The Great Burnout – why businesses must take employee wellbeing seriously

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Ben Booth, below, CEO of MaxContact

While themes such as mindfulness and self-care have gained significant traction in the workplace due to the pandemic, there’s still more to be done when it comes to staff wellbeing. Recent research from Glassdoor revealed that burnout amongst UK workers is up 48% in the last 12 months.

Customer facing staff, in particular, are facing increasingly turbulent times. The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) found that customer service complaints have hit their highest level on record. As businesses struggle to cope with supply issues and a staffing crisis, more customers are experiencing customer service issues, and this is placing extraordinary pressure on employees. Research by MaxContact found that 72% customer facing staff say they are burnt out or will be burnt out imminently, rising to 83% of those working in contact centres.

It’s clear that it’s time to take employee mental wellbeing seriously. Given that we spend a third of our lives working, our jobs have an enormous impact on our wellbeing. More importantly, employers have a duty of care towards their employees. This duty of care not only extends to an employee’s physical health, but also their mental health – especially when complaints are on the rise. Although most organisations are aware of the importance of mental health, the majority are overlooking employee burnout crisis.

This begs the question – what can businesses do to support staff and what is causing employee burnout?

Why are employees burnt out?

Our manifesto on burnout, released earlier this year, revealed 52% of customer facing staff say their workload has increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, and 43% are faced with long working hours. This is set to worsen as recent employee stress has been heightened by factors such as rising inflation, the cost-of-living crisis and staff shortages.

A summer of soaring costs, cancellations and delays has also contributed to a surge in abusive calls from disgruntled customers. While no company wants to see unhappy customers flooding their customer service lines, it’s contact centre workers who must bear the brunt of angry or upset customers, and as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, this will only get worse.

With around 800,000 contact centre workers on the frontline dealing with these complaints, current customer dissatisfaction is creating an immense pressure that could harm staff. MaxContact’s Duty of Care Gap report found that 83% of those working in contact centres already say their work is taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

Why should businesses care?

Prioritising employee mental health is not only the right thing to do, it also makes total business sense.

Poor employee mental health can lead to workplace absenteeism, decreased productivity and increased turnover. This affects all aspects of a business irrespective of industry, revenue, and size. In particular, most businesses exist to provide some kind of customer service and, as we know, poor customer service can break a business. However, some businesses forget that the key to a better customer experience is actually a better employee experience. Therefore, a happier employee should result in a happier customer.

Yet, workers dealing directly with customers are often left to juggle their wellbeing whilst bearing the brunt of angry customers, and it’s taking a toll on their mental health. Our Duty of Care Gap report shows that contact centre staff are facing high levels of stress (62%) and anxiety (48%), with 42% experiencing low moods due to work. We also found that 95% of contact centre agents say work-related mental wellbeing problems are making them less productive, which is costing the industry nearly £1bn every year.

What can businesses do?

Businesses with contact centre agents need to recognise how increasingly difficult the job of their workers is and begin taking action to protect their mental health.

Actively promoting the wellbeing of workers and ensuring this forms part of your organisation’s culture is key. Whether you’re working from home or in the office, employers must encourage staff to take regular breaks between calls or busy periods along with setting up frequent check-ins.

Mental health first aid training for all staff, but especially managers, must be encouraged. Managers should be able to identify early signs of burnout and provide mental health support to boost overall morale and productivity.

Businesses must also invest in technology that can help employees carry out their responsibilities more effectively. For example, many organisations have already invested in specialist customer engagement technology to help employees to do their job to a higher standard. Such measures can help employees feel supported and are needed now more than ever to reduce burdening workloads.

Poor mental health has a detrimental impact on the workforce and the wider business. Keeping customers happy is the key to building a successful business, but this will only become harder if employees are burnt out. However, employers can make all the difference.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024