8 Reasons for Agent Burnout

8 Reasons for Agent Burnout (and how to avoid it)

It’s not top-secret news that agent retention is a problem in contact centers. Losing agents costs your company thousands of dollars, slows productivity, and brings down agent morale. We know that attrition is taxing on contact centers, but why is it such a problem? Why do your agents leave?

Turns out, agent burnout is the second biggest risk your agents are facing at work. That is, when your agents are feeling the cynicism, lethargy or depression of knowing they’re not in control of how they work, when they’re working toward goals they’re not aligned to, or when they just don’t have the support they need.

Some 74 percent of your contact center agents are at risk of burnout. With 30 percent of those sitting in the severe risk category – meaning handling one more angry customer or missed coaching moment WILL be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Statistically speaking, this means in a few months, you’ll have to replace 30 percent of your agents. And a few months after that, the mass exodus will continue as the other 74 percent of agents escalate to severe burnout risk, then fall through the cracks, too.

To save your agents and strengthen retention, burnout needs to be explored (and then fixed). We’re putting on our backpacks and exploration boots to uncover why agents burnout, and what you can do to change it in your contact center.

Here are 8 reasons we found for agent burnout, and a few ideas to make lasting changes.

1. Agents don’t get enough feedback from managers.

When agents have to scramble to find answers, or they keep unintentionally repeating the same mistakes, their jobs get harder. When you don’t touch base with your agents frequently, you leave them without the valuable feedback they need to improve. Agents are more likely to feel overworked because they have to put in tons of added effort and time to find answers for their customers. Plus, left unchecked, untrained mistakes become bad habits. Those habits actually spread to the new crop of agents coming in the door.

How you can help:

Check in with your agents frequently, and coach daily in your contact center. You may not have the capacity to give feedback to every single agent each day of the week, but split up your time and dedicate a small chunk each day to a few team members. Use in-line training to extend your coaching time and give your agents contextual pointers.

Head over to our free read, Your Call Center Manager Playbook, to get some in-depth, actionable tips for shelling out feedback!


2. Policies that are too strict.

Who’s ready for a lockdown? Shutting your agents in a room until their queues are empty creates an environment ripe for tired, uninspired agents. When an agent can NEVER call in last minute – even when they wake up with the flu or some other nasty illness, when they can’t be late – even if they blow out a tire on the way in, when they can’t take a bathroom break – even when they’ve GOT to go, your agents will quickly burn out. Life needs to come first. Don’t have a call ‘till you drop mentality.

How you can help:

Create guidelines and rules for your contact center, but don’t get too granular. Managing a team full of unique individuals means unique situations will come up. Don’t try to account for every situation in your policies. Be flexible with your agents. Hire people you trust to use their best judgment, and let them use it. That sense of autonomy will help them feel more connected to their work.

3. Your agents have to work too much.

Working in customer service is one of those “always on” professions. The problem is, as humans, we have limits. Our brains physically can’t keep going after a certain number of hours. And, after working 50 hours in a week, we are actually LESS productive. After working 55 hours in a week, productivity falls off a cliff. Working longer doesn’t equal working better, and your agents need a break. A real break. One where they aren’t sitting at a café answering chat or SMS requests just because smartphones-in-hand mean they have the ability to do so. Time to disconnect is incredibly important, and it’s often either discouraged or not emphasized enough. That makes agents hesitant to ask for a vacation or to speak up if they aren’t feeling well and need to cut their shift short.

How you can help:

Encourage time off – real vacations and lunch breaks included. Even if your agents want to stay at their desks for lunch, encourage them to at least turn their monitors and notifications off. Some companies have even seen success mandating a certain number of vacation days. Plenty of go-getters opt out of using their vacation time in fear of looking like they aren’t committed to their work or are slacking off. But, these days actually help them replenish and be MORE productive.

