Updated Nov 23 2020 :: by Katie Joll

How busy has your help desk been lately?

Many companies have found that the workload on their agents has increased considerably, especially over the pandemic and with more people working remotely. Even under normal circumstances, the help desk agent roll is often a pressure cooker.

For many, this can lead to burnout. It’s not just about the amount of work, but the various conditions under which they work. For example, if agents are dealing with angry people all day long, it creates a stressful environment which can leave them prone to burnout.

Burnout is bad news for the agent and for the company they work for. It can lead to higher agent turnover, decreased engagement and a drop in service standards. Some research shows that 74% of contact center agents are at risk of burnout, a figure that could be similar for help desk agents, too.

Burnout is real and it’s something all help desk managers should be aware of. Here’s what you should know:

Download here: Steps managers can take to prevent help desk burnout

What is burnout?

Psychology Today defines burnout as: “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” While every job tends to involve some amount of stress, burnout happens when that stress is felt over an extended period and the agent feels like it can’t be relieved.

In the workplace, there are a number of different circumstances that could lead to burnout. Here are just a few examples:

  • Feeling under pressure to deliver more with less (for example, resolve more tickets in less time). This will cause stress when the agent feels that the demands placed on them are unreasonable or impossible.
  • Feeling that they have a lack of control or autonomy over how things are done.
  • Being asked to complete tasks that conflict with their values or sense of self. “Misalignment” can cover a number of different scenarios, including things like company goals.
  • Feeling as though they lack support in the workplace.
  • Cumulative stress. 2020 is a great example. People are grappling with work stress, financial stress, pandemic stress, home schooling, contentious social and political situations…
  • Feeling unrecognized for their work. This can happen when feedback or rewards for performance are scarce.
  • Feeling overworked and lacking in other things that matter (such as personal time).
  • Feeling that they lack opportunities or upward mobility in the role.
  • Dealing with too much negativity at work. For example, agents might frequently deal with upset customers or, if their own work environment is negative, this can also lead to stress.
  • Feeling as though they are being treated unfairly.

Burnout can happen to any help desk agent given the right set of circumstances to specifically trigger them. They might be relatively new to the role and feeling overwhelmed, or they could be among your most seasoned agents. Read some more thoughts on how to avoid burnouts.

How can you recognize burnout in agents?

Employee wellness is an important priority for most help desks, so awareness of burnout and what it might look like can help. Here are a few potential signs (and remember, some people will cover their burnout well):

  • Diminished quality of work. For example, someone might start making mistakes that they haven’t usually been prone to before, or, you might see key help desk metrics take a dive.
  • Frequent lateness or taking longer breaks.
  • An overall decrease in energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes people suffering from burnout can seem quite lethargic.
  • Unusual moods. People might be uncharacteristically quiet, down or irritable. Sometimes this might show up as being combative.
  • Unusual forgetfulness. Burnout saps people of the mental energy they require to remember things.
  • Increased absenteeism.
  • Higher agent turnover. If burnout is a systemic issue, then you might see higher overall turnover among your team.

What can you do about burnout?

One of the first things to do is to recognize burnout as a genuine issue that requires attention and help. For some people, taking vacation time might be enough - maybe they were simply over-tired. For others, some bigger changes might be needed in their workloads, processes or how they see their work. And of course for some, the help desk agent life won’t be for them long-term.

Dealing with burnout that is already happening is more of the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” scenario though. If you’re having to come up with solutions for people already in full burnout mode, then something has been missed about what got them there in the first place. This might require some bigger changes at work (if their burnout is not wholly to do with circumstances outside of work). Also, check out how Jitbit productivity features can help you reduce repetitive tasks.

Here are some practical suggestions for what you can do to reduce burnout scenarios at work:

  1. Work to unite your help desk agents around a shared mission and goals. Be clear about how your standards and expectations relate to those goals.
  2. Be transparent and fair. Keep agents in the loop as to why things are done how they are or how they are being measured against key metrics.
  3. Recognize and reward people for their work. People tend to want recognition and appreciate that their hard work is noticed.
  4. Promote awareness about burnout and what to do about it. Have training sessions with your team that talk about what burnout is and any symptoms they might feel. Encourage them to seek help if they need it and make them feel comfortable in being open about needing help.
  5. Provide support without micromanaging. Employees will often feel stressed if they feel that their every move is prescribed or that they lack any sort of autonomy.
  6. Encourage open, honest, two-way feedback. While employees need regular feedback and recognition, they also need to feel that it’s okay to bring any issues to their manager. For example, what if they feel that something is unfair? You might not even be aware that it is perceived that way unless they feel comfortable telling you.
  7. Be prepared to do something about unmanageable workloads. Your agents aren’t robots - they can’t be expected to pull an increasingly bigger load over the long term. Have solutions to actually lighten their load where it is warranted.
  8. Provide clarity around roles and expectations. People need to know this from early on.
  9. Make work life as easy as you can, especially with good systems, processes and technology investments. For example, it should be easy for agents to look up answers and to check ticket progress. They should be able to easily see where they stand.
  10.  Encourage your help desk agents to take their breaks and vacation leave. Make your office a culture that values break time. Even if you’re very busy, performance suffers when people don’t get their needed breaks. “Work martyrs” are often simply on a fast track to burnout.

Download our tips for preventing help desk agent burnout here

Final thoughts

Help desk agent burnout is a real issue across the industry. It often goes officially unrecognized, but can be a leading factor behind performance issues, absenteeism and high turnover.

Anyone can develop burnout, given the right set of circumstances. It’s important to recognize that those circumstances don’t look the same for everyone, nor do the symptoms of burnout. You can help by promoting awareness and an environment that values your help desk agents.

Burnout is something that all help desk managers should be aware of when assessing systems, processes, goals and performance. In the end, your help desk performs better when agents are happy and healthy.


'Help Desk Agent Burnout is Real: Here’s What You Should Know' was written by Katie Joll
Katie Joll
Katie is our writer who specializes in technology and travel. When she's not writing, you'll probably find her on a trail, taking photos.


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