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Occupational stress

Occupational stress describes the physical, mental, and emotional reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/or their resources (e.g.time, access to help/support) to do the work.

How does occupational stress affect you?

Unmanaged occupational stress in contact centres can result in:

  • job dissatisfaction, low morale and workplace conflict
  • low productivity
  • increase in escalated calls
  • absenteeism
  • workers' compensation claims (both psychological and musculoskeletal)
  • increased turnover.

How can occupational stress affect contact centre workers?

Occupational stress has been clearly identified as a significant health and safety issue for workers in contact centres.

Occupational stress risk factors include:

  • high mental, emotional and/or physical work demands
  • low control over work and the way it is organised
  • low levels of support from supervisors and peers
  • lack of role clarity or increased role confusion
  • poorly managed workplace conflict
  • poorly managed organisational change
  • a poor workplace justice climate
  • low levels of worker recognition and reward.

Ways to minimise occupational stress in contact centres include:

  • ensure workers have adequate training to perform their tasks
  • ensure supervisors are adequately trained to provide timely and appropriate performance management in a reasonable manner
  • ensure work demands are realistic and within workers' abilities, particularly during peak periods
  • regularly review workloads to ensure workers have sufficient time and support to meet their work demands
  • review workloads during team meetings, through an informal check-in, or by undertaking a worksite assessment
  • encourage workers to speak up at an early stage if they feel their task demands are excessive
  • encourage workers to seek guidance from management about priorities
  • ensure worker's concerns are recorded in a hazard register and actioned
  • ensure procedures are in place to allow worker input on decisions about work design, rosters and safety issues
  • implement processes which allow workers or their representatives more control over rotation/task variation opportunities
  • consult with workers on decisions regarding control over the flow of calls or customer queues
  • provide concise and clear scripting which allows workers some flexibility to adapt the information to their personal communication style
  • provide flexibility around scheduled and personal breaks
  • provide new workers with full induction training programs, including customer handling, conflict management, de-escalation techniques, and stress management
  • provide workers ongoing training on effective communication and conflict resolution strategies
  • provide software programs that are easy to view and understand and allow for efficient provision of services
  • provide positive, supportive supervision
  • ensure workers can access breakout areas to take a short break from emotionally demanding interactions with clients
  • ensure staff appraisals/performance reviews:
    • identify gaps in skills related to their role
    • are based on workers' performance against the requirements of their roles.
  • provide clear procedures about monitoring systems and how they are to be used
  • ensure reward and recognition systems are based on agreed performance outcomes
  • promote and encourage workers to engage in internal and external health and wellbeing programs and initiatives
  • provide workers with access to support services including employee assistance programs or other counselling services.