It's Time to Talk About Mental Health in Contact Centers

mental health in contact centers

I was mindful of burnout and morale when I managed a call center 20 years ago, but I didn't consider my employees' mental health. Or my mental health. Now that I know better, I want to help you do better than I did.

We must focus on mental health just as we watch metrics, attitudes, and adherence to policy. And we have to proactively and consistently support wellness and balance.

I'm writing this article from my patio, surrounded by birdsong and honeysuckle. One of the ways I ensure my wellness and balance is I take many escapes throughout the day. Between tasks and meetings, I'll walk barefoot to the mailbox, stretch out for ten minutes of yoga, meditate, and pray. These kinds of breaks aren't available to Contact Center Agents. But we have to do something to support contact center staff, so let's discuss what we can do.

Let's look at what's going on with mental health in contact centers, explore why it matters, and finally, make action plans for supporting mental health, wellness, and balance in the contact center.

Coffee and intention-setting from my patio this morning


Understanding the challenges faced by contact center agents

The best way to understand your team's challenges is to ask them—schedule time for open dialogue with your team. Ask them what they need you to know and how you can support them. Listen with the intent to understand. You must take action and follow up after your conversations.  

It can be emotionally and mentally exhausting for contact center agents to handle customer interactions, including inquiries, complaints, and technical support. Aside from this, they are often required to reach high customer satisfaction scores and meet sales quotas, among other challenging performance targets. There is a higher risk of developing mental health issues due to these factors.


One of the primary challenges contact center agents face is the repetitive nature of their work. Handling a high volume of calls, often dealing with similar issues, can lead to feelings of boredom and burnout. I know that agents want more autonomy and control over their work, as they must adhere to strict scripts and guidelines when interacting with customers. This lack of autonomy can contribute to feelings of helplessness and frustration, further exacerbating stress levels.


Another significant challenge contact center agents face the emotional toll of dealing with demanding customers. Agents often deal with customer frustrations, anger, and abuse, which can profoundly impact their mental well-being. Constant exposure to negative emotions and hostility can lead to emotional exhaustion and a higher risk of developing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.


The Impact of poor mental health on contact center performance

Poor mental health can severely affect the individual agent and the contact center. When agents struggle with mental health, they are more likely to experience decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and a higher risk of attrition. This can result in increased costs for the contact center and decreased customer satisfaction and overall performance.


Decreased productivity is a common consequence of poor mental health, as agents may struggle to maintain focus and concentration, leading to longer call handle times and increased call transfers. Agents experiencing mental health issues may be less able to empathize with customers, negatively impacting the quality of their customer interactions and potentially leading to lower customer satisfaction scores.


Absenteeism and attrition are also significant concerns for contact centers, as high levels of turnover can result in increased recruitment and training costs. Poor mental health contributes to absenteeism and attrition, with agents struggling with mental health issues more likely to take time off or leave their positions altogether. This can lead to understaffing and increased pressure on remaining agents, further exacerbating mental health issues within the contact center.


Recognizing signs of mental health issues in contact center agents


To effectively address mental health concerns in the contact center workplace, it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in agents. Early identification and intervention can help prevent these issues from escalating and negatively impacting the individual and the contact center's performance. Some common signs of mental health issues in contact center agents include:


  • Changes in behavior or mood, such as increased irritability, withdrawal, or frequent mood swings
  • Decreased productivity, including longer call handle times, increased call transfers, or a decline in customer satisfaction scores
  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness
  • A decline in personal grooming or appearance
  • Signs of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion, cynicism, or a reduced sense of personal accomplishment
  • Expressions of helplessness, hopelessness, or feelings of being overwhelmed


Contact center managers must be aware of these signs and take appropriate action when they notice an agent displaying symptoms of poor mental health. This may involve initiating a conversation with the agent to discuss their concerns, offering support and resources, or implementing strategies to address the underlying causes of the agent's stress and mental health issues.


Recognizing signs of burnout, which may or may not be related to mental health

  • Apathetic attitude toward customers. Has there been a recent change in the employee’s attitude toward customers? Apathy, rudeness, or a negative perception of customers may suggest the employee is less committed to providing exemplary customer service; less committed to the organization. 
  • Delays in customer response. Is it taking your employee(s) longer and longer to get back to waiting customers with a reply? This could suggest a lack of motivation or apathy.
  • Increase in tardiness and absenteeism. Has attendance become more of a challenge for an employee recently? This could be a symptom of dropped motivation, burnout, or apathy.
  • Substandard performance. Do you find some employees bored with their work, no longer pulling their fair share, and needing help starting projects? Drops in performance can be due to a need for coaching or training, but it can also be a symptom of burnout.
  • Increase in average talk times. Believe it or not, this might suggest that employees spend more time with pleasant customers to avoid that next call from a potentially difficult customer. This avoidance behavior is a red flag for burnout.
  • Decline in motivation. If you find that it’s harder and harder to motivate staff or that they seem to lack self-motivation, this could alert you to burnout.

Risk factors such as those listed above do not necessarily mean your employees are burnt out or on the verge of quitting. You can, however, take proactive measures before problems arise.


