Call center burnout is a rampant plague across the industry, and even the best teams can fall victim to it. One day, everything seems to be fine—but then your agents gradually start underperforming and disengaging, and then your KPIs start dropping.

Before you know it, you’re in full-on burnout damage control. And while your employees might technically still be working—meaning their burnout hasn’t led them to leave and your call center’s churn rate hasn’t skyrocketed just yet—they’re merely going through the motions.

Fortunately, however, not only is it possible to recover and bounce back from call center burnout, but it’s also possible to take proactive steps to avoid it entirely. 

Here’s how to get call center burnout nipped in the bud for good:

Step 1: Set a Team Goal That’s Winnable, Then Keep Stretching It

Everyone loves being on a winning team. But being on a losing team? Not so much. After a long string of losses, despair can set in, and certain people can start giving up. (After all, if you know you’re going to lose, why try so hard?)

The first thing to do to turn this slump around is to set a team goal that’s a borderline slam dunk. It should be something that’s both super simple and something that you know your team can do. 

Note: if you’re worrying about the potential of creating a slacker culture by setting such an easy goal, don’t. You won’t stay at this level for long.

The key here is to steadily increase your goal each cycle until the current goal requires an above-average level of performance. For instance, you might set an incredibly easy goal for the first week, ramp it up very slightly for the second, then do a little bit of a stretch for the third, and finally make it a tough goal to reach for the fourth. 

Ultimately, the timing with which you’ll approach this strategy depends on your team’s natural ebbs and flows in performance as well as how embedded the burnout is. 

Remember, while it may be tempting to go for huge goals right out of the gate, you need to be patient—especially if you’re dealing with individuals who are already struggling with burnout. You won’t build back your dream team overnight, so focus on restoring confidence one small win at a time. 

Once people feel like they can succeed again, they might already be hungry for that next goal. Similarly, if morale improves, then a lot of the stress that stems from past failures can melt away.

Step 2: Cut Folks That Underperform

It might be harsh, but underperformers drag the whole team down while also increasing the stress on other individuals. While your high performers might try to pick up the slack, it may only be a matter of time before they pick up negative attitudes as well. 

Therefore, once you have a good handle on your goals and your team is starting to hit them fairly consistently again, you’ll probably know who your remaining laggards are. 

After cutting the outright underperformers right away, you should then look for people who happen to perform well while also spreading negativity. These are often the most difficult cuts to identify and make, mostly because their measurables provide a net gain while their intangibles provide a net loss. 

In many cases, it may be possible to meet with these people to go over their performances and help them understand that their job doesn’t solely depend on them meeting their own individual quotas—because they also need to be a good fit for the team. 

If they aren’t keen on making things more positive, then you may have to let them go. It might be hard, but the rest of the team will thank you for it.

Step 3: Don’t Redline Your Capacity

A lot of call centers turn into burnout centers because their managers are pushing the limits of their performance too hard. You’re probably familiar with what this sounds like: “Get those first-call resolutions up! Get those call volumes up!”

It’s tempting to stretch your goals to the limit, but this is a burnout trap if things don’t go perfectly all of the time. 

That said, things almost never go perfectly all of the time; somebody can always get sick or quit unexpectedly, and bad weather or another emergency can crop up at a moment’s notice. If you don’t build a little slack into your system, you won’t be able to absorb the impact of these otherwise minor issues.

A better practice is to hover at about 80-90% capacity so that you’ll have enough breathing room to keep every little bump in the road from turning into a catastrophe. This will do wonders for reducing managerial pressure and avoiding symptoms of burnout. 

Step 4: Push Your Team To Take Time Off

It’s not common to think of high-performers as being problematic, but those who have a habit of not taking time off can be some of the riskiest call center employees on your entire team. Simply put, these agents have the highest likelihood of working so hard that they burn themselves out and then quit in a flash—which, of course, leaves you even worse off in the long term.

To prevent this, try to make a habit of checking the PTO balances and vacation schedules of your agents, and don’t be shy about encouraging your people to take all the breaks your company allows. 

Keep in mind that this could require you to make some changes around the office. For instance, if you have a work culture that praises those who work overtime, or if you’ve set up incentives that can only be met when employees elect not to take time off, then you’ll have to change these things before you can expect people to change their behavior—otherwise they’ll keep going down the same road that leads to burnout. 

Similarly, you should also make sure that when people take vacation days, they actually go on vacation. Many workaholics will have the habit of staying connected or “on” during their time off, so make it a point to discourage employees from checking emails and work messaging apps when they’re not supposed to. It might take some cajoling, but it can be well worth it for their mental health. 

Step 5: Clear Out Business Nonsense

One of the most frequent contributors to burnout is work that isn’t real work. Most people come to work to do their jobs (obviously), so they tend to hate it when things like useless meetings, unnecessary reports, and unproductive processes get in the way.

Of course, every business has some degree of necessary nonsense—because you can’t get away with zero meetings, zero emails, and zero presentations—but it’s very easy for this sort of thing to get out of hand.

As call center manager, it’s your job to make sure this stuff is kept to a minimum, so take some time to review your team’s day-to-day work. Ask yourself how much of it is truly essential and if there’s anything you could cut without having a negative impact on your team.

Next, go through all the tools, workflows, and record-keeping processes that your company uses and look for more things to cut. This includes tools that don’t work very well, in addition to processes that are bloated, outdated, or carry extra steps. Pare everything down as much as you can.

It might be hard to track the results of these efforts, but simply getting rid of unwanted workplace nonsense can go a long way in fighting call center burnout. As a result, your agents will be freed from having to sit through unwanted distractions, and their energy levels can see a huge boost. 

Lastly, just remember not to get rid of any necessary workplace nonsense—like the inside jokes and occasional morale-boosting GIF battles in the team chat—since getting rid of that stuff will almost certainly get you reelected as mayor of Burnout City.