Telltale Signs: How to Identify Call Center Agent Burnout

Call Center | 3 minute read

Call centers have become notorious for possessing one of the highest employee attrition rates of any industry. According to Talkdesk, call centers have a turnover rate ranging from 30 to 45 percent. This is a staggering number, given that the average employee turnover rate in 2015 for all industries in the United States was 16.7 percent.

This isn’t entirely surprising: Call centers are stressful work environments. Agents are required to deal with challenging, frustrated customers, with the knowledge that the calls (and their performance) are being monitored and timed. On top of this, a U.S. News Careers report found that customer service representatives suffer from below-average job flexibility.

We’ve previously discussed ways to combat agent burnout, but today we ask: What are the symptoms? How do we properly make an early diagnosis? Identifying the symptoms of burnout as soon as possible can significantly boost your service quality, workplace satisfaction, and bottom line.

Declining Performance

A drop in agent productivity or performance is one tell-tale sign of burnout. This can result from either burnout impacting cognitive performance or burnout manifesting itself in mental detachment or apathy.

In a 2011 Study from the University of Maryland, researchers found that burned-out CSRs were much more likely to retaliate against customers in subversive ways. This included damaging behavior like misleading or hanging up on customers; intentionally putting a customer on hold for a long period of time; or transferring a customer to the wrong department. This behavior is destructive and negatively impacts important KPIs like first call resolution (a KPI directly related to customer satisfaction).

It’s important to monitor agents who see an increase in calls to management, missed upselling opportunities, and customer complaints, as these agents may be exhibiting signs of burnout.

Absenteeism and Adherence to Schedule

When agents become disengaged from their work, they are likely to limit the amount of time spent at work. Recent research from Canada Life found that employee burnout is one of the leading causes of absenteeism (which also includes longer breaks/lunches and leaving work early). When looking for symptoms of burnout, it is a great idea to monitor CSRs’ adherence to schedules as well as their absenteeism rates.

Emotional Outbursts

Irritability and anger are considered one of the calling-cards of burnout. This may initially present itself as impatience, frustration, or mild irritability. Someone who is experiencing burnout often responds very emotionally to minor setbacks, feedback, or reproach. They are also likely to be negative with coworkers and develop a cynical attitude toward managers.

Emotional outbursts can progress into inappropriately venting anger at colleagues, or full-blown arguments with customers, both of which are cues to check in with call center agents to assess their perceived levels of stress and burnout.


Another classic symptom of burnout is extreme fatigue and exhaustion. While this might seem difficult to diagnose, it’s evident when, for example, agents who are usually very active during meetings become quieter and keep to the background. The difference in energy is noticeable.

Changes in behavior usually indicate a deeper issue at play. The symptoms described above are broad but generally serve as the basis for a burnout diagnosis. Knowing these early (often correlated) warning signs are crucial to stopping burnout before it starts within your call center.

While declining performance, absenteeism, and emotional outbursts could be grounds for dismissal or punishment, it’s important to take the time to understand and ultimately fix the underlying issues. By hiring the right people and engaging agents in meaningful ways, contact centers can increase call center agent retention, reduce hiring and training costs, and improve call center profitability.

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