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Vocal fatigue

Using your voice at work requires higher vocal competency than every day speaking, leading to voice overuse and fatigue.

What causes vocal fatigue?

Excessive talking can affect both the voice and the throat. Contact centres where inbound and outbound calls are constant are likely to cause more vocal fatigue than a contact centre where calls are less frequent or involve administrative duties.

Other factors that may affect vocal fatigue include:

  • how repetitive the talking is
  • consumption of coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks that dehydrate the body and voice
  • position of the call handler's microphone - if incorrect it may cause excessive vocal feedback, or cause the call handler to raise their voice to be heard.

What are the symptoms of vocal fatigue?

Symptoms of vocal fatigue include:

  • total or intermittent loss of voice
  • rough or hoarse voice quality
  • changes in pitch and restricted pitch range
  • decrease in volume
  • pitch breaks on words or phrases
  • vocal fatigue at the end of a day or after prolonged exposure
  • loss of intonation or expression
  • constant throat clearing
  • voice fades out at the end of a sentence
  • dryness in the throat and excessive mucous
  • sensation of lump or pain in the throat
  • increased effort to talk
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • shortness of breath.

Some of these symptoms may occur during viral infections of throats/sinuses and may be resolved when the virus subsides. Minor changes in breath, voice quality, pitch, loudness and resonance can be experienced without necessarily developing into a voice problem.

Prevention

To ensure the vocal health of workers, employers should:

  • minimise background noise levels
  • provide volume controls on the headset so that the voice does not need to be raised
  • develop reasonable call targets so that voice overuse is not encouraged (e.g. meeting targets should not require skipping pauses in between calls)
  • ensure calls are rotated between call handlers - to prevent calls being received at a single station
  • write scripts that include pauses
  • provide regular voice breaks - on average, at least five minutes of non-vocal time per hour
  • arrange more non-vocal time, where the volume of calls is high or the work is very repetitive
  • provide easy access to drinking water
  • provide training on headset use - positioning of microphone, volume controls, as well as voice care training and awareness.