February 17, 2022
How to Prioritize Agent Wellbeing in the Hybrid Contact Center
Contact centers have always reported higher-than-average rates of attrition compared to other industries. Many factors play their part, from the fatigue of handling challenging conversations to unfair metric targets. Now, due to COVID-19, new sources of stress emerge.
No longer can agents turn to the support of a colleague or supervisor seated next to them. There is also the worry of social isolation, rising customer expectations, and financial concerns, thanks to the rising prices of household bills.
Entering this new reality, each of these issues will start to take its toll on agents. As such, wellbeing must become an urgent priority. Otherwise, performance will drop, attrition will rise, and mental health will become a significant concern.
5 Strategies to Improve Agent Wellbeing in a Hybrid Working World
In hybrid environments, wellbeing is often tricky to manage, and timely, supportive interventions are more difficult to deliver. Yet, the “best of both worlds” model gives agents a better work-life balance. The strategies below help contact centers to build on this.
1. Monitor Real-Time Metrics to Pinpoint When Agents are Flagging
The culture of measuring and monitoring performance can contribute to agent stress. However, contact centers can flip that on its head by assessing metrics to pinpoint moments where agents are flagging. The supervisor may then intervene with a quick pick me up – possibly over a video call – to keep spirits high.
A speech analytics system that monitors agent sentiment is an excellent tool here. It can also automate quality scoring to highlight real-time performance drops. However, there are other indicators – such as customer feedback and long handling times – which also provide insights into agent mindsets.
2. Encourage Agents to Use Wellness Apps
Wellness apps remind agents to take breaks regularly and not ignore their mental health. Headspace is among the most popular tools available, providing agents with guided meditation sessions that fit seamlessly into the average workplace schedule. TaskHuman is another example that provides employees with coaching support on nutrition, meditation, work-life balance, and healthy breathing. Handily, it also integrates with many cloud contact center solutions, such as RingCentral.
3. Establish Two-Way Feedback Channels
Feedback channels must go digital to support hybrid work. Short polls and pulse surveys to ask agents how they feel at the end of every workday are an excellent idea. These enable contact center leaders to map trends, such as which days are the most stressful, alongside how contact volumes and particular targets correlate with agent wellbeing.
Extending these surveys by encouraging agents to regularly share open-ended statements regarding their needs, expectations, and challenges may also add context to these trends. In addition, new concerns will perhaps come to life, which the contact center can proactively address.
4. Focus on Creating a Cohesive Hybrid Work Culture
Creating a cohesive culture is among the biggest challenges in a hybrid contact center. Since employees do not see each other and their supervisors every day, operations risk losing that critical sense of togetherness. When this falls by the wayside, contact centers often find it tricky to raise morale and establish values.
By developing a regularized communication strategy, where they are constantly connected with frontline teams, managers may begin to address this problem. Non-work-related activities like Zoom happy hours on Fridays can also help rebuild team spirit. However, once a week is not enough. Drip feed in such initiatives to safeguard team spirit.
5. Constantly Refine the Hybrid Model
Listen to agent feedback regarding their schedules. Would they like more time in the office or at home? Ask agents regularly, because their preferences may well change. Also, it strikes a good balance between convenient yet isolated remote work.
Furthermore, managers may wish to consider shift patterns within the hybrid environment, as the new reality opens up the opportunity for micro shifts and split shifts. Not only will these help contact centers to meet peaks into demand, but they also offer more options to agents, which may better suit their preferences.
Pitfalls to Avoid
When prioritizing agent wellbeing in a hybrid contact center, managers must stay mindful of individual needs and priorities. For instance, a wellness session should not encroach upon an agent’s break time. Also, it is beneficial to carefully review the contact center toolkit to ensure that employees aren’t overwhelmed by digital exposure and screen time.
Managers also find it helpful to establish a connection between agent wellbeing and customer engagement within many contact centers. In doing so, leaders can justify wellbeing as a critical component of the performance matrix, and possibly secure more resources for supporting agents.
Employee Wellbeing and Mental Health Matters
Consider the following statistics – highlighted in a recent Calabrio study – which illuminate the current state of mental health in hybrid/remote contact centers:
- 1 in 3 agents felt acutely stressed multiple times per week in 2021, compared to 25% in 2017.
- Worryingly, 96% of agents felt acutely stressed at least once a week.
- 1 in 3 agents was considering leaving their jobs within the next 12 months.
- The number one reason why agents quit is that they are unhappy at work; pay is reason no.3.
- 1 in 3 agents also said that “too many calls” were their biggest challenge in the workplace.
- Agents cite “lack of tools” and “lack of data” as the top two reasons for not being able to address customer issues. This adds to stress levels.
These insights reaffirm how the contact center work environment has changed due to the pandemic. Although most agents can now choose their work location and timing, they also face increasing stress from challenging customer interactions, a complex digital environment, and a lack of support.
Yet, by considering the strategies above and actioning new ideas, contact centers can start to prioritize agent wellbeing. The simple act of showing willingness to do so – through actions, not words – is half the battle won.