4. Agents don’t believe in your company’s ability to serve customers.

Your agents need to believe in the mission and vision of your company. And a lot of times, they need to KNOW the mission and vision. When they don’t, it becomes easy to lose interest in their work. If a company is dedicated to serving customers and unites agents around that cause, they’ll know their purpose each time they pick up the phone or read a “highly important” email marked with everyone’s favorite red exclamation mark.

Here’s the connection customer service and employee empowerment expert Jeff Toister discovered after surveying hundreds of employees about their potential for burnout.

“Agents can develop something called learned helplessness when they perceive their company isn’t customer-focused. This means that agents accept poor service as a foregone conclusion and stop trying hard to serve their customers. A diminished interest in work is a key component of burnout.”

How you can help:

Connect your agents to your company’s larger cause, and work together as an entire enterprise to solve customer problems. When your agents see that everyone is working together for a common cause and for the betterment of customers, they feel the importance of their jobs and are less likely to burnout.

5. Your agents are unsure about their goals and metrics.

When there’s a lack of clarity behind goals, agents don’t know what outcome they’re working towards. And when metrics aren’t continuously available to your agents, they have no way to track their progress or identify areas where they need to do better. One interesting finding from Toister’s survey was how metric display boards impacted agent burnout. It turns out that contact centers without a display board to track metrics had agents who were more likely to burn out. And, agents who faced severe burnout risk were 63 percent less likely to have a metrics display in their office.

How you can help:

Regularly review metrics with your agents. Invest in a display board, or even create personal dashboards where your agents can see team metrics and individual metrics. Then, they can see how their personal efforts contribute to the overall team goals, and they’ll feel confidently informed about their performance.

6. There’s too much stress and negativity.

Put a bunch of bricks in a bag and carry it on your back. That’s what it’s like carrying loads of customer complaints all day long. And on top of that, add the urgency that’s associated with these complaints. Your agents’ time on the phone is being tracked, their calls are being recorded, and every interaction has the possibility to be scrutinized. Who wouldn’t be stressed out by that? And too much stress quickly leads to burnout.

How you can help:

Teach your agents to be more mindful. Mindfulness techniques are proven to be calming, increase emotional intelligence, and even reduce physical pain like headaches and tension. Send agents micro-learning lessons with mindfulness exercises. Or, bots can monitor your agents’ queues and do this for you. When agents have a lull in their workflow or just dealt with a particularly angry customer, a bot can push a breathing exercise (or any other lesson you want) to their queue to calm them down.

7. Your agents aren’t empowered.

Empowerment plays a huge role in employee burnout. 41 percent of agents who are at severe risk of burnout don’t feel like they’re empowered. And, 92 percent of agents who are NOT at risk for burnout feel empowered. When agents aren’t empowered, they disconnect with their roles. They don’t feel like their job is important because they’re not encouraged to make their own decisions and use their best judgment. That’s when they feel like human resources, not human beings.

How you can help:

Give your agents the tools and resources they need to work more autonomously. Invest in agent-first tools, so your agents can have a positive experience daily. Coach your agents frequently, so you equip them to handle problems on their own. Praise them with specific examples when they do a fantastic job, so they remain confident and capable.

8. They don’t get enough recognition.

Your agents are the make-or-break faces of your company. Customer service has the biggest impact on customer experience and customer loyalty, and your agents are the ones serving up these experiences. If you’re a beloved brand, you have a team of all-stars in your contact center. But, it’s rare managers give agents all of that credit or recognize their jobs as THAT important. The statistics prove it, but your agents need you to show it.

How you can help:

Celebrate your agents regularly. You don’t have to throw fancy parties every other month or cater lunch weekly, but you do need to acknowledge the amount of work your agents put in. Tell them thank you. And give agents individual recognition, too. Saying thank you to your team is great, but point out how awesome Tom did on his tough call last week while you’re chatting in your one-on-one. It’s more meaningful.

With the right mix of coaching, recognition, and agent empowerment, you can save your agents from burnout and tackle your attrition rates. Learn more about how to coach your agents to empowerment by reading our blog post with seven tips to personalize your agent experience.