Friday, September 24, 2010

A link between high motivation and burnout? (2002 story of a call center supervisor)

I've talked about the steamier side of call centers in two previous posts in this blog (one in August, one in September), but admittedly call center sex, when it even exists, is an extremely small part of the job. Normally, call center work is mentally exhausting work.

In 2002, Connections Magazine posted an anonymous article from a former call center supervisor. She was not the high-pressure boiler room type, according to her own account.

I was a manager who spent years closing and consolidating telephone answering services and call centers. I was forced to become a manager that voluntarily shouldered sadness, frustration, and anger in addition to carrying a full load of regular work. Often times, I was criticized for making everyone feel warm and fuzzy. The reality is that without the people there is no bottom line. The tougher the work you have to do, the more compassionate you have to be. I played a role that prevented companies' self-destruction. I was disobedient to the social order to get the job done.

Eventually, this person who closed and consolidated call centers was laid off herself. This gave her time to reflect and think about how she herself had her own sadness, frustration, and anger to deal with. And she reflected on the different types of people who worked at call centers.

To understand burnout you have to take into account that highly motivated individuals are most susceptible to job burnout. The hardest hit is service providers like us. Burned out employees are most likely your best employees, the ones that care. These employees overindulge and overindulgence is a sort of narcotic. These individuals can be counted on to know what needs to be done and do it. They put in long hours even if the time is "face time." The burned out employee will work himself or herself to death and if they can, they will hide the burnout or least they will try to hide it. Being highly motivated is like an internal prison or a sickness at best. Always trying to top the last project, thinking, "If I could only make just one more sale or break some type of industry average or standard."

She then offered these eleven suggestions:

Don't allow employees to work long hours
Make goals achievable
Be candid about burnout during employee orientation
Provide ways for employees to express anger
Show that you appreciate their sacrifice
Don't rely on the same people over and over
Give employees compliments often
Offer flexible work hours
Create a reward system that includes comp time
Keep in touch with the front line
Have fun and laughter in the workplace
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