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The Occupational Phenomenon Everyone is Talking About: Workplace Burnout

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Skyler Place

It should come as no surprise that work can be draining – tasks to prioritize, daily challenges, unforeseen roadblocks to solve – after all, we are just human. But, when the World Health Organization announced that burnout was officially an occupational syndrome, conversations around the topic exploded and for good reason. 


According to David Ballard of the American Psychological Association’s Office, humans are able to handle stress in short bursts. However, if we experience stress for an elongated period of time, we become prone to burnout. While we are all susceptible, call center agents are even more so at risk. In fact, in the U.S. alone, call center agents account for nearly 5 million workers who on a daily basis, engage with customers who are often frustrated or highly emotional, creating a work environment that can often lead agents to feel a lack of support and control. 


Breaking Down Burnout


To truly understand burnout and how it develops, the World Health Organization has characterized it into three dimensions. Here’s how each dimension ties to the call center community: 


Feelings of Energy Depletion or Exhaustion

Even for the most seasoned phone professionals, daily conversation hearing about a family’s house burning down, a car being stolen or the need for an unexpected surgery – all situations that an agent may connect with a customer on – also carry an emotional burden that can be extremely draining. In fact, a recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes. In a call center, burnout and churn are on the rise and many organizations can experience churn of greater than 50 percent. 


Increased Mental Distance from One’s Job

The majority of agents’ time is spent talking on the phone with customers, hearing the problems they are enduring. Continually hearing these problems can cause agents to be emotionally overwhelmed and distant as they try to remove themselves from the situations at hand. In addition to the emotional aspect agents face, repeating the same mundane tasks – day in and day out – can result in mental distance. This type of consistent repetitiveness removes the need for creativity and interpersonal or soft skills and can drive agents to distance themselves from work because it. 


Reduce Professional Efficacy

Agents need emotional support, as they deal with varying levels of stress and emotions on a daily basis. This, from a management perspective, coupled with the lack of behavioral insights from calls reduces a manager’s ability to effectively manage, reducing professional efficacy. Managers at call centers must be able to provide useful feedback to agents in order to improve overall customer service and the outcome of calls. However, this requires managers to have tools that can help monitor performance, including emotional insights, which is often not the case. 


How Artificial Intelligence Plays a Role


Today’s advancements in technology are positively changing the course of burnout by guiding and coaching employees through situations and augmenting their natural abilities. 


Cogito’s AI is being used by some of the world’s top companies like MetLife and Humana to enhance employee engagement, improve customer experience and to provide a more emotionally intelligent and empathetic workplace. The prompts Cogito presents lead to positive behavior change that helps the agent, the customer and drives operational value for the organization. This win-win-win comes from applying behavioral science in a way that can reduce burnout while increasing value. This is an ideal application for AI – augmenting humans in ways that increase their quality of life, providing personalized in-the-moment guidance, and helping their organizations to be leaders in the market. 


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