The burnout syndrome is an epidemic. In fact, a study from Stanford University reported in the U.S. the cost for healthcare in support of burnout is about $190 billion with 120,000 deaths annually (Gallup Inc., 2017). Additionally, a recent survey found that employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. Some of the top reasons mentioned in the study include unfair compensation (41%), unreasonable workload (32%), and too much overtime or after hours (32%). These facts are not portraying a pretty picture for the men and women in our organizations. It’s clear that more and more people are getting burnout in the workplace and it’s our job to try to understand it and find productive ways to reduce this syndrome (Wilkie, 2017).
Contact centers have become a vital part of global businesses. Companies in various industries have contact centers that employ millions of agents to serve as the primary customer-facing channel. According to the United States Department of Labor, customer service representatives (CSR), or customer service agents, employment was projected to grow about 9.8% from 2014 to 2024. The national workforce is projected to only grow to 6.5%. As a comparison, we can see that CSR employment is growing faster than the national workforce average. To effect lasting systemic change, it is critical to understand the factors leading to job burnout for millions of CSR employees around the world (Vizueta, 2014).
What Exactly is Employee Burnout?
The volume of daily work and the number of customer interactions overwhelms contact center employees, leaving 52% of customer service agents feeling that their company isn’t doing enough to prevent burnout (Calabrio). Burnout has been defined as “a syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism that occurs frequently among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind” (Jackson, 1981).
In the contact center world, burnout is one of the main reasons for turnover. The volume of daily work and the number of customer interactions overwhelm employees. According to a Toister study (Toister, 2016), agents want to deliver excellent service in general. Burnout increases when agents believe their contact center is making it hard for them to accomplish this goal; however, their burnout risk decreases when agents feel their employer is supportive to their needs and its customers. Agents want to feel empowered to provide exceptional service.
What Are Those Burnout Symptoms?
Being a customer engagement expert is a high-pressure job. When facing multiple customers with numerous requests daily, with the expectation to create empathy, rapport and even trust, one can become very detached from their work. It’s an uphill battle to continually display positive emotions and to suppress negative ones in a complex contact center environment. Here are the top three burnout symptoms that normally appear in the workplace within the first year of employment (Jackson, 1981):
- Increased Emotional Exhaustion: Agents feel that as their emotional resources are drained, they are no longer able to cope with issues on a psychological level.
- Cynicism Towards Customers: Agents are prone to negative and cynical attitudes towards customers. Maslach and Jackson concluded that the adverse reactions to a customer could be linked to the experience of emotional exhaustion.
- Professional Efficacy: “The tendency to evaluate oneself negatively, particularly regarding one’s work with customers.” In other words, when employees feel dissatisfied with their performance, the consequences can be quite severe and detrimental to employees, their customers, and ultimately to the organization.
Solutions to Prevent Agent Burnout
In my experience, burnout symptoms occur in organizations where employees feel undervalued and overworked. Trust is a significant component when it comes to understanding the key factors leading to emotional exhaustion, cynicism and professional efficacy. To prevent or minimize burnout in contact centers an organization must:
1. Avoid Favoritism: Treat people with respect and treat people fairly, without favoritism. The slightest perception of a manager favoring one person or group against another, will cause resentment and trust will not be achieved.
2. Have Clear Values: Make sure that operational processes and the company’s mission and vision statements are clear to all employees. When employees perceive a value conflict on the job, their engagement with work tends to decrease.
3. Minimize Role Conflict and Role Ambiguity: Establish continued training around employee roles and processes. Employees should be encouraged to participate in decision-making processes to avoid conflict and ambiguity in the contact center environment.
4. Understand the Contact Center Environment: Training or seminars can enhance the employee’s capacity to cope with their workplace. The organization should not focus on changing the individual alone; instead, the organization should start implementing some of these incremental changes within itself.
Burnout is commonplace, and no one is immune to it. It’s important to structure your work environment so that every manager and employee feels motivated and has the tools and support they need to succeed. At Alorica, we’re focused on creating insanely great customer interactions. It starts with providing a healthy work environment for our people, filled with a culture rooted in fun, encouragement and collaboration. With Millennials poised to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, building a positive corporate culture to attract and retain the talent-rich Generation Y will help you stay ahead of the competition. No need for a decoder ring. Here are 5 useful strategies that can help drive this in-demand generation to your door.
Gallup Inc. (2017). State of the American Workplace. Obtenido de Society for Human Resource Management: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0817/pages/infographic-the-problem-with-burnout.aspx
Jackson, C. M. (1981). En S. E. Christina Maslach, The Measurement of Experienced Burnout (págs. 99-113).
Calabrio, 2018. www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/infographic-the-widening-gap-between-customer-service-and-the-customer/?es_p=6429485
Toister, J. (2016). How to Battle Contact Center Agent Burnout.
Vizueta, J. V. (May de 2014). Identifying Work-Related Factors Leading to Job Burnout: A Review of E-Commerce Back Office Call Center Employees. Obtenido de Olivet Nazarene University: digitalcommons.olivet.edu/edd_diss/72
Wilkie, D. (31 de January de 2017). Workplace Burnout at ‘Epidemic Proportions’. Obtenido de Society for Human Resource Management: www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/employee-burnout.aspx