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The Top 9 Call Center Mental Health Challenges in 2024

min read
The Top 9 Call Center Mental Health Challenges in 2024

If you’ve witnessed your agents struggling with call center stress syndrome, you know that the topics of mental health and stress among call center employees are not to be taken lightly. Working in a call center environment for prolonged periods can be very taxing — mentally, emotionally, and even physically. If left unaddressed, these issues can put call center agents on a fast path to burnout.

In this post, we’ll discuss mental health and stress among call center employees in more detail, including some of the top causes of call center anxiety and stress. Also, we’ll take a look at some strategies managers can implement to help support their staff, reduce stress levels in the workplace, and prevent burnout among call center employees. 

Why Can Call Centers Affect Employees’ Mental Health?

Life and work can be stressful at times. However, not everyone is able to cope with that stress effectively. Many people today struggle with mental health challenges, in fact. In the United States alone, more than 8% of adults suffer a major depressive episode annually, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a group raising awareness of mental health issues.

NAMI also reports that as many as one in five adults in the United States experience some form of mental illness. Mental illness is a broad term, but it includes conditions such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. 

As for call center work’s potential to create or exacerbate mental health issues for agents, consider a 2021 study that found almost all call center agents (96%) reported feeling acutely stressed in their workplace at least once a week. Acute stress can be a highly debilitating condition, leading to social isolation, serious physical health issues, burnout, and possibly, deeper mental health issues. 

And, as for the impacts on a call center operation, high stress levels among employees can undermine productivity, increase attrition rates, and lead to poor customer experiences and lower customer satisfaction. And if a contact center operator gains a reputation for having an unhealthy work environment, recruiting call center talent becomes only more challenging for the business.

The Top 9 Call Center Mental Health Challenges in 2024

But why is stress such a pervasive problem in the call center industry? One key factor is that agents are positioned on the “front line,” every day, doing their best to always represent the company in a positive light and help customers get exactly what they need, quickly. And given that more than two-thirds of consumers prefer to make a phone call when dealing with customer service, the volume of calls agents need to field daily can be overwhelming and downright mind-numbing.

For agents in inbound call centers, these calls typically relate to customers’ dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, agents in outbound call centers are tasked with making a high number of mostly unwanted cold calls every day. And, in both types of call centers, agents are often stuck in a cubicle-dominated office environment or working remotely.

Either way, it’s easy to feel isolated when working for a contact center. So, is it any wonder that stress levels and burnout rates run high in many call center workforces? 

There are a host of potential stress factors that can trigger mental health and stress among call center employees. Let’s kick off a list of some of the top contributors with one we just mentioned — excessive call volume.

1. High Volume of Calls

Call center agents may answer, or make, more than a hundred calls a day, a task that can easily lead to burnout. Plus, the average talk time ranges anywhere from four minutes for an inbound call to almost six minutes for a sales call. So, it’s no exaggeration that most call center agents have a jam-packed workday — which can also last eight hours or longer. 

As a manager, anything you can do to help break up the monotony of the workday will allow your staff to manage their on-the-job stress better. Make sure employees are taking regular breaks and schedule group downtime if agents show signs of flagging. Rested, happy agents won’t be as susceptible to burnout and will be more productive in the long run.

Also, as noted in an earlier post on the topic of call center stress syndrome, it’s vital for managers to know the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and adjust their workloads accordingly. Helping call center agents manage their workloads effectively will give those employees more opportunity to deliver their best work because they will be better able to manage stress.

2. Inadequate Training

When agents aren’t onboarded properly or are inadequately trained from the outset, they will feel unprepared, lack confidence, and be predisposed to suffer from call center anxiety, burnout, and other mental health issues. In short, thorough and timely training matters.

However, many call center managers today face the added challenge of providing effective training to team members working off-site. According to one estimate, since the start of the pandemic, 60% to 80% of contact center agents have moved to remote work. Making training more frequent and interactive, using mentoring programs, and closely monitoring the quality of agents’ phone conversations to create “teaching moments,” are all ways that call center managers can ensure all agents are trained appropriately.

