5 Steps to Avoid Frontline Agent Burnout
Are your frontline agents feeling burnt out? Here’s how to support them—and prevent burnout on your team
Frontline employees are the face of the organization, helping customers make the right decisions throughout the buying journey and after it. Unfortunately, volume spikes and increased request complexity have left businesses and customer service agents struggling to keep up. That’s not all—with agents interacting with unhappy, angry customers day in and out, keeping spirits and motivation in check can be challenging and often leads to burnout.
It’s no surprise that burnout is widespread amongst frontline employees. Even before the pandemic, 74% of call center agents were at risk of burnout and more than 50% of call center agents report being prescribed medication to treat stress or anxiety-related conditions.
During a time when everyone has to do more with less, frontline agents are feeling the weight. Here’s a look at why it’s critical to prevent your agents from burning out, especially now—and how to do it.
Why your agents—and preventing them from burning out—matter
Your frontline agents are a critical part of your business—here’s why:
They are the customer experience: Your agents are one of the main points of contact for your brand—they drive the perception and growth of your company. What’s more, they stand to make the difference between a superior customer experience—a five-star review—or a terrible one.
They impact your business (the bottom line): The truth is, agents deliver results that directly contribute to your business. Customer experience improvements can translate into revenue growth for companies. According to Forrester Research, companies in every vertical benefit from improving customer experience, with auto manufacturers, hotels, wireless service providers, and big box retailers netting the biggest sales gains.
Additionally, agent attrition and turnover are expensive. Estimates show that one employee’s attrition can cost a company up to 2x the employee’s salary, not including time to train new employees or the revenue lost if you’re understaffed.
Therefore, businesses must take care of frontline employees and enable them to succeed with timely training and support to prevent agent burnout and attrition.
What burnout is and how it happens
As of 2019, the WHO (World Health Organization) recognizes burn-out as an “occupational phenomenon,” characterized by these three factors:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy.
In today’s work environment—on the heels of a pandemic where stress levels have hit an all-time high, both at work and at home, and with a looming economic downturn—burnout is even more common. According to a 2021 McKinsey survey, nearly 50% of employees felt some symptoms of burnout during the pandemic and they predicted that many had already left the workforce, especially women, who were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. At a time when some organizations are returning to the office, some are implementing permanent remote or hybrid work policies, and many are navigating layoffs due to slowed economic times, the risk for burnout is higher than ever.
Reasons for this phenomenon vary from call center to call center, but can be boiled down to:
- High volume of work
- Managing negative customer feedback
- High pressure and quick turnaround times
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of coaching and career growth opportunities
- Added stress of external factors, such as economic environment, global events, or at-home stressors
When agents are experiencing burnout, they will engage less at work, and their performance will suffer costing business revenue and growth. They might be moody or pessimistic in response to feedback from their manager or customers. These are signals your agents are fatigued, stressed, and burnt out.
Prevent burnout by keeping agents from their breaking points
One of the first steps to preventing burnout is to recognize and acknowledge it. Feeling seen in their stress is critical for employees to feel supported—and know that burnout is normal.
To get ahead of burnout, here are several steps to follow so that employees don’t reach their breaking point:
Lighten the load.
Provide breaks and variety for agents across the channels they manage, mixing up chat, phone, and email when possible so they don’t get fatigued from one single channel. Further, keep an eye on PTO and encourage employees to take it if it’s available to them. Make sure you have staff to take on their work, and keep in mind you may need to hire contractors to make sure the rest of the team doesn’t feel the weight. Also ensure the employee doesn’t come back to a backlog of work.
Allow for flexibility.
Many times, work stress can be caused or exacerbated by life stress. From juggling kids, pets, elder parents, or health issues, to managing at home schedules or unexpected expenses, what causes stress at home is likely to seep into the work environment. To support employees, allow for windowed working and have a workforce management system that allows for shorter increments in scheduling to give employees flexibility in their day.
Don’t micromanage employees, empower them
Instead of micromanaging or hovering over employees—at the office or at home—work on building trust. To do so, provide agents with metrics for their own success and help them identify goals that are attainable and in line with their career aspirations. Adjust their goals when necessary so that their work is relevant, achievable, and fulfilling to them. Offer agents feedback regularly, but not about every tiny detail—they want to feel empowered, not under a control-and-command style leader.
By focusing on empowering employees rather than watching or controlling their every move, you’ll build trust on both sides—and limit anxiety and burnout on your team.
Offer support as a manager
According to a Gallup study, employees are 70% less likely to experience burnout if they feel supported by their managers. This is just one reason to hold space for your agents to open up about challenges they’re facing, be a resource to help them manage difficult situations, and support them in achieving their goals.
As a manager, it’s also critical to notice signs of burnout on your team: Are agents missing work? Are they participating in team chats? Are customer issues getting resolved? Are they achieving their performance metrics?
Remember to ask agents how they’re doing, give positive feedback when it’s due, and have regular 1:1s with agents.
Provide technology and tooling to make their jobs easier
Perhaps one of the biggest levers available to you in supporting your frontline agents is technology. Providing tools to understand their performance and manage their workload will prevent agents from feeling overwhelmed and give them clarity on what they are responsible for, while giving you the visibility to proactively monitor and manage agent workload.
Technology can also provide one central source of truth on performance. A platform like Pathlight, where agents can get visibility into their performance, goals, and achievements, is vital. It will also empower you, as a manager, to:
- Understand performance on KPIs that matter without micromanaging
- Individualize coaching and feedback for every employee to build trust and boost performance
- Run great 1:1s powered by real-time data
- Keep a pulse on your entire team and their engagement
Technology is a great way to know how folks are doing, notice trends like increased workloads or declining performance and engagement, and—most importantly—address them in a way that’s transparent and supportive to your team.
To avoid burnout, empower your frontline agents
So many reasons for frontline agent burnout can be avoided by empowering agents to manage their volume of work, respond to customers’ needs and feedback, have clarity on their responsibilities and goals, and feel supported by their managers.
Empowering agents starts by listening to them—and then giving them the tools and support they need. As a manager, it’s your role to find the highest points of leverage for employees to avoid burnout—especially during a time when everyone has to do more with less.
Technology, such as performance intelligence, quality management, and workforce optimization systems can greatly enhance how you support your employees and mitigate burnout. When you prevent your team from reaching burnout, they’ll be more engaged, leading to better customer outcomes and, ultimately, business outcomes. To learn more about how Pathlight can prevent burnout on your team, schedule a demo today.
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Key takeaways from Pathlight's session on Building a Resilient Contact Center with AI-Driven Performance Intelligence at the Customer Response Summit hosted by the Execs In The Know community in Austin, Texas.
Agent performance is vital for CX success. Taking a holistic approach to monitor, evaluate, and manage agent performance can be a game changer for driving productivity at scale.
By adopting Pathlight to manage their entire QA process, run 1:1s, pull reports, and provide visibility to both agents and leadership, they’ve saved time, improved agent engagement, and seen customer service improve.