Costs
For one, it’s likely that burnout is the main driver of contact centers’ astonishingly high turnover rates of 30 to 45%, which are more than double the average of all other occupations. This massive turnover rate saddles call centers with higher costs for hiring and retraining. Gallup estimates that, on average, businesses spend 15 to 20% of total payroll on voluntary turnover costs due to burnout.
And beyond the price tag of these activities, there are also opportunity costs and hits to performance to consider: not only are experienced employees more likely to perform better than new hires but hiring managers and decision-makers must dedicate significant time to HR matters rather than sales and customer service strategies that deliver better call center ROI.
The Effects of Burnout on Performance
Of course, this perspective could be considered a bit short-sighted. After all, burned-out employees aren’t just an issue for call centers when they leave.
According to Gallup, as burnout mounts, employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day, half as likely to discuss performance goals with their manager, and 13% less confident in their own performance. As a result, it’s estimated that for every 10,000 struggling workers, businesses lose approximately $20 million in opportunities.
“Employee engagement is so key to a call center. At my agency, we’ve found that whenever we fall away from employee engagement metrics and connections, we’ve always seen production slide.” – Heather Griffin, Co-CEO & President of Colossus
Why Are Call Center Jobs So Stressful?
To understand how to overcome call center burnout and improve your business’s environment (and performance), you first need to understand the root causes of burnout. To do so, it’s also important to understand, as the author of The Burnout Epidemic Jennifer Moss writes in the Harvard Business Review, that above all, “burnout is about your workplace, not your people.”
Consider, for starters, the top five reasons for employee burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from their manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
Yes, some of these issues can crop up due to issues with particular individuals. But the more accurate view of burnout’s causes is that they’re a reflection of a work environment that needs improvement.
Common Causes of Call Center Stress
Of course, the sources of call center agent stress are by no means limited to those five causes listed above. Among other things, call center agents may also face hurdles like:
- Excessive monitoring: Call center QA tools can help boost accountability and drive results. However, research shows that overly frequent or intrusive call monitoring practices (along with harsh feedback from that monitoring) can increase agent anxiety and stress.
- Repetitive and tedious tasks: Especially when facing issues like call blocking and flagging or poor answering machine detection, call center agent life can get quite repetitive—and downright boring.
- Unclear or a lack of advancement: Without an idea of how they can improve themselves and develop in their careers, agents lack a clear path forward—and very well may struggle to stay engaged or emotionally attached to their work.
- Outdated technology: Old call center software can make even the simplest tasks difficult. And even some new technologies don’t make agents’ lives as easy as they should be. 60% of agents feel their company doesn’t always provide them with the technology they need to solve customer issues.
How Remote Work Can Cause Burnout, Too
Many organizations switched to—and have since stuck with—a virtual call center model during the pandemic. In many cases, the decision to keep working this way has been driven by the opinions of workers, who by and large feel they enjoy a better work-life balance, according to 2023 Gallup research.
Yet, at some companies, if not handled correctly, the move toward work-from-home can wind up exacerbating call center burnout. Peer-reviewed research found that, during the pandemic, the shift to remote work could lead to increased work hours, less collaboration and communication, and increased isolation.
Even now, nearly three years on, remote workers continue to worry that the virtual model may eat into their personal time. In a 2023 survey of remote workers, 44% said they’re working more this year. 21% said they were feeling more burnt out than a year ago.
To make sure that their virtual model actually supports the needs of employees (and pays off for the business with increased productivity) organizations will need to take concrete steps to fight call center burnout, like those we cover below.
6 Ways to Handle Call Center Stress and Overcome Agent Burnout
With such a wide range of potential causes, call center owners and managers need to attack the issue of burnout from all angles. These five call center stress management strategies can help you do just that.
1. Build a Culture that Cares
As we stated above, call center burnout isn’t always so much about call center agents as it is about call centers themselves. When just 24% of employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their overall well-being, it’s clear that businesses must take seriously the task of improving trust and rapport with their workers.
Developing an employee-first culture that’s built on care and camaraderie should be item one on the agenda of every call center looking to fight against burnout. What’s more, doing so can become your competitive advantage, helping you attract more agents down the line—and outdo your rivals. So, how do you actually do this? Start here.
Share Your Vision
Sales expert Jason Cutter says that creating a winning, inclusive culture starts on day one of an employee’s tenure—and it starts with sharing your organization’s mission and vision. Make the reason your business does what it does a central part of your onboarding process. Developing a shared set of values and vision among your team is key to getting buy-in and fighting burnout.
Meet 1 on 1
All the way back in 2016, researchers at Microsoft shared some really telling data on what’s most important to driving engagement—and we think it’s still really important today. Sharing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, they stated that there was a clear correlation between employee engagement and the amount of time a company’s managers dedicated to 1:1 meetings with their reports. Those employees who got twice the number of one-on-one meetings than their peers were 67% less likely to be disengaged.
The lesson for fighting call center burnout is clear: managers need to take a highly active approach to checking in with and caring for their employees.
2. Set Clear Expectations from the Start
One essential aspect of an anti-burnout culture is transparency. Unclear expectations and a lack of clarity around roles and tasks is one of the biggest drivers of employee burnout. Attack the issue head-on by establishing clear role descriptions and sharing them with all employees. Outline in detail each agent’s responsibilities and expectations on day one.
