How to avoid employee burnout in customer support

customer service burnout
Written by:
Picture of Natasha Ratanshi-Stein

Natasha Ratanshi-Stein , Founder & CEO

Employee burnout harms productivity big time. It makes employees quit faster.

Burnout is a common problem in high-pressure work environments like customer support and can be caused by various factors. These include heavy workloads, long hours, lack of autonomy, and poor job fit, among other factors.

Burnout in call centres can be dangerous at both the individual and organisational levels, and it has a profound 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 pressure. It’s vital for support leaders to be aware of burnout and take proactive steps to mitigate any potential negative impacts it might have on the team.  

In this blog post, we’ll provide some actionable tips for customer support leaders, helping you prevent burnout in customer service. 

What is call centre burnout?

Employee burnout in a call centre 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. 

WHO breaks down employee burnout as: “Burn-out is a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Here are a few call centre burnout symptoms to help you identify employee burnout early.

Physical symptoms Behavioural symptoms Mental symptoms
Fatigue and exhaustion Withdrawal from responsibilities Increased negativity and cynicism
Sleep disturbances Decreased productivity Decreased motivation and energy
Weakened immune system Reduced engagement with coworkers Sense of isolation
Changes in eating habits Increased absenteeism Decreased self-esteem

Why should you be concerned about customer service burnout?

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. 

Customer service burnout can impact your bottom line ROI. Here are a few effects of employee burnout and the possible reasons behind them.

Result Reason
Reduced productivity Developed lethargy leading to an inactive brain and disinterested mindset.
Increased absenteeism Weakened immune system due to stress.
Feeling of isolation Lack of time for hobbies and family/social life.
High levels of anxiety Lack of control over life and time, and disengagement from colleagues and work.

Burnout differs from general fatigue as it overwhelms individuals with continuous physical and emotional exhaustion. This feeling persists despite taking breaks and vacations, leaving people tired most of the time.

When leaders promptly identify the warning signs during the stages of stress and burnout, they significantly increase the chances of assisting their team in mitigating stress at an earlier stage. This proactive approach ensures breaking the stress cycle that ultimately culminates in burnout.

Conditions that cause employee burnout

Organisational conditions that can potentially lead to burnout in customer service include:

  • Insufficient rewards or recognition for employee efforts.
  • Overly strict, outdated policies, fast-paced work, and constant supervision or micromanagement. This takes away an employee’s sense of control over their work.
  • Unclear expectations and job responsibilities, coupled with conflicts, make it challenging for employees to be productive.
  • The absence of supportive or well-connected work groups blocks employees from accessing essential information to deal with the aforementioned conditions.

How to prevent employee burnout?

Prevention is better than cure. Here are some ways to avoid customer service burnout.

1. Create a collaborative work environment

You spend most of your time working. Whether that’s sitting alongside your teammates in the office, working remotely, or both. The work environment plays a significant role in any team’s mental health and overall well-being. It’s arguably more important in customer support 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, encouraging your team to connect can sometimes be more difficult. In a remote or hybrid working environment, support leaders need to provide the necessary tools and resources for teams to be able to connect. 

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, helping you avoid employee burnout.

Here is what the Surfboard x Slack integration in action looks like.

2. Leaders must take charge

As a customer support leader, it is crucial to recognise the potential for burnout and proactively address its negative impacts on the team.

Here’s what leaders can do to prevent burnout.

  • Set aside assumptions and ask important questions about the surfer’s job role, workload, and challenges. Asking open-ended questions can help determine the real reasons behind the situation. 
  • Provide ample opportunity for the teams to learn and develop new skills. Encourage continuous learning by providing access to training and development programmes, conferences, workshops, courses, and co-learning with other teams within the organisation. This improves a surfer’s skills and knowledge and makes them feel engaged and motivated. 
  • Conduct one-on-one feedback sessions and surveys for course correction and improvement. Constructive feedback enables employees to identify and rectify performance issues early on, preventing the accumulation of stress and dissatisfaction.
  • Moreover, frequent feedback fosters stronger relationships between employees and their supervisors or managers. Open communication and trust in these relationships create a supportive work environment, helping to reduce burnout triggers.

3. Set clear expectations and goals

Setting clear expectations and goals is one of the trusted ways to prevent customer service agent burnout. Ensure your team members clearly understand their roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations. Set realistic and achievable goals and provide regular feedback on their progress. 

Slack notifications enable you to keep the team on track with 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 work on at a specific time.

surfboard for slack integration showing notifcations

4. Promote work-life balance

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 through 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 working styles into account.

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 programme, 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 a good idea in theory. 

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

In support teams that use workforce management systems like these, surfers are punished for being human.

Extra time used to recover from a stressful call or deal with a personal matter doesn’t appear 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.

Bring it all together with Surfboard

Tackle burnout before it starts. One of the most effective preventive measures is to use optimal workforce management and scheduling software. 

Surfboard’s key features, including intraday scheduling, forecasting, channel-based staffing calculations, shift planning, and time off integrations, have enabled several companies to optimise their team’s productivity and meet service level targets.

For instance, Surfboard helped Butternut Box, a pet food subscription company, save over 5 hours per week on scheduling, thereby promoting work-life balance for the surfers involved. 

Book a demo to find out if Surfboard is the workforce scheduling software you need.


What is the burnout rate of customer service?

According to a study, burnout in customer service is concerning, with 74% of call centre agents being at risk for burnout. Among them, 30% face a severe risk of burnout, highlighting the importance of addressing this issue to protect the well-being of customer service professionals.

Why is it exhausting to work in customer service?

Working in customer service is exhausting due to constant interaction with diverse and sometimes demanding customers. Handling challenging enquiries, managing complaints, and striving to meet high expectations can lead to emotional strain and stress. The repetitive nature of the job and limited control over outcomes further contribute to exhaustion.

What percentage of customers leave because of bad service?

According to Forbes, a staggering 96% of customers are likely to leave a business if they encounter a bad customer experience. This highlights the critical role of providing excellent service to retain customers and avoid losing them to competitors.

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