Providing training throughout an agent’s career is also important. Employees can keep their skills up to date, stay attuned to best practices and changing consumer trends, and learn to master new technology. Ongoing training will help them feel valued, too, which can also help to ease stress.

3. Dealing with Frustrated Customers

The majority of an agent’s time in a typical inbound or outbound call center is spent dealing with disappointed, disinterested, or frustrated customers. Even the most patient, empathetic, and well-trained agent can quickly become stressed and burned out from handling a steady stream of difficult calls and negative vibes.

Give your agents the time and opportunity to vent about these experiences. Fostering a “we’re all in this together” mindset in the call center can help agents feel more supported. An emphasis on ongoing training can also help by giving agents the tools and best practices to deal effectively with challenging calls while learning how to keep their stress in check. 

Invest in soft skills training and targeted coaching to help experienced agents refine their abilities, and less-seasoned professionals to improve theirs. Try using Invoca’s in-platform training capabilities, which support agent coaching and collaboration. You can offer coaching pointers to your agents directly in transcripts and scorecards generated immediately after each call. And agents can use the same resources to self-coach and take the wheel on their career development, which is empowering.

4. Repetitive Work

Variety is the spice of life — and that’s true for the workplace, too. We all like to be inspired by new challenges and enjoy a change in routine now and then. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often in a call center environment, where agents spend hours each day answering or making calls and generally talking about the same topics or addressing similar complaints and issues.

The call center environment is not naturally a hotbed of creativity. But it can become one if you encourage your team to offer new ideas and equip them with the right technology that allows them to take an innovative approach to their everyday work. For instance, Invoca for contact centers uses conversation intelligence to help agents personalize their conversations with customers and make the most out of every interaction and potential sales opportunity.

5. Lack of Support from the Employer or Team

It’s just common sense that providing meaningful, ongoing support to a call center agent will help counter their stress and mental health issues and reduce burnout. But remember, supporting agents in a call center environment encompasses more than just setting up an occasional check-in meeting. You’ll also need to provide:

  • Timely, relevant training
  • A comfortable work environment
  • An emphasis on camaraderie, and friendly competition
  • Appropriate resources, including technology tools
  • Clear direction regarding the agent’s role and responsibilities
  • Reasonable performance expectations (i.e., challenging yet attainable)

6. Performance Pressure

Let’s talk more about the last point listed above: performance expectations. Despite handling a high volume of calls as part of a repetitive and mundane workflow, there is significant pressure on call center agents to perform not just consistently, but exceptionally. The expectation to hit a very high mark on the job every single day can easily lead to stress and burnout. 

Agents are often expected to meet strict quotas and meet or exceed key performance indicators (KPIs) like the number of calls handled, talk time, and response times. Agents will be more likely to meet those KPIs — and deliver better on customer experience metrics like the Net Promoter Score (NPS) — if they’re backed by a supportive manager and a nurturing, team-oriented environment. 

7. Limited Career Advancement Opportunities

Many call center agents feel stuck in a rut, with limited opportunities to climb the career ladder. This perception can be incredibly demotivating. Imagine spending years honing your communication and customer service skills, only to feel like there's no clear path for advancement within the company. This lack of a well-defined career path can lead to feelings of stagnation and a sense that their hard work isn't valued. Without a clear vision of future growth opportunities, agents may become disengaged and less motivated to go the extra mile for customers as their tenure grows. 

It's important to remember that call centers can be a valuable training ground for developing transferable skills. The strong communication, problem-solving, and time management abilities honed in a call center environment can be valuable assets in a variety of different industries. By highlighting these transferable skills and offering internal training programs or mentorship opportunities, call centers can help employees see a broader career path beyond the headset and chat platforms. This can boost employee morale and motivation, leading to a more engaged and productive workforce.

8. Dealing with Angry Customers

Working in a call center can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope. While many interactions involve friendly customer service exchanges, some agents have to navigate situations with potentially volatile customers. The constant undercurrent of potential conflict adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety to the job. Agents may worry about verbal abuse, threats, or even physical harm, depending on the nature of the call center. This can have a significant impact on their mental well-being, making it difficult to focus on providing excellent customer service and leading to increased feelings of burnout. 

