How to avoid employee burnout in customer support

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Picture of Darragh O'Sullivan

Darragh O’Sullivan , Marketing

Employee burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress in the workplace. It is often characterised by a lack of motivation or energy to perform tasks. Burnout can lead to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and feelings of isolation and disengagement from colleagues and work. It is a common problem in high-pressure work environments like customer support, and can be caused by a range of factors. These include heavy workloads, long hours, lack of autonomy, and poor job fit, among other factors.

Burnout can be very dangerous at the individual and organisational level and it has a profoundly negative effect on the mental and physical health of customer support agents (we call them surfers). As customer support teams are on the frontline and represent the company externally, surfers tend to be under a lot of pressure. It’s particularly important for support leaders to be aware of burnout, and take steps to proactively mediate any potential negative impacts it might have on the team.  

As a customer support leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure your team remains motivated and productive. On a more human level, you’re responsible for ensuring your team is healthy and happy while they’re at work. In this blog post, we’ll provide some actionable tips for customer support leaders, helping you prevent your surfers from experiencing burnout. 

1. Create a collaborative work environment

We spend the majority of our time working. Whether that’s sitting alongside our teammates in the office, working remotely, or both. The work environment plays a significant role in the mental health and overall wellbeing of any team. In customer support it’s arguably more important due to the stress surfers can often feel. 

Creating a positive work environment involves fostering a culture of collaboration, connection, and support. With remote work and geographically distributed teams, it can sometimes be more difficult to encourage your team to connect with one another. In a remote or hybrid working environment, it’s important for support leaders to provide the necessary tools and resources for teams to be able to connect with each other. 

Communication tools like Slack are a great way to foster connections among a support team. Slack messaging allows surfers to stay in touch throughout the day (you can see the Surfboard x Slack integration in action below).

2. Set clear expectations and goals

Clear expectations and goals are critical for the cohesion of a customer support team. Ensure your team members have a clear understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations. Set realistic and achievable goals and provide regular feedback on their progress. This not only helps surfers stay focused on achieving their targets, but provides them with structure and clarity.

Slack notifications enable you to keep the team on track against their activities (emails, calls, training, etc.). It’s a subtle, non-intrusive way of keeping teams on track toward SLAs while providing them with a daily guide as to what tasks & activities they need to be working on at a specific time.

surfboard for slack integration showing notifcations

3. Promote work-life balance

Flexible working represents an alternative to the traditional working week of going to the office from 9-5. It includes working remotely, hybrid working, compressed hours, part-time work, job sharing, flexibility around start and end times (also called flexitime), and generally, any shift pattern that suits the individual needs of an employee.

As a support team leader, one of the best things you can do to reduce burnout is to accommodate flexible working. Allowing surfers to fit work around their lives, and not the other way around, is an increasingly important part of managing a support team. 

Flexible working promotes a healthier work-life balance, supports people’s personal needs, and increases surfer happiness. From an organisational standpoint, flexible working increases productivity, reduces turnover, and allows teams to increase their coverage of support hours, helping more customers in the process. 

Surfboard supports flexible working though our shift pattern builder (screenshot below), which allows support managers to build a customisable shift based on the unique needs of their team, even taking timezones, round robin scheduling, and different styles of working into account.

4. Provide training and development opportunities for your team

Burnout can be exasperated by a lack of training or knowledge. The feeling of imposter syndrome (feeling like you’re not good enough or don’t deserve to be where you are) can add to what is already a stressful role. 

To avoid this, support leaders need to provide ample opportunity for their teams to learn and develop new skills. You can encourage continuous learning by providing access to training and development programs, conferences, workshops, courses, and co-learning with other teams within the organisation. This not only improves a surfer’s skills and knowledge, but allows them to feel engaged and motivated in their role. 

5. Recognise and reward team members

Everyone likes being recognised for a job well done. Recognising and rewarding team members is such an important part of being a support team leader. It motivates and engages surfers, and along with a strong training program, encourages them to keep developing and building on their strengths. 

Small wins should be celebrated with just as much fanfare as the big ones. Celebrate your teams’ successes and achievements, and give praise as openly and often as possible. 

Additionally, providing incentives such as bonuses, promotions, or other perks to recognise exceptional performance helps to develop a healthier team culture. Recognition of a job well done is great, but sometimes performance based incentives are just as important. It will often depend on the types of personalities you have in your team. 

6. Remember that your team are people, not resources

For many people working in customer support, the workforce management systems they are trained to use track their time on calls, emails, training, meetings, etc. This tracks performance against SLAs, and can be used to generate reports for performance meetings. Systems like these seem like good idea in theory. 

Unfortunately, they also track the amount of time surfers take for things like personal conversations, breaks after an emotionally difficult customer interaction, or even time taken to use the restroom. 

What happens in support teams that use workforce management systems like these are that surfers are punished for being human.

Extra time used to recover from a stressful call or to deal with a personal matter don’t show up in performance reports. A system that treats people like resources is, by nature, inherently flawed. 

Don’t use a workforce management system that punishes your team and treats them like resources, use Surfboard and empower them to be more human.

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