From there, communication only continues to be key. This sort of level-setting should become an ongoing conversation between managers and each of their direct reports. Ensure that there is time to discuss these matters by encouraging regular 1-on-1 check-ins as well as team-wide meetings, whether you are managing an on-premise or virtual call center.
3. Provide Adequate and Ongoing Training
Beyond establishing clear expectations, call centers must provide new agents with robust training that sets them up for success. Whether it’s in sales or customer service, nothing drives turnover at a call center quite like throwing agents on the phones before they’re ready.
Of course, managers are always trying to find the right balance between adequate onboarding and getting new hires on the phone. (After all, that dedicated training time is costly!) That’s where having the right call center software can help. Features like dynamic scripting software, for instance, can support new agents (and even experienced ones) with sales scripts that auto-populate and even adjust based on lead location and customer responses.
Training isn’t only crucial for getting employees quickly up to speed, though. It’s also important for keeping them engaged and happy in the long run: According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn. Invest in dedicated learning resources based on employees’ needs, including potential business process outsourcing (BPO) opportunities, and help them grow with powerful call center reporting tools that pinpoint opportunities for improvement.
4. Incentivize High Performance—and Add a Bit of Fun
Along their path toward advancement, agents should have opportunities to improve their earnings, too. Provide employees with a transparent, incentivized compensation structure to keep them engaged every time they log in. Meanwhile, bring a little bit of fun and friendly competition to the workday with regular sales competitions. According to Digital Market Media’s Kyle Andersson, these competitions have helped bring their remote call center workforce together on their way to incredible growth.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do that helps with team bonding, teamwork, competition. We have an internal, almost social media platform, that allows us to run daily, weekly, and monthly competitions. We’re always thinking of new ways to get our agents motivated with incentives.” – Kyle Andersson, Senior Director of Operations, Digital Market Media
Don’t just take his word for it, though: According to the Incentive Research Foundation, incorporating proper incentives can be a boon for your company’s bottom line and agent morale, increasing performance by as much as 44%.
5. Provide Agents with the Right Tools for the Job
In the call center industry, a certain degree of repetitiveness is inescapable. However, with the latest technology on their sides, businesses can use automation tools to eliminate the most tedious tasks and boost efficiency to help beat burnout, stress, and boredom.
And as Convoso CEO and Co-Founder Nima Hakimi put it, call centers should be looking to do so not just for their agents’ sake—but for the sake of their own survival. “In an environment like a call center, you have to make decisions quickly,” he says. “If you don’t, any extra minutes or seconds can cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.” Evaluate your call center software’s capabilities and make sure that it offers agents and dialer managers cutting-edge tools like these for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Intelligent Virtual Agent Software
Sales agents want to live up to their titles: they want to make sales. Your organization needs tools that set them up to focus on that. Intelligent virtual agent (IVA) software like Convoso’s Voso.ai eliminates repetitive tasks, automates routine conversations, and empowers your agents to focus on high-value sales. An IVA’s conversational AI-driven SMS and calling capabilities take care of time-consuming work like scheduling callbacks, sending follow-up texts and reminders, gathering customer information, and even pre-qualifying leads. Contact centers with IVA software can drive more quality conversations, increase contact rates, and fight agent burnout.
Easy-to-use User Interface
It might sound far-fetched, but simply eliminating extra clicks in common processes can be the difference between a burned-out and happy employee. That’s because just a few clicks on a task performed once can quickly (and maddeningly) add up to hundreds of clicks over the course of a single day. Make sure your software’s UI is truly user-friendly and efficient and offers customizable dashboards to save time.
Agents have enough on their plate; in 2023, they don’t need to be worrying about which leads to call and when. Eliminate tedium with workflow automation software that takes the guesswork out of outreach and follow-up tactics.
Answering Machine Detection
As we mentioned it above, this solution bears repeating. Nothing kills morale for outbound sales agents like having to code for leaked voicemails all day, instead of talking to live customers. While an easy-to-use AI can simplify that coding process to save time, highly accurate answering machine detection can drastically cut down on the number of voicemails to disposition in the first place. Meanwhile, it’s one more tool that, when combined with the right predictive dialer, can increase productivity and sales on a scale that’s sure to bring a smile to agents’ faces.
“When we introduced the AMD feature, you could hear it internally. The representatives were visibly much happier. They were sharper, and they were much more engaged, upbeat, and in the zone.” – Convoso customer, David Zamani of Get Health-e
6. Create a Positive Feedback Loop of Performance
Equipping call center agents with the tools they need clearly isn’t just about making their jobs easier. By increasing engagement alongside productivity, and performance alongside profitability, call center leaders can create a positive feedback loop—one that’s perhaps the best weapon in the fight against call center burnout.
Because beyond a vision and support, beyond technology and community, employees also desire success. Both individual and shared success.
For Convoso customer Matt Bowers of Dynamic Insurance Services, this was one of the key takeaways of his switch to Convoso’s dialer software, which drove a 3X increase in contact rates, 5X shorter agent wait times—not to mention 30% higher revenue and 60% lower per-agent lead costs:
“It really doesn’t take long to figure out that if you’re talking to more people consistently, your agents are better prepared to take a transfer, and in a better mood to sell, your acquisition cost goes way down.”- Matt Bowers, Dynamic Insurance Services
The scourge of call center burnout requires an all-hands-on-deck approach from leaders in the industry. And while there’s no magic wand you can wave to make agents’ lives easier, partnering with the right contact center software provider is about as close as it gets.
Learn more about how Convoso can improve agents’ experience and performance by scheduling a free demo today.