Contact Centre Stress Syndrome – what is it and how can you cope with it?

Contact centres often present a high-pressure work environment and contact agents are frequently subject to acute levels of stress. Recently recognised as a real crisis, Contact Centre Stress Syndrome presents a fast-growing, job-related problem that can significantly impact employees’ mental and physical health.

It’s not a fad, a meaningless complaint or just a passing issue. Contact centre stress syndrome (CCSS), also known as call centre burnout, is a real and serious problem – and it’s getting worse. According to recent US research, over 50% of contact centre agents who repeatedly suffer high levels of stress expect to leave their job within six months. This is not surprising. Contact centres can be intense places to work. Agents are typically under continuous pressure to meet stringent targets, deal with difficult customers and work long and unsocial hours – often resulting in rising levels of stress that manifest as lack of motivation, poor work-life balance and deteriorating mental and physical health.

Five signs of contact centre stress syndrome

  • Lack of energy – physical and emotional fatigue are common effects of CCSS
  • Poor concentration and low productivity – stressed out agents are unable to focus on tasks or reach their targets
  • Feeling isolated – agents suffering from CCSS may not want to or are unable to communicate their feelings to others
  • Negative attitude to work and life at home – agents complain more about work tasks and issues and events beyond their job
  • Absenteeism – stressed out agents find reasons to miss work, which typically impacts their income to create acute financial difficulty.

Clearly, CCSS is a serious issue. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be. By making just a few small adjustments to their routine, agents may significantly reduce or even eliminate this problem.

How to cope with contact centre stress syndrome

  1. Find the cause: Identifying the reason(s) your stress levels are high can put you in command of the situation and give you space to implement solutions. Keeping a ‘stress journal’ where you make note of the events or demands that trigger rising stress can help you to track down the offending issues.
  2. Don’t take it personally: See it from the caller’s side. They are usually calling because of a problem that is causing them frustration and disappointment. Bearing this in mind may help you to distance yourself from their unpleasant attitude and understand their situation better.
  3. Take a deep breath: It sounds simple, but taking a deep breath to calm yourself can do wonders for your stress levels. It can also reduce your cortisol levels by up to 20% as well as lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
  4. Take a break: Don’t be tempted to work through your rest breaks. The average human attention span is only 15 to 20 minutes. After that, our concentration and effectiveness tend to drop. A rest break can restore focus and give your brain time to catch up on everything it needs to process.
  5. Maintain your physical health: Looking after your body is as important as taking care of your mind. From a brisk walk or bike ride, to a visit to the gym or a session of hot yoga, regular exercise has been medically proven to lower mental stress levels.
  6. Plan and prioritise your tasks: Too much to do and not enough time to do it in is often ‘situation normal’ in the contact centre industry. In such cases, agents may become overwhelmed and feel they cannot cope. Planning your workload, using tools such as scheduling apps, a calendar/diary or just a notepad and pen can help to break a seemingly impossible range of tasks into bite-size, more manageable actions.
  7. Do not be afraid to ask for help: Lastly, a problem shared is often a problem halved. If your job is getting too much for you, do not be afraid to share your worries with colleagues, managers or friends. Remember – there are solutions to most problems, but if you don’t ask, they may never arrive.

Brook Street supports our associates’ mental wellbeing every step of the way

Ever since Brook Street founder Margery Hurst launched the Margery Club in 1969 as an initiative to fund research into mental health, we have prioritised our associates’ mental wellbeing. We believe that mental health challenges should not exclude workers from career opportunities and that employers need to create supportive work environments which foster happy and healthy employees.

This philosophy is embedded in our business, and we are continually seeking avenues to improve our associates’ access to mental health and wellbeing initiatives. As such, we have now invested in Mental Health First Aider training across all our branches. From 2024, if any of our associates feel that they need support they can confidentially contact their Brook Street consultant who will be able to refer them immediately to a Mental Health First Aider.

Find out more

Contact Centre Stress Syndrome is an endemic problem, but it is part of Brook Street’s mission to ensure that contact centre employees do not face this issue alone. To learn more about our initiatives to support employee mental health, contact us via this link or simply get in touch with your Brook Street consultant now.