Modern workplace culture has made employees more prone to burnout than ever. It’s especially prevalent in organizations that live and die by the phone like inside sales and call centers. Rigid KPIs, constant rejection, and downright rude callers can wear on even your best sales reps.
So what is burnout? It’s a reaction to stress at work which usually takes root in three main areas: exhaustion, detachment from your job, and feeling incompetent at work. If you don’t help your suffering employees out, it can spread and impact the health and performance of the whole team. If you want to maintain a healthy working environment, you have to step in before low morale, commitment, higher turnover, and poor performance infiltrate the floor.
Keep reading for ways you can spot call center and sales burnout and get ideas for programs and strategies to help employees through it and prevent burnout at the source.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout is much more common than we want to believe. It’s likely that someone in your office, right now, is burnt out. But how did they get there?
There are a variety of causes behind burnout beyond heavy workloads and high pressure. Sometimes it comes from career uncertainty, like not having a clear career path or little to no development in their role at the company. Or sometimes the workplace is too unstable—it can be too extreme (either too monotonous or too chaotic), a toxic work environment, or uncertainty about the company’s future (early-stage startups, mergers and acquisitions). Or maybe the employee’s work-life balance is completely out of whack.
Unfortunately, the source can be also from management. In this case, the sales manager puts unreasonable time pressure on the salesperson, does not provide enough communication or support, or does anything that makes the rep feel unappreciated or inadequate in the workplace. You don’t want to be the cause of employee burnout. Look out for all of these sources and try to reduce or eliminate them in order to prevent burnout.
What Does Burnout Look Like?
There are a number of subtle and not-so-subtle signals that someone is burnt out, and not everyone will show it the same way. As a direct manager or leader, you need to be able to spot the signs of burnout not only in your employees, but in yourself. If you’re experiencing frequent headaches, stomachaches, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or other unusual physical symptoms, it could be a sign you’re suffering from burnout.
If you want to help your sales reps, you need to be able to see the symptoms of burnout in others. Look for signs of detachment from work. These include arriving late, taking longer lunches, leaving early, and being less affected by lost deals. Take notice if employees are no longer motivated to make dials or reach sales quota. They have to drag themselves into work, can’t focus, and have trouble getting started. This kind of attitude is a red flag in employees that had previously been enthusiastic workers.
Burnt out employees experience a lot of negative emotions. These include frustration, cynicism, irritability, and more that will impact their behavior in the workplace. They also experience high stress levels, they feel more anxious and overwhelmed, and they have dial dread. You may also see them taking part in escapist behaviors, such as abuse of food, drugs, or alcohol. It can be as subtle as a few too many drinks at happy hour or as obvious as stumbling back from lunch. This can get extreme and could be a big threat to their health. If you see any of these behaviors, it’s time to step in.
How Burnout Impacts People & Organizations
Left unaddressed, the effects of burnout can have a ton of negative consequences such as real health issues for an individual and troubles for the company. Long term burnout and stress can lead to everything from heart disease, type-II diabetes, insomnia, to clinical depression. For the company, potential troubles include reduced job satisfaction, poor workplace morale, decreased productivity, and increased absenteeism. It also leads to increased risk of accidents and errors, communication breakdown, and increased turnover among employees.
Companies that ignore burn out or don’t do anything to prevent it ultimately run into recruiting struggles too. Employees may leave bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor or speak negatively about their experience to their network. Candidates may ask about turnover or even reach out to past and present employees to get an unfiltered take on your company culture. Even scarier, once a company begins to have trouble backfilling open positions, the likelihood of employees getting burnt out greatly increases.
How Can I Overcome Burnout?
Whether it’s you or your employee suffering from burnout, there are a number of things you can do to get back on track and overcome it. Here are some keys to preventing or alleviating burnout:
Take time off and unplug. Sometimes the emotional exhaustion gets to be too much, and you just need a reset. Take a day off from work for a mental health day or book a vacation in the upcoming weeks. For planned time away, work with your manager and team to ensure your projects are in good hands while you’re out of the office. While you’re out, turn off notifications or delete Slack and your work email from your phone entirely. If you’re helping someone overcome burnout, enable them to fully unplug. A recent study shows 28% of employees end up working more on their vacation than they planned, that’s not acceptable.
Seek support. Support from co-workers, friends, and loved ones can help you cope with burnout and stress. Leverage your positive relationships and share how you’re feeling with others. For more extreme situations or for a completely objective perspective, talk to a professional. Your company may have an employee assistance program you can analyze. As a leader, give your team members resources to turn to when they’re feeling the pressure.