Fear not! There are steps call centers can take to mitigate these safety concerns and create a more secure work environment for their employees. Investing in de-escalation training equips agents with the skills to navigate difficult conversations and calm down irate customers. Additionally, clear company policies and procedures regarding abusive behavior empower agents to identify and report inappropriate interactions. Furthermore, some call centers implement technological safeguards like call recording and caller ID verification to deter harassment and protect their employees. 

By prioritizing agent safety and well-being, call centers can foster a more positive and productive work environment for everyone.

9. Lack of the Right Customer Service Technology

Technology can’t fully replace the human element in customer service. But the right technology can help call center agents to streamline their workflow and become more efficient and productive so that they can focus more on delivering the human touch in customer interactions.

An increasing number of call centers are incorporating customer service technologies like live chat, chatbots, and virtual help desks and assistants to winnow out callers with easily solvable issues, or to direct certain customers to other departments for more efficient handling. But even the most progressive contact centers can achieve greater efficiency by adopting AI-driven technologies — more on this in the next section!

Improve Call Center Mental Health with Unbiased Agent Feedback from Invoca

Conversation intelligence solutions like Invoca have a role to play in helping to ease call center anxiety and call center burnout among agents. Human bias in call scoring is a major source of frustration for call center agents. A sense of being treated unfairly contributes to stress, burnout, and greater attrition. But Invoca’s automated quality assurance (QA) feature, which uses AI, removes subjectivity and human bias from call scoring. Your agents get consistent, objective grades on their performance that you can use constructively as a manager to help them address weaknesses and adopt better call practices. And because Invoca seamlessly monitors and scores every call in the call center, you and your agents get a complete picture of performance — not a thumbnail sketch based on a small sample.

Sample Invoca agent scorecard generated by AI

Invoca gives you transcripts immediately after calls end, allowing you to highlight teaching moments. As a result, your agents can adapt their performance in real time to increase their effectiveness. You can also insert and timestamp kudos or coaching pointers directly into call transcripts for individual agents, or even the whole team, to view and learn from. Over time, this feature can help you create a knowledge base for continuous learning for your entire team and for onboarding new recruits effectively.

A higher level of coaching and a more precise and objective assessment of QA can help call center agents excel at their jobs — and confidently know that they’re hitting the mark or exactly how they can course-correct to improve. They will also be more motivated to keep raising the bar on their performance, helping to create a more positive and productive call center work environment overall. 

Issues of mental health and stress among call center employees are complex and serious, and technology won’t magically solve them. But using every available resource to reduce call center anxiety and call center burnout can help make the contact center workplace a more positive one for every agent — and manager.

Other Tips to Improve Your Call Center Team's Mental Health

We surveyed call center agents to find out how companies can better support their mental health. Here's what they suggested:

  • Work-Life Balance Initiatives: To combat stress and promote mental well-being, prioritize work-life balance by offering flexible schedules. This empowers employees to manage personal commitments and avoid feeling overwhelmed, fostering a healthier work-life dynamic. To further support their well-being, incorporate breaks dedicated to relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. These practices equip agents with tools to de-stress and recharge throughout the workday, ultimately boosting their resilience in a demanding role. 
  • Positive Reinforcement: Recognition and reward programs are crucial components of a supportive environment. By acknowledging employee achievements, you create a sense of value and boost morale, motivating staff and fostering a culture of positive reinforcement. Additionally, implement clear and consistent performance feedback processes focused on growth and development opportunities rather than just metrics. This two-way communication empowers agents to learn and improve, contributing to their overall job satisfaction and sense of purpose. 
  • Open Communication: Creating a safe space for open communication by encouraging employees to voice concerns and seek support is vital to maintaining your call center team's mental health. Open communication channels foster trust and belonging within the call center, allowing employees to feel comfortable expressing themselves. 

By implementing these strategies, you can cultivate a more positive and productive work environment, ultimately improving employee well-being and call center performance.

Additional Reading

Want to learn more about how Invoca can help you empower your contact center agents? Check out these resources:

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