Though one long shift won’t cause serious burnout for your staff, the long-term buildup of stressors and environmental factors will.
Being a customer service agent is hard. You have to be a flawless product expert, stay infinitely empathetic in the face of the 20th complaint of the day, and resolve each interaction as quickly as possible. A lot of the time, it feels pretty thankless.
All those factors can combine to cause agent burnout.
If you’re not familiar with the term, agent burnout refers to when someone starts feeling cynical, disengaged, overwhelmed, and even depressed as a side effect of overworking. The long hours typical of start-ups seem to provide the most fertile ground for burnout, but it can happen anywhere. Though one long shift won’t cause serious burnout for your staff, the long-term buildup of stressors and environmental factors will. It’s a cumulative effect.
Being more and more connected to work through apps and email may mean your employees never fully feel like they’re “off.” Outside of the negative effects on your agents, burnout also impacts your business. Productivity goes down and employees may start leaving due to the stress.
Acknowledging the importance of avoiding burnout is the first step toward making a healthier team. The next step is taking action to proactively prevent agent burnout from happening in the first place.
In this article, we cover eight ways to keep your team from burning out.
1. Allow flexibility
Support agents are responsible for the customers they serve and generally want to provide a consistent experience for them, so there will always be some limits to how much wiggle room you can have in terms of workflows. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be any flexibility at all for your team.
Try taking a look at how you can impact their quality of life, especially when it comes to scheduling. According to one study, flexible schedules led to higher job satisfaction because having more control helped employees feel more supported by their company and manager. Consider allowing your employees to work from home one day a week. You could also set up designated office hours (say 10am-4pm) but allow your employees to choose when they start and end to best fit their own schedules.
Each team is going to have different needs, but in most cases, it should be possible to allow your team some level of flexibility.
2. Set clear expectations
It’s very difficult to know if you’re doing a good job when you don’t have any specific metrics or goals set. And without measuring progress, it’s also hard to see what clearly what they’ve completed and feel any sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Research done by Toister found that agents at risk of severe burnout were 63% less likely to have a metrics board visible in their work environment.
Consider having a public metrics board that your whole team can use to view teamwide metrics and celebrate their successes together. If you want to go above and beyond, make private dashboards for each team member. It’s a great way for them to track their progress and see how they’re performing.
3. Empower your team
Empowerment is a big factor in employee burnout, as 41% of agents who are at risk for burnout don’t feel like they’re empowered in their positions. And by the same token, according to the same article 92% of agents who aren’t at risk, do feel they’re empowered.
When your team doesn’t have the ability to make their own choices, they may become disengaged and apathetic about the job. Showing employees you trust them by delegating level-appropriate responsibilities makes them feel valued and that the job they’re doing is important.
Make sure you’re giving your agents access to the tools they need to do their jobs effectively, too. Avoidable frustrations can arise when it’s obvious that a task or project could get done much more quickly or even automatically with a small investment in the right tool.
Along with the proper tools, be sure your team knows that you trust their judgment and back up their decisions. Call out good examples of everyday proactiveness and decision-making during team meetings. When your employees know you support and trust them, they do better work and stay engaged.
4. Give regular feedback
As we mentioned above, a lack of clear expectations can be difficult for your team. Offering clear metrics and goals is a solid step, but is only the first in making sure they know how they’re performing.
Coaching and feedback sessions aren’t only a way for your team to grow, but they’re an opportunity for you to connect with each person on your team. These meetings can facilitate lots of different conversations and show your investment in each agent as an individual.
Try setting up a regular cadence for meetings. Once a week or twice a month are pretty common. Also, include a meeting item where you ask about how work has been going and if they have any issues. Be specific with your questions, as it’ll make giving feedback easier for your team members by prompting useful answers even from those who have trouble finding something to say in one-on-ones.
5. Facilitate social interaction
We all need a lifeline now and then. Certainly, you shouldn’t force any interactions; they should be natural. However, baking time into the overarching team calendar for coffee catch-ups, planning teambuilding activities or outings, and other informal events are great ways to help your team connect on a personal level.
Connections with others at work reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and also add to increased happiness at work. Happier employees mean a more positive environment, which leads to higher productivity. When your team connects, everyone wins.
6. Acknowledge their work
It’s good to know when you’re doing a good job. We’ve had two other points on this list also related to work performance, so that’s your clue as to how important this stuff is. The way to follow through is by proactively letting your employees know when they’re doing a good job.
One study showed 75% of those surveyed said a thank-you or compliment on their work increased their confidence in their work. The same study showed that 50% of those surveyed said being recognized for doing a good job improved their relationship with their manager and increased their level of trust with company leadership.
How you give compliments also matters. Try to make these points publicly in meetings or in some tangible way. 96% said a handwritten note, or something similar, is more meaningful than an email thank-you.
7. Encourage time away
Time off is a tricky thing. Your employees may not feel they can take time off, or feel like they’re letting down the team even if they have tons of vacation time saved up.
Studies have shown that taking time off increases productivity. Along with the benefit to your business, time off relieves stress for your employees and can actually increase their creativity. Some companies even require their employees to take time off.
Be sure that you’re explicitly clear that your team has your full support to take time off when they need it. And stay accountable for taking your own time off and truly steering clear of Slack and email during your off-hours. When the message comes from leadership, they may be more comfortable to take the time they need.
8. Allow side projects
There’s an old saying: “variety is the spice of life.” The same principle is true in work. Having projects that are outside your normal day-to-day activities can be invigorating. Side projects allow your employees the opportunity to be creative and use a different part of their brain.
Obviously, business needs have to come first, but you should encourage team members to pursue side projects to further develop the skills they’re interested in. One approach is to have a set amount of time each week you allow for side projects. This gives your team dedicated time and relieves any stress about working on something other than their core responsibilities.
For example, maybe you have a team member who is interested in the more technical aspects of your product. Their side project could be acting as a liaison between the support and development teams. It allows them more access, and some learning opportunities, while also helping the two teams connect better, and communicate more often.
Feeling overwhelmed and burnt out can happen to anyone. There isn’t a foolproof way to prevent it from happening 100% of the time, but the suggestions above are a great starting point. And even just showing the team that you’re putting out effort toward this end is itself a win.
Allow your team the flexibility you can, set clear expectations, and empower them to help build a strong foundation of trust. Giving regular feedback and encouraging personal connections are also important so if your team members start to feel overwhelmed, they’ll have opportunities to talk about it openly.
Last, acknowledge their hard work, encourage taking time to recharge, and allow them to work on passions projects. All these help keep your team fresh and productive. If you treat your team right, everyone will reap the rewards.