Call Center Burnout: What It Is & How to Tackle It

Bhavna Gupta

Issac Thomas

June 10, 20247 min read

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Call center agents are at the end of their tether. With a short shelf life (20-34 years) in an emotionally taxing, numbers-driven ecosystem, support agents are struggling to keep their heads above water. Believe it or not, the happy, helpful and positive persona of agents conceals the angst and frustration they never speak of. As much as you deny believing it, call center burnout is real.

Sounds dramatic?

It really is not. The latest report by CMP, a marketing intelligence firm for the customer management domain, recognizes call center stress syndrome as a top priority for contact center leaders in 2023-24. Call center stress syndrome results from chronic workplace stress and, if not managed efficiently, manifests in the form of low productivity, persistent exhaustion, absenteeism and churn in the worst cases.

The situation is grim, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Call center burnout can be combated and controlled with timely intervention and systemic changes at the agent, supervisor and executive levels.

What gets defined gets managed. So, let’s start by defining the concept of call center burnout, its origin, impact and solutions. Read on.

Table of Contents

What is call center burnout, really?

Call center burnout is a syndrome found in call center professionals who experience chronic work-related stress for long periods of time. The stress stems from workplace factors such as unclear roles/expectations, skewed work-life balance and other variables that are not successfully managed.

International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

Call center burnout can lead to persistent feelings of negativity, anxiety and depression that culminate in low agent productivity and morale. Left unattended, it can snowball into physical conditions like headache, palpitation, panic attack and heart failure.

The WHO formally recognized and defined “burnout” in 2019, calling it an occupational condition typically experienced by caregivers. Call center agents were not included in burnout conversations until the pandemic. That was a time when home-bound customers tested the limits and patience of call center agents reportedly on the verge of depression and breakdown.

Frustrated customers yelled and hammered call center agents grappling with endless tickets, wafer-thin service level agreements (SLAs), poor incentives and indifferent managers. It was the breeding ground for call center burnout and the “Great Resignation.” And it set off a dreadful self-feeding cycle. High workplace stress caused call center attrition, exposing remaining agents to the stress and more burnout.

Like it or not, call center burnout is here to stay.

Customer support jobs ask for emotional labor. To keep up an empathetic, beaming presence in front of apathetic customers is not easy. It becomes more challenging in a results-driven, fast-paced environment where call center KPIs mean everything. The monotonous nature of the job adds to agent's woes. Most agents succumb to the pressure and wither under contact center burnout.

How call center burnout impacts your business

As stated, most contact center leaders are keen to cap the burnout problem, but just 32% are actually measuring burnout rates rigorously, per the CMP research above. These leaders are sitting on a ticking time bomb, to put it mildly.

Besides attrition, here's how call center burnout impacts your business.

  • Low CSAT and lost revenue: Desk burnout can erode agent productivity, setting off a culture of dissatisfaction that trickles down to customer interactions. Poor customer experience invariably leads to low customer satisfaction, damaged brand reputation and potential PR backlash.

💡 Pro tip: Today, you can predict CSAT with automated omnichannel survey software that can analyze customer sentiment and emotion in real-time across all channels so the agents can control conversations better.

Take a look at Sprinklr’s predicted CSAT dashboard below. It assigns an experience score to every feedback and indicates positive, negative and neutral sentiment using color coding 👇

image (28)

  • Negative PR: One negative customer review can turn off tons of potential customers, prospects and leads. That means all your investment in product, marketing and sales goes down the drain because you didn't prioritize agent happiness. And needless to say, fixing negative PR is a time-consuming process.

  • Unforced errors and escalations: In an environment where agents know they are being timed and monitored and mishaps would incur heavy penalties, unforced errors are bound to creep in. Resolution rates take a hit, escalations multiply and your customer service metrics can be severely impacted.

78% of people have backed out of an intended purchase after encountering a negative experience with the concerned brand. 

  • Rehiring and training costs: To replace churned agents, you would need to hire and train new agents, which is a huge cost in itself. Plus, the existing workforce is overstretched while the new agents ramp up. There’s also the matter of opportunity costs on account of your lost experienced agents.

    Must Read: The Call Center Guide to Agent Retention 

Signs of call center burnout

Fatigued agents may appear lackluster, dismissive and rude at times. Other signs that can help call center managers and supervisors diagnose burnout early are:

  • Energy depletion - Exhausted agents function at lower than usual levels and find trouble responding to stimuli.

  • Disconnect from work and colleagues - Demotivated agents tend to isolate themselves and show hostility towards teammates and callers.

  • Low output and efficiency - Overworked agents find it harder to concentrate, leading to extended resolution times for routine issues, ultimately affecting their performance.

  • Negative feelings about self and work - All of the above culminates into low employee morale, unexplained leaves, sick calls and eventual churn.

According to a Gallup study on Employee Burnout, a fatigued agent is:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick leave

  • 13% less confident in their work performance

  • 6 times more likely to be actively seeking a different job

  • 50% less likely to discuss performance goals with their managers.

Which type of people tend to experience it?

To be fair, professionals from all walks of life experience work stress and burnout. However, some groups are more vulnerable. Let's check them out.

1. Gen Z and Millenials

Gen Z and millennials have grown up with high expectations from their parents to excel. Moreover, the fear of job loss, the impact of pandemic-induced economic imbalances and hiring freezes have further heightened anxiety and stress levels within this age group.