Practice self-care. When you’re burnt out from work, it’s really easy to plop on the couch and order takeout day after day. Prioritize self-care. Eat well, get enough sleep, and treat yourself to things like massages, baths, or a good binge-watch day. Take more walks, get outside, or head to your favorite fitness class. Consider taking a break from or reducing caffeine and/or alcohol consumption for an additional health boost.
Meditate. While meditation could be a part of your self-care routine, it’s deserving of its own section. There are a ton of apps available to help you get started that are hugely popular, including Headspace which has a version specifically made for the workplace. Subscriptions are a great perk to offer which can help reduce stress and prevent burnout. Yoga or mindful breathing (inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts) is another great tactic for in-the-moment stress reduction.
Be more selfish. Sometimes it needs to be all about you, so prioritize the things that you want to do. Don’t be afraid to say no—becoming a “yes” man will lead to being overworked. Keep your book of business manageable and build out different paths to hitting your number. Maintain a short and long-term to-do list and ask for help if you’re overwhelmed or unsure of what to prioritize.
Step away from your desk. Don’t force yourself to stay in the same place. Work all over the office and move around. Utilize conference rooms, break out pods, and other spaces to break up the monotony. Make sure you take breaks during the day to get up, walk around the office or outside, and recharge before diving back into work. Breaks boost productivity, so don’t force yourself to be a slave to your desk.
Have hobbies and activities outside of work. Beyond the office, you need: a release to let out your frustrations, something that you’re passionate about and invested in, and self-care activities that make you feel good. Outside of the office, activities and hobbies can help keep you present and prevent ruminating over work. Having a good work-life balance and prioritizing yourself is important to your mental health.
How Leadership Can Help Burnt Out Employees & Prevent It in the First Place
As a leader in the workplace, you have the power to help out your employees and get them through burnout, or even prevent it altogether. By implementing one or more of these strategies, you’ll improve your office environment, increase productivity, and reduce the risk of burnout.
Use positive reinforcement strategies. A positive workplace is a successful workplace. Keeping your employees happy and uplifted will help avoid burnout and lead to more productivity. Help employees understand their value to the organization and their contributions to the organization’s overarching goals. Celebrate employees’ wins (completing a tough sale, compliment call, high conversion rate, etc). Use smaller rewards such as food, get-togethers, and leaderboards as motivation. Identify other metrics that boost morale: opportunities created, opps moved to next stage, demos, etc. Share inspiration with the team from other sales leaders or even your own company—everyone has a story (and if you haven’t heard how Steve Richard got into sales, it’s a good one).
Provide support and tools for your employees. It’s your job to create a supportive work environment and to give employees tools for success. Provide reasonable and clear expectations for all employees. Give ongoing training, coaching, and professional development to employees. Build a mentorship/buddy program so reps can establish a bond and have someone other than their manager to go to. Make sure that reps have the necessary resources and skills to meet expectations and give them tools for automating some of their tasks.
Work with your employees one-on-one. All reps deserve individual attention, as everyone needs different things to thrive. Talk with your employees one-on-one to assess where they are. Ask if they have any concerns or problems and work together to find a solution. If you need to, implement a performance plan, such as a Workplace Plan which can be used to improve performance or help keep reps engaged.
Encourage health. Take a page from Joy Baldridge’s book and make sure your reps are paying their R.E.N.T. (Rest, Exercise, Nutrition, Thoughts). The overall health of your employees is important to keep the office happy and running smoothly. Encourage healthy habits and help employees take care of themselves. Support physical activity throughout the workday. Encourage employees to take breaks away from the work environment to recharge. Mental well-being is important, too—hold occasional “mindful minutes” or meditation breaks throughout the day to facilitate good mental health.
Control workload. You can help prevent burnout by making sure no one overworks themselves. Make sure workloads do not get out of hand. Don’t let any single employee take on too much. Enforce reasonable work hours and expectations for your team and lead by example. For instance, don’t answer or send emails at 9 am on Saturdays or send overzealous employees home at 5:30 pm sharp. Help out your high performers and make sure they are not forced to pick up a lot of the slack and end up pressured into an excessive workload.
Burnout is a real danger to any organization and is particularly dangerous in customer-facing roles. Prevention starts at the top, with good policies and practices from leadership. By having a plan in place for mitigating and managing burnout, companies can see a lift in rep tenure and productivity.