Creating a supportive work environment for mental health


A supportive work environment is crucial for promoting mental health in the contact center workplace. By fostering a culture of mental health awareness, contact center managers can help agents feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns and seeking support when needed. Some critical elements of a supportive work environment for mental health include:


  • Encouraging open communication: Create an environment where agents feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns and seeking support. This can be achieved by promoting a culture of openness and understanding, encouraging agents to share their experiences, and providing a safe space for agents to discuss their concerns without fear of judgment or negative consequences.
  • Providing resources and support: Offer resources and support for agents struggling with mental health issues, such as access to counseling services, mental health workshops, or stress management techniques. Providing agents with the tools and support they need to manage their mental health can help prevent issues from escalating and negatively impacting their performance and well-being.
  • Implementing mental health-friendly policies: Develop and implement policies that promote mental health in the contact center workplace, such as flexible working arrangements, adequate break times, and opportunities for personal and professional development. These policies can help reduce stress and improve overall mental well-being for contact center agents.


Create a Decompression Room

When my daughter was in college and working as an ambassador for new-student orientation, she Face-Timed me from a "Decompression Room" on campus after a stressful event. We discussed her issue, and when she was feeling better, I asked, "Where are you?" My daughter explained, "I came to our decompression room, where students can come and debrief after a tough interaction or stressful day."

I'd not heard of such a room and asked for a FaceTime tour. The room had two massage chairs, bean bags, kinetic sand, fidget toys, and open space. What a brilliant idea!

Since my daughter gave me a tour of her campus decompression room, I've seen several such rooms in my client's offices. If you don't have a decompression room in your contact center, create the physical space, then make space for your employees to de-escalate when pressure mounts up.

Decompression rooms aren't for daily breaks, conversations, or eating. The purpose is to decompress, balance, and rebound after stressful interactions.


Share LinkedIn Learning Meditation Videos 

Gather your team to learn meditation techniques or share links to videos. Meditation is a great way to combat stress and anxiety. Learning breathing meditation techniques as a team can be fun! Search Meditation on LinkedIn. Here's a fantastic course to start with: Meditation and Sleep.

Practical strategies for promoting mental health in the contact center


In addition to creating a supportive work environment, contact center managers can implement several practical strategies to promote mental health and well-being among their agents. Some of these strategies include:


  • Providing regular feedback and recognition: Regular feedback and praise can help agents feel valued and appreciated for their hard work, boosting their self-esteem and contributing to a more positive work environment. This can be achieved through formal and informal feedback channels, such as performance reviews, team meetings, or simply acknowledging an agent's achievements in day-to-day interactions.
  • Offering opportunities for growth and development: Providing agents with opportunities for growth and development can help combat feelings of stagnation and boredom, contributing to a more engaged and motivated workforce. Consider offering regular training, coaching, mentoring opportunities, and career advancement opportunities within the contact center.
  • Encouraging work-life balance: Promoting a healthy work-life balance is essential for maintaining mental well-being among contact center agents. Encourage agents to take regular breaks, avoid working excessive overtime, and engage in activities outside of work that promote relaxation and stress reduction.


Implementing mental health training and resources for agents


Training can be crucial in promoting mental health awareness and equipping agents with the tools and resources to manage their mental health effectively. Consider implementing mental health training programs for both agents and supervisors, focusing on topics such as:


  • Mental health awareness: Educate agents on the importance of mental health, the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, and the Impact of poor mental health on the individual and the contact center's performance. It's best to bring in a mental health professional for this education. 
  • Stress management techniques: Provide agents with practical strategies for managing stress, such as mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques (my favorite), or time management skills. Encourage agents to practice these techniques regularly to help reduce stress and improve overall mental well-being.
  • Resilience-building strategies: Equip agents with the tools they need to build resilience and cope with the challenges and stressors of the contact center environment. This may include techniques such as setting realistic expectations, developing problem-solving skills, and fostering a positive mindset.


Encouraging open communication and mental health awareness


Open communication and mental health awareness are essential for creating a supportive work environment and promoting mental health in the contact center workplace. Encourage agents to speak openly about their mental health concerns and share their experiences, fostering a culture of understanding and empathy. Additionally, consider implementing mental health awareness campaigns or events to raise awareness of mental health issues and promote a supportive work environment.


Measuring the success of mental health initiatives in the contact center


To evaluate the effectiveness of mental health initiatives in the contact center, it is essential to establish clear metrics and regularly assess progress. Some potential metrics for measuring the success of mental health initiatives include:


  • Employee engagement and satisfaction: Regularly survey agents to gauge their engagement and satisfaction with their work environment, including their perception of mental health support and available resources.
  • Absenteeism and attrition rates: Monitor absenteeism and attrition rates to assess the Impact of mental health initiatives on employee well-being and retention.
  • Productivity and performance: Evaluate changes in productivity and performance metrics, such as call handle times, customer satisfaction scores, and sales quotas, to determine the Impact of mental health initiatives on overall contact center performance.


By regularly assessing the success of mental health initiatives, contact center managers can identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions about the best strategies for promoting mental health in their workplace.


Conclusion and next steps for contact center mental health promotion


Promoting mental health in the contact center workplace is essential to ensure agents' well-being and maintain customer service. The contact center manager can contribute to the organization's success by fostering a culture of mental health awareness, recognizing the signs of poor mental health, and implementing strategies to promote a supportive work environment.

As a next step, you should consider evaluating your current workplace environment and the mental health support and resources available to your agents. Work with your workforce to identify areas for improvement and implement strategies to promote mental health and well-being. You can contribute to your organization's long-term success by prioritizing mental health in the contact center, resulting in a more engaged, productive, and satisfied team.

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