The insecurities coupled with the never-ending pressure of call centers have made Gen Z and millennials extremely susceptible to call center burnout.

2. Women (and men too)

While call center burnout affects individuals regardless of gender, women are more prone to experiencing it due to societal and familial responsibilities. Women are inherently empathetic and possess a strong sense of responsibility, qualities that align naturally with the customer service landscape.

However, dealing with indifferent (and, at times, abusive) customers and their escalating expectations, can take a toll on the mental well-being of both women and their male counterparts, leading to call center burnout and subsequent turnover.

3. People with a perfectionist approach

Perfection is often lauded and, at times, even rewarded. Yet, it's crucial to understand that in pursuing perfection, call center agents with a perfectionist mindset may overlook that customer service is rapidly evolving and highly demanding. There will always be room for improvement.

Consequently, in the quest for perfection, agents can exhaust themselves both physically and emotionally, ultimately falling victim to call center burnout.

It's essential to understand that the agents we refer to here are often your star performers or those who relish challenging themselves. Establishing a culture that celebrates small achievements and prioritizes agent happiness is imperative to support and protect them.

Suggested read: How to manage call-center Stress and Become a Happier Agent

Ways to manage call center burnout

No doubt, burnout is a serious problem ailing call centers. Environmental changes can bring respite. So can timely detection of burnout and stress-coping mechanisms. Let’s discuss these in detail.

1. Catch burnout early

Recognizing call center burnout takes a keen eye as well as empathy. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Before it blows over, it shows up in micro-moments when an agent feels:

  • micro-managed

  • overwhelmed with excessive work

  • marginalized owing to gender, color, bias, etc

  • Cut off from peers

As a supervisor/manager, reflect back on unusual patterns in your agents’ behavior and demeanor. Are they argumentative without any trigger? Are they slacking off from work too often? Have they been missing from team huddles or evading work?

These could be early signs of call or contact center burnout. As a contact center or call center leader, you need to understand that an empathetic outlook towards your agents and supervisors can give them a safe space to express their tribulations. This way, you can collectively avert burnout and call center attrition as a team.

Do Capacity Planning: Nip Burnout in the Bud

Workforce management in call centers (WFM) is one of the best ways to avoid agent burnout. It helps supervisors plan staffing in advance based on historical trends so the call center is never under-staffed and work is distributed evenly.

The result? Happy agents and happier managers!

Use a robust workforce management tool that uses AI to forecast capacity days in advance. Your agents don’t feel the heat even in peak traffic or seasonal surges, managing their workload with a smile 😊

Sprinklr’s WFM is AI-powered and allows agents to: 

  • Schedule breaks and time-off 

  • Bid for favorite shifts 

  • Monitor well-being and compliance 

Sprinklr's call center workforce management software uses AI for capacity planning

As supervisors, you get 2x higher agent productivity with 30% less administrative workload by leveraging the power of Sprinklr AI. Give it a try. It’s free for 30 days!


2. Avoid micromanagement

The performance of call center agents is evaluated by the quantity of tickets they resolve and the efficiency with which they close them. Everything from their leaves to washroom breaks are under the scanner, which is enough micromanagement as it is.

In such a numbers-driven model, good agents can feel underappreciated and distrusted. Micromanagers worsen the stress with their hawk-eyed monitoring and constant demands for updates. Without realizing it, they default to controlling more than work-related KPIs, which induces stress in call center agents.

3. Clarify roles and expectations

Lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities is a common reason responsible for call center agent stress. Hire the right people and train rigorously in technical and soft skills so they are better equipped to handle their daily tasks efficiently. On top of that, offer real-time coaching and support to combat stress and anxiety during live interactions.

Transparency in career paths fosters trust towards the leadership team and gives call center agents something to strive for amidst all the chaos.

 🙇 Management hack

To guard against personal bias in the workspace, encourage your managers to leverage AI-powered agent performance scorecards. They pinpoint strengths and improvement areas objectively, keeping subjectivity out of the equation and agent well-being at the core.

Call center agent scorecard powered by Sprinklr

4. Invest in agent-assist technology

Automating mundane tasks in your call center using the agent assist technology is possible It allows your agents to focus on more engaging, cognitive tasks and view their job as solution providers rather than mere ticket handlers.

To put it simply, agent assist encompasses AI-powered tools that augment agent capabilities by giving them smart responses and next best actions. They also summarize case notes and after-call work that eats up so much of an agent’s time. The end result is a more happy and productive agent miles away from call center burnout.

Agent assist software powered by Sprinklr AI

How Sprinklr helps combat call center burnout with AI & automation

As much as it hurts to say, even in the age of AI, call center burnout is common and here to stay. Also, it’s essential to understand that customers don’t cause call center burnout. They only make it worse. It’s up to you how you recruit, train and manage the stress levels of your agents.

The next time you complain of unproductive agents and high attrition in your call center, remember there is a smart customer support solution called Sprinklr Service to help you. Harnessing the power of AI and automation, Sprinklr can quantify agent performance in clear terms, spot disengaged agents and recommend tailored coaching programs to ensure agents stay productive and happy.

Not convinced? Then, try Sprinklr Service for free or schedule a demo with our experts today.

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Related Topics

How to manage call-center stress and become a happier agentHow to Motivate Call Center Agents: 11 TipsThe call center guide to agent retention