Queue Fatigue and How to Stop It

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 5 min read

Only 7% of young adult respondents have never felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

You give your customers a better experience when your support team is happy. But the happiness of your employees isn’t something that only matters because of the financial impact. Your team is not just the metrics that they produce. The fact is that 74% of all customer support team members experience burnout at some point in their careers. Burnout is defined as the phenomenon of long-term sustained stress in the workplace. In 2019, The World Health Organization even stated that the International Classification of Diseases now officially recognizes burnout.

This type of fatigue thrives in the situations surrounding the pandemic. Trapped at home with little opportunity for work-life balance, many of us grow tired—more so than we even would typically. Many of us are working on smaller teams impacted by the pandemic and are doing even more menial queue-based work than usual.

Many of us are familiar with the phrase burn-out, but not as many of us are familiar with queue fatigue. Queue fatigue is the feeling brought on by long, seemingly endless hours in the support queue with minimal aid or flexibility in the scope of your work. The queue simply becomes all-consuming and vast.

Queue fatigue is like food poisoning—if you’ve ever had it, you would know. That said, there are a few manifestations that you might recognize more than others:

  • Hopelessness
  • Emotional exhaustion, or loss of your usual emotional bandwidth
  • Detachment and apathy
  • Irritability, cynicism, and frustration
  • Feeling trapped or powerless
  • Intrusive thoughts of failure

No one wants to feel this way. Especially when it’s directly tied to a core aspect of your day-to-day job, like the queue. Here are some ways to get yourself and your team back in the zone and out of queue fatigue.

queue fatigueBreak up your day

Give anyone working in the queue the opportunity to break up their day. If not every day, then at least once a week. There are a few benefits to doing this:

  • Impact critical initiatives that impact company-wide goals from within the CX team.
  • Provide yourself or your team with the time they need for personal and professional development.
  • Create meaningful opportunities to keep your team members engaged.

Even blocking out a few hours to work on something outside of the queue can be a valuable way to refresh your perspective on things inside of the queue. If working on a project outside of your regular day-to-day isn’t an option, consider other ways to split your working hours. Some people choose split shifts; some choose to work hours more conducive to their lives outside of work. All of these are ways to give yourself a bit of a reprieve from queue fatigue.

queue fatigueCheck-in with your agents frequently

How do they feel about their daily work? Do you let them know that you appreciate them or provide them feedback about their performance? Of people surveyed, 69% of employees stated that they would work harder if they felt their leaders appreciated their efforts more.

Recognize the work that your team is doing in the queue. Keep your thumb on the pulse of the inbox—if volumes are going up and you aren’t able to hire people, let them know that you appreciate their work. Give them opportunities to take time out of the queue to reset their brain, if needed, or even step in and get your own hands dirty answering tickets if it will help relieve them of some pressure.

Let them make creative choices

Employees who are empowered to use their voice are 4.6 times more likely to feel encouraged and able to do their best work. Give them the encouragement they need to feel like they can be experimental. Instead of corralling them with policies, give them some leeway to do what they think is right, and help the customer most.

When there’s a script that you have to follow, and you don’t get to make any choices, working in the queue can be incredibly grating. Of the people at severe risk of burnout, 41% don’t feel like they’re empowered. Conversely, 92% of agents not at risk for burnout do feel empowered to make choices and decisions. Hear your team and give them opportunities to have a creative impact outside of the queue.

Encourage time off

Imagine if you were running a race, but you didn’t know how long the race was, how much farther you needed to go, or if you were anywhere close to the finish line. That’s what it can feel like when you’re in the queue day in and day out without any vacation or time off insight.

If you are a manager or team lead, encourage your team to take time off. If you are a person working in the queue, take a vacation when you can.

It costs about 20% of a person’s annual salary to replace them. If you were to lose a support person at a salary of $60k, it would cost you about $12k. How much would two weeks of vacation cost for that same role? $2,307.69.

Encouraging time off is less costly, and saves the energy and emotional bandwidth of your team members. It protects against queue fatigue. Do it.

Find a balance between work and life

If you’re miserable outside of work, you’ll be miserable inside as well. As much as it may feel difficult to leave when there are still tickets in the queue, consider instead that you’re giving yourself a little more energy to do meaningful work in the future. Every yoga class, every hobby that you partake in, or every movie you watch with your roommate or partner gets you one step closer to an enthusiastic, happy response for your customers.

Americans work 50 or more hours per week but only spend 11.4 hours daily for leisure or personal care. You are entitled to take the time that you need to feel good, and it will make you better at your daily job.

File every piece of positive feedback that you get

Sometimes, despite all of this, it can still feel hard to carry on. You may wonder why you started in this career. You may be striving to think of ways around it. One of the best things you can do is remind yourself why you started and why you continued.

Every time you get a positive CSAT review, a customer or colleague says something kind about you, or you get a reminder of why you do the things that you do, save it. Keep a file somewhere that you can reference regularly and review it any time things get tough.

Burnout is a disease, and by proxy, it’s cousin queue fatigue should be recognized as such. But, there’s no medicine for it. The closest that you can get to an antidote is this file of all the kind words reminding you to keep ongoing.

Keep going

A 2018 Mental Health Foundation study by YouGov found that only 7% of young adult respondents have never felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. In the grand scheme of things, feeling burnt out and fatigued by the queue is more normal than not. That doesn’t mean that you need to keep feeling this way. If you’re a manager, prioritize your team; if you’re a direct report, prioritize yourself.

Like the adage that they share on planes: you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others. Lean on your team, do things that fill up your cup and keep yourself surrounded by reminders of why you do the things you do. Your work is valuable, essential, and meaningful, but you don’t need to lose yourself over it.

How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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