Call Center Burnout - the Reality and the Myths

article by Niels Kjellerup, editor & Senior Partner of Resource International.

The fact that the concept of Burnout has crept into Call Center lingo and become an accepted fact of daily life in most Call Centers, indicates the level of ignorance and lack of sustainable performance standards used to manage Call Centers. The Burnout concept is too often embraced and used by Management to hide underlying operational weaknesses and lack of strategic focus.

Burnout means " no more to give, no energy left and no hope of change in my current situation". It also implies a management view that an individual is an energy source to be fully extracted and that a person is a commodity, just like a chair or a PC. It indicates a lack of leadership role to provide hope, purpose and direction for the staff and it is probably one of the true reasons Unions exists, ie to provide employee protection against managers who view staff as something (not someone) to be emptied of energy and discarded.

What Burnout really means is Management failure. Failure to make the work meaningful, rewarding, failing to set achievable goals, failure to inspire, failure to share a vision, failure to measure how much vision we achieved today by breaking the Call Center purpose into slices that can be measured and worked towards, failure to reward production and worst of all, failure to take action against non-production and non achievers. Basically Burnout is the symptom of a Call Center Management which is not showing the staff what is wanted and what is not wanted, and not helping achievers become greater achievers and allowing under performers to go unnoticed.

So why come down so heavy on Burnout ? Because it is the single most important indicator that the Call Center has lost its Vision. Ask yourself, how can demoralised staff provide meaningful interaction with your Customers leading to more Customer interaction and revenue for your company ? But, you say, we are only measured on how many calls we take and cost. Sorry, you’re running a Galley-slave.. lacking integration with the Company’s business purpose, which I’m sure is NOT to run up phone bills, unless you’re a Phone company.

Lack of Burnout should be a key operational benchmark of your Call Center.

Losing staff. There is absolutely no disgrace in having measurements and performance standards in place which quickly identify’s under performers, in fact unless you have such performance indicators you cannot identify your High performers either. What you do with under performing people is what counts. Re-training, coaching, twin-systems all help you to make the decision of when to let a person go. But Burnout implies the person had something to offer in the first place, but ran out of energy... It’s not your under performers who burn out, but those valuable staff who had something to offer.

Burnout is not a natural event.

I’m sure nobody included it in your job description, if you ever had one, but People Management is an important ingredient of your job. How to motivate and inspire people to give more of themselves. Professor Fredrick Hertzberg's article "One more Time: How do you motivate your employees?" Published by Harvard Business Review 1967, it is still one of the most popular reprints ever.

( for more People Management & Herzberg on motivation )


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