How to Keep Help Desk Agents from Burning Out

Burnout. Maybe you’ve personally experienced burnout or know someone who has. Burnout leaves a person feeling exhausted and unmotivated. Sadly, it’s a far too common experience among help and service desk agents. And it’s one of the biggest concerns for any organization because it’s a major contributor to high turnover.  People who track turnover in the industry revealed that the average turnover is nearly 40% annually for help and service desk agents with the average agent staying only 2.5 years. 

This rate of turnover has negative implications. When a seasoned agent departs, so does their knowledge and experience. As an organization goes through the process of identifying, screening, recruiting, and training a new agent, existing agents are left to pick up the load. This creates additional stress on current agents and the system which potentially increases the opportunity to make mistakes. Losing agents costs your organization more than money, it impacts productivity and service quality! Replacing an agent ultimately will impact the bottom line.  

The Causes and Symptoms of Burnout for Agents

What is burnout and what causes it? Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, a psychologist and author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, defines burnout as a state of chronic stress.  She says that burnout leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment.  How do you know when an agent is possibly suffering from burnout?  A change in absenteeism, decreased adherence to policies and norms, and a drop in productivity can be signs of burnout.  The Well-Being Index found four  major causes of burnout all of which apply to employees:

  1. The work environment: This includes issues around management processes and style, hours, and workload, poor communication or lack of communication channels.
  2. Misalignment: This includes things such misalignment between expected vs. actual responsibilities, misalignment between the organization’s mission and the agent’s personal value. 
  3. Limited upper mobility. This includes things such as a lack of a career path or feeling there’s no future opportunities.
  4. Lack of recognition or appreciation.

Take Nine Actions To Reduce Burnout

There are numerous articles on the topic of addressing burnout.  In reviewing many of these, we found nine common themes that help reduce burnout.

  1. Unite your agents around your mission. Agents are more likely to be committed and focused on serving customers when they understand and embrace the mission.
  2. Give agents more control over how they work and empower them to solve customer problems. Hire people you believe can do the work and trust them accordingly. 
  3. Make it easy for agents to find the answers they need to support users and customers. Many tasks and customer inquiries are repetitive. A rich knowledge base can help make this work easier. 
  4. Frequently check in with your agents and provide feedback. Set aside time each day to talk with agents and explore where they need coaching.
  5. Encourage breaks and keep agent hours per week under 50. It is common for service and help desks to have a high volume of customer inquiries and needs which can leave agents feeling exhausted by the load. Numerous experts have found that every hour over 50 results in smaller and smaller output.
  6. Display your metrics. You’re more likely to retain agents when they know the outcomes and can “see” how their personal efforts contribute to the goals. Be generous with praise, credit, and recognition when they perform well. 
  7. Invest in training and coaching, especially coaching to manage stress. Agents primarily deal with complaints and problems all day long. This is stressful and stress is a major cause of burn out. Well-trained agents are less likely to make mistakes. 
  8. Make sure they have the tools and technology to do their job. Outdated or missing technology makes daily tasks harder. It’s crucial for help and service desks to have ticket management systems to support their work. 
  9. Provide a career path. Agents want to know that there are opportunities to advance if they perform well. 

Agents on the verge or experiencing burnout are not productive. Agent productivity is critical to the success of every help and service desk. When agents lose focus, they become less productive, are more inclined to make errors, and become more frustrated. Frustrated agents may be more negative which impacts morale and less motivated to help customers which can negatively impact the customer experience. Burnout has a snowball effect. These nine actions will help you be proactive and keep morale and productivity up. And just as important, keep your agents from blowing a fuse!

Filed under: Productivity