8 Reasons for Agent Burnout

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

I’m not letting you in on a mysterious secret when I tell you agent turnover is a problem for contact centers. Contact centers have an average turnover rate of 30-45% per year. And this year, leaders like you named turnover as their number one challenge

Sky-high turnover loses your company thousands of dollars and brings down agent morale. So why is it such a common problem in contact centers? Why do your agents leave, and how can you prevent it from happening?

[Download Now] Better Agent Experience Leads to Better Customer Experience

Turns out, agent burnout is the second biggest risk your agents face at work. And with the COVID-19 crisis, agents are at an even greater risk of burnout. Because of the pandemic, agents are experiencing more pressure and higher call volumes. But they’re still expected to be empathetic to hyper-stressed customers. 

That’s a recipe for exhaustion if you ask me.

On average, 74% of your agents are at risk of burnout. And 30% of those agents sit in the “severe risk” category. That means they’re just one angry customer conversation from going over the edge and quitting.

To prevent any mass exodus from your company, it’s important to understand why your agents leave (and then work to fix it).

Here are 8 reasons for agent burnout, and a few ideas to make lasting changes in your company.

1. Stress, stress, stress

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of stress. Everyone is under additional stress for, oh you name it, and agents are no exception. One of the main reasons for agent burnout is too much stress and negativity at work. 

Agents carry loads of customer complaints and stories all day long. Not only that, but agents know their performance is on watch. All. The. Time. They know the phone is tracking their time and recording their calls. They know a negative interaction might make them the example at the next company meeting. Who wouldn’t be stressed out by that? Too much pressure leads to agent burnout.

[Read Next] How to Include Mindfulness in Your Contact Center

How you can help:

Make employee wellness part of your company’s culture. Remind your agents their work is more like a marathon than a sprint. One simple way to encourage your agents to slow down and deal with stress is to teach mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques calm your nerves and are proven to increase concentration. They strengthen emotional intelligence and can even reduce headaches and tension. 

Send agents micro-learning lessons with mindfulness exercises when they need a breather. Even trigger bots to monitor your agents’ queues for opportune moments. Push a breathing exercise to your agents’ queue during a lull in their workflow or after a call with an angry customer. 

2. Your agents work too much

Gallup found a connection between the number of hours people work and burnout. And, nowadays, working in customer service is one of those “always on” professions. Because we have tiny computers in our pockets, agents can stay connected way past normal work hours.  But we have limits. Our brains can’t function properly after too much time staring at a screen (or after too many requests to speak to the manager). If your agents work over 50 hours a week, their productivity will fall off a cliff.

Your agents need real breaks. Ones where they can totally disconnect from their work. But because of high call volumes and ever-growing demands, some won’t even take PTO. It’s even harder now that many companies are working from home and can’t leave work at work. Many workplaces discourage–or don’t emphasize–time to disconnect. 

How you can help:

Encourage time off – real vacations and lunch breaks included. Schedule breaks even when your agents work remotely. Encourage your team to turn off their notifications during breaks and after work hours. And, connect with each agent to remind them to take PTO. Some companies now mandate vacation days because plenty of go-getters won’t use vacation time for fear of looking lazy or uncommitted. If your agents push back against using vacation time, consider making it mandatory. Your agents will come back feeling replenished and more productive.

3. Not enough feedback from managers

Your agents are trained to handle customer interactions on their own, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need support. 

If you don’t touch base with your agents often, you leave them without the feedback they need to improve. Agents will feel overworked and ultimately burn out when they don’t feel supported. If they’re scrambling for answers or repeating mistakes–and you’re not noticing–everyone suffers. Plus, mistakes that go unchecked become bad habits. Those habits will spread to a new crop of agents coming in the door.

How you can help:

Check in with your agents frequently and coach them daily. Don’t have the capacity to talk with every agent every day? Dedicate a chunk of your time each day to 1:1 coaching with a few team members. And in your downtime, reach other agents with in-line training (or tag in supervisors to help). This extends your coaching time and gives your agents contextual pointers.

