Combatting workplace stress with culture and technology

Brian Atkinson at Five9 explores the strategies that can prevent employee burnout

Contact centres employ over 1 million people in the UK. During the pandemic, this vital workforce proved itself as the frontline of customer communications. Unfortunately, this pressure has resulted in 83% of employees experiencing burnout, an increasingly widespread and serious mental health issue linked to work. Employers have a huge role in preventing and supporting employees at risk of burnout.

The experience of contact centre employees echoes that of many other industries – increased workloads, increased complexity, and a huge cultural shift to working from home. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, the pandemic has more than doubled the number of difficult calls agents receive. As a result, the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) recently reported an average agent turnover rate of 58%. Increased workload during the pandemic was the top reason for this attrition.

Many sectors have suffered higher attrition. The ‘Great Resignation’, coined to describe the swathes of employees who have decided to re-evaluate their work-lives, has hit vital industries, from contact centres to hospitality and healthcare. The contact agent experience provides a distilled insight into how employees have reacted to these issues and how employers can better support them.

Get a grip on reality

No problem can be solved without data. You need evidence of what is really going on to address it. Therefore, access to performance data and two-way feedback is crucial for both agents and supervisors. Now, technology makes access to real-time and historical data easy and digestible, providing visibility for supervisors and managers into individual agent performance. Supervisors can quickly pinpoint who might need support and coaching or where recognition is deserved.

Data can help managers drill down into problem areas, uncover reasons for rewards and recognition, and establish genuine, personal connections with employees. Managers can detect emerging issues early, while data-based decision making ensures actions are focused where they have the most impact.

Similarly, agents can be motivated by positive incentives driven by data. For example, technology enables gamification strategies that provide sustainable, dynamic ways to incentivize employees with rewards they want. Gamification can create a sense of healthy competition and interaction among agents, and keep them motivated wherever they are located. Agents can compete in a variety of ways to win both virtual and real-life prizes, and supervisors can reward continued learning and positive behaviour. Such data-driven, tech-enabled strategies can help create a positive work environment that engenders camaraderie and loyalty.

Address the frustration of tedious tasks

According to ICMI’s research, lacking the necessary tools to perform effectively, along with repetitive, monotonous tasks, had the most significant negative impact on agent performance. Further studies show that over 40% of employees spend at least a quarter of their time handling manual and repetitive tasks. While not all such tasks can be eliminated, they can be curtailed.

Technology such as machine learning, AI, and workflow automation is increasingly eliminating such repetitive, unfulfilling tasks. This enables employees to focus on more fulfilling work, improving job satisfaction and productivity.

Further, giving employees the space and time to focus on more complex tasks gives them the chance to shine. Over a third of contact centre attrition is attributed to a lack of growth and advancement opportunities. For example, turning basic interactions over to virtual agents in the contact centre enables live agents to focus more energy on the higher-value interactions, where they can apply their critical thinking skills and human touch. This can help create career growth opportunities and mitigate a top cause of attrition.

Automating repetitive and mundane tasks provides for a better employee experience and ultimately leads to better, faster, more accurate customer service experiences.

Don’t let being apart put you out of touch

The foundation of positive employee experiences is communication. It’s not rocket science that engagement improves when employees feel in the loop, assured they are essential and valued to the organisation. Managers and supervisors can create transparency through communication, even where employees work remotely. Technology is making timely and personalised employee communication, even at a distance, a high-quality employee experience.

For example, smart employee dashboards offer two-way communication tools that can provide insight into employee satisfaction and help managers find opportunities to reach out to employees consistently, which makes them feel noticed and heard. The more employees feel they’re included in important conversations, and that their voices are heard, the more likely they’ll remain loyal. Providing easy, instant and personal ways to communicate, wherever employees might be working, can make the difference between engaged employees and those left feeling they have to go it alone.

Balance digital transformation with transformational leadership 

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating digital transformation, businesses that pay close attention to how technology can enhance employees’ experience will reap the rewards of a loyal, engaged workforce. In turn, this can only positively impact customer experience.

However, technology is not a panacea. Employee experience starts at the top. Leaders have an instrumental role to play in setting the right culture in which technology can be deployed to support engagement and employee experience strategies.

No technology can undo a toxic work culture that treats employees as disposable. However, equipping employees with the right tools, resources, and knowledge is mission-critical, and technology can answer a myriad of challenges that culture alone cannot.


Brian Atkinson is General Manager and Vice President EMEA at Five9

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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