Call Center Agent Burnout. What Is It and How to Avoid It

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Job burnout has been a common problem for many years across industries. Switching to remote work made it more serious than ever. What are its main symptoms and how to prevent it from happening? Let’s take a close look at it in our new article.

What Is Burnout?

Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as “a special type of work-related stress”. It’s a state when a person feels emotionally drained and physically exhausted, experiencing “a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity”.

The term was coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 as “occupational burnout”. At first, it was applied only to jobs related to caregiving activities like nurses. However, it became clear that the syndrome is common across different industries and professions. Call center agents aren’t any exception.

Their job is inherently stressful. They have to answer customer calls and emails, handle live chats, and make sales calls to prospective clients - in other words, interact with different types of people all the time. Some of these people are patient and polite while others can drive you up the wall in moments. When your employees are exposed to the mental, emotional, and physical stress more often than they can endure, burnout is waiting to happen.

How to Define the Main Symptoms of Burnout

Now when we’ve figured out what burnout is, let’s take a close look at its main symptoms. As a rule, the most common signs of agents’ burnout are:

1. Weariness and exhaustion

It’s okay to feel exhausted at the end of the work shift. After all, we aren’t made of iron. But when your employees are sleepy all day long and have trouble getting started, it’s definitely worth worrying about.

2. Problems with concentration

Another sign of burnout is a lack of concentration. When your employees not only feel tired but also can’t focus on their job and start neglecting their duties, it can also be one of the symptoms of the syndrome.

3. Increasing irritation and impatience

Has your employee become irritable or impatient with customers and colleagues? It’s also one of the most common signs of burnout. Sure, a call center agent’s job isn’t a piece of cake. Sometimes, it requires a huge effort to keep your cool. But, if your employee starts complaining about minor issues and escalating insignificant calls to management, it’s worth paying close attention.

4. Lack of satisfaction

Satisfaction is one of the main forces that inspire people to do their jobs better and succeed. No payrolls can replace this feeling if you lack it. Do your agents seem unhappy despite all their accomplishments? If it’s combined with fatigue and irritation, they’re likely to be on the verge of burnout.

5. Unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints

Mayo Clinic considers these as one of the job burnout symptoms. Constant mental, physical and emotional strain inevitably affect one’s health. It’s hard to stay healthy and perky when your job sucks you dry. Therefore if your employees are constantly complaining about headaches and the like, it’s time to check if the burnout is around the corner.

6. Poor productivity

This symptom is the most noticeable one, especially in a virtual call center. You may not see other signs of burnout so clearly when working remotely but the productivity decline is something that can’t be missed.

Why Is Call Center Burnout So Common? The Main Reasons and Factors

According to a Gallup study, 76% of employees suffer from burnout on the job at least sometimes. Call center statistics are gloomier: 74% of agents are at risk of burnout. Moreover, this risk is severe for 30% of them. Let’s try to find out what may cause burnout in your call center.

1. Increase in workload

More work means more stress and exhaustion. It is hard to handle sharply increased call volumes and stay productive. Working from home can also contribute to that because it’s harder to notice the line between work and home when working in the same environment.

2. Unrealistic performance targets

Unrealistic KPIs and metrics lead to heightened expectations that your employees can’t meet. It makes them feel sick and tired of their job and puts them on the verge of burnout.

To learn more about call center metrics and KPIs, read our guide.

3. Lack of feedback

Feedback means a lot for every employee. It shows them how good they are at doing their job and what they need to improve. In remote work, timely and continuous feedback is even more important because of communication difficulties. When your employees don’t have any feedback from you it causes uncertainty that also contributes to call center agent burnout.

4. Micro-management

It’s quite a common reason for burnout. When the agents can’t make their own decisions they feel disconnected from their roles. They feel like they’re cogs in the machine that can easily be replaced and that eventually kills any satisfaction and motivation.

5. Too strict policies

Too strict rules may cause more stress as well. When your agents have problems with taking days off or making an appointment it will lead to burnout very quickly. Strict monitoring may have the same effect.

6. Repetitive work

Every job has some repetitive features. However, call center agents’ workflow may be too repetitive. They have to answer the same questions every day, stick to the same call scripts when talking to customers or prospects, and...can find themselves bored in the end. That, in turn, may contribute to burnout.

7. Obsolete technology

Call center software can either improve your agents’ performance or make them frustrated. Switching between different applications to perform their task will quickly drive them nuts as it adds more stress to their job.

How to Prevent Burnout in Your Call Center. Simple Tips

1. Make wellness a company’s priority

It’s impossible to remove stress from a call center agent’s job but you can teach them how to handle it. Mindfulness techniques can be an effective way to do that. By practicing them during breaks, your agents will be able to calm down after a stressful conversation and strengthen their emotional intelligence.

2. Be supportive

Employees who feel supported by their managers are less likely to experience burnout. It includes assistance with challenging calls and regular quality assurance reviews with constructive feedback. In remote mode, call center monitoring tools can come in handy. For example, the Voiptime Cloud call center solution allows your managers to monitor agents in different ways. They can listen to live conversations in three modes (call center barging, hidden mode, and call whispering) or listen to recorded calls and assess them. Our customizable scoring cards allow them to assess the particular call, using your criteria and grades from 0 to 100. If your manager needs to leave a comment on the conversation, it’s also possible. These features will help you to provide your employees with the support and feedback they need so desperately.

3. Encourage

Encourage your agents in doing their job. Praise those who demonstrate soft skills: empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, communication skills, and a high level of emotional intelligence. Combined with constructive feedback, encouragement can prevent them from burning out.

4. Offer incentives

It doesn’t necessarily mean monetary bonuses or pay rise (that is also a good option). If you know your employees’ likes, hobbies, and preferences, you can offer them something more inspiring than just a sum of money. For example, if your agent likes Mexican food, it can be a gift certificate from a popular restaurant. If they are a TV show lover, present them with a subscription on Netflix as a reward. Such incentives can inspire your employees to perform better. And, be sure, they won’t think that their job is thankless as it may seem after a conversation with a rude customer.

5. Empower your employees

Give them more autonomy in doing their job. You’ve already set some standards for handling calls so allow them to make decisions within this framework. If they feel more empowered, they are less likely to experience burnout. Therefore, pay attention to empowerment during training and coaching sessions.

6. Schedule their work properly

Make sure that neither of your employees is overworking. Remind them that their job is a marathon, not a sprint. Value their break time and not allow them to hop on to another call during lunch or open a live chat when they are about to go home. This enthusiasm may seem good at the beginning, but it may well contribute to burnout in the end. It is also important to give them a few days off when they need to recharge their batteries. Don’t allow them to forget about taking breaks during a work shift. It’s especially important when working from home where the line between work and home becomes very thin. Timely breaks can be good medicine for burnout.

7. Reduce the repetitive tasks as much as possible

How can you do that? The best way is to leverage technologies more actively. Regularly update the FAQ section on your website as well as your IVR menu. Then customers will be able to find answers to simple and repetitive questions without involving your agents. Your employees will have to handle only the most difficult tasks, which is a good remedy for getting bored.

To learn more about common IVR mistakes and how to prevent them, read our article.


Although call center agent burnout is a common problem across the industry, you can avoid it if putting enough effort. Care about your employees, give them more initiative and incentivize them. In other words, put your customers first but do not forget about those who help you to retain them.

Tanya Gonchar

Expert in call center process automation, Head of Marketing at Voiptime Cloud. Interested in customer service, B2B sales, marketing, business analysis.

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