[Read Next] How to making coaching a priority in your busy schedule 

4. They don’t feel empowered

Empowerment plays a huge role in agent burnout. If your agents aren’t empowered, they disconnect from their roles. Micro-management is a common issue, and it often leads to more agent dissatisfaction. Micromanaged agents who aren’t encouraged to make their own decisions feel disposable. When your agents feel like human resources, not human beings, they fall prey to burnout.

How you can help:

Give your agents the tools and resources they need to work more autonomously. And, stop micromanaging them. Coach your agents often so they can handle problems on their own. Build trust and open communication with your team, and you won’t feel the need to hover. And of course, don’t forget to praise them with specific feedback when they do a fantastic job. Agents who are confident about their performance will be empowered and ready to work harder.

[Read Next] Why Contact Centers Should Prioritize the Agent Experience

5. They don’t get enough recognition

Your agents are the faces of your company. They’re on the front lines solving problems and handling complaints every day. So when your customer experience ratings are booming, your agents deserve the credit. In fact, having a friendly conversation with a service rep is the number one factor that determines brand trust. But it’s rare to see agents get the admiration they deserve. Customer loyalty statistics prove that agents are vital, but your agents need you to show it.

How you can help:

Celebrate your agents regularly. This doesn’t have to mean a fancy party every month or weekly catered lunches. But you should acknowledge your agents and the work they put into their jobs. Not only should you thank your team, but you should also recognize individual agents, too. Tailor your praise to each individual agent, so they know the positive impact of their actions at work. Encourage agents with great soft skills like empathy, integrity, and teamwork. Pointing to specific ways your individual agents perform well goes a long way.

[Read Next] How NOT to Celebrate Your Agents 

6. They’re unsure about goals and metrics

Only 20% of agents say they’ve had a conversation with their supervisor about goals in the last six months. When there’s a lack of clarity or communication about goals, agents feel lost. If agents don’t have access to metrics 24/7, they’ll be even more lost. Without metrics, they won’t be able to track progress or identify areas of improvement. 

Contact centers without metrics on display drive agent burnout. In fact, agents at severe risk for burnout are 63% less likely to have call center wallboards in their office. If your agents don’t have a grasp on what their daily work feeds into, they disengage from work. And agent burnout is soon to follow.

How you can help:

Make your team and company goals visible and accessible so agents always know their goals. Invest in a display board or in personal dashboards so your agents can see team metrics and know how their performance stacks up to peers. Especially in the age of remote work, it’s important to keep your agents in-the-know.. Share progress and encouragement daily so they’re well aware of goals and how they’re tracking toward them.

[Learn More] Sharpen’s Resources for your Personal Dashboards  

7. You lack a customer-centric mission and vision

Your agents need to believe in your company’s mission and vision. Not only that, but they should actually know the mission and vision. When agents don’t know and believe in your company’s goals, they will easily lose interest in the work. 

Successful companies with a healthy culture unite their employees around their mission. And they make it clear that they care about each individual customer. Agents at those companies know their purpose every time they pick up the phone or answer an email. But if your agents don’t see how they matter or don’t believe you care about customers, they’ll stop trying.

How you can help:

Connect your agents to your company’s larger cause. Make it clear that successful companies work together to solve customer issues. When your agents see that you care about your customers, they’ll be less likely to burn out.

8. They think your policies are too strict

Strict policies on tardiness, illness, or work breaks can cause your agents lots of stress. If your agents can never take a day off, catch a bathroom break or leave work early to make an appointment, they’ll burn out quickly. We know this year more than ever that flexibility needs to be a priority. Your remote agents may be dealing with noisy children, family stress, and a cramped house. So remember that life comes 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.

[Read Now] Head over to Your Call Center Manager Playbook for some in-depth, actionable tips for encouraging your agents

We originally published this post on October 9, 2018, and we updated it for new insight on October 22, 2020.