Reduce Contact Center Turnover By Managing Emotional Labor

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Pete Humes Head of Content

Today’s contact centers are more technologically advanced than ever before.

We’re saying goodbye to the old days of cubicle mazes, hardwired phone systems and the buzzy chatter of a hundred headset conversations happening at once.

Technology gives companies and customers the ability to connect whenever and wherever they please. Virtual storefronts can stay open 24-hours a day for 365 days a year.

Cloud connectivity allows agents to support remotely from any place on the planet.

And service organizations can now deploy armies of AI-powered chatbots, digital self-service automations and vast libraries of support resources designed to solve problems quickly.

But every year it seems like resignations are on the rise.

The average turnover rate for contact center employees varies by region and industry, but it typically ranges from 30% to 45%. In some cases, especially in high-stress environments, turnover can climb as high as 70% or more.

So why are contact center agents still burning out and heading for the door? And what can you do to keep them around?

The “Big E Words” are Anything But Easy

Efficiency. Empathy. Experience.

You hear those words often in conversations about optimizing contact center performance. They are loaded terms that represent big ideas and even bigger ideals.

Getting those three right is like winning the CCaaS Triple Crown.

It’s not exactly easy, but it can feel downright impossible when your contact center is locked in an endless game of musical chairs.

That’s why it might help to add another “Big E Word” to the mix: Empowerment.

As a contact center leader, it’s easy to be skeptical of this one.

“Empowerment” conjures all kinds of ideas of individual freedom and autonomy that don’t really fit in with the scripts, standards and processes that are central to running a well-oiled customer service machine.

But the point isn’t to toss the script, abandon the rules and let everybody wing it.

You run a contact center, not an improv class.

The first dictionary definition of empowerment focuses on the handing over of authority and power. But my favorite phrase comes second, the one that mentions empowerment as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident.”

You empower people when you give them the ability to win.

And for customer service agents, winning is all about solving problems.

The High Cost of Low Morale

Allow me to tell you three things that you already know:

1. People don’t leave jobs that they love.

2. People enjoy winning.

3. People dislike losing.

Why waste the words stating the obvious? Because it’s easy to forget that for customer service professionals, the job has pretty clear definitions of victory and defeat.

Customer calls with a problem. They solve the problem. Victory!

Customer calls with a problem. They CAN’T solve the problem. Defeat!

Is that a wildly oversimplified version of reality? Sure.

But it’s hard to overstate the impact of fulfillment on attrition.

Every day, agents deal with intense pressure from:

And last, but certainly not least...

Emotional labor is a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book The Managed Heart, and refers to the process of managing emotions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job.

For agents, it involves regulating both their own emotions and expressing the appropriate emotional responses during interactions with customers.

We’re all aware that interacting with customers all day can be exhausting, but how often do you consider the emotional acrobatics that agents have to perform on every call.

They’re expected to remain cheerful and calm, even in the face of frustration and anger.

Leadership evangelizes empathy, which requires agents to go even deeper into the mindset and feelings of the customer. On top of all this, support professionals are required to leave their own emotional baggage at the door.

This daily emotional tug of war can do a number on someone’s physical and mental health. Prolonged stress is draining and leads directly to increased burnout and turnover.

So how do you even begin to deal with something so complex? Managing someone’s emotional state sounds more like a job for a counselor or psychiatrist.

Can’t you just focus on running a high-performing contact center?

In a perfect world, maybe, but in this one, you can’t have one without the other.

That’s why it pays to give them anything and everything they need to win.

3 Keys to Reducing Emotional Labor

Here’s my suggestion: Focus on three easy wins.

They call it emotional labor because most of the time, it’s describing a struggle to stay positive in the face of negativity and frustration. It’s hard work to smile when you fall short.

If agents can’t give customers what they want (a solution), then nobody wins. The customer is unhappy and the agent has to pretend to be happy.

It’s clear that the inability to solve customer problems is the problem.

So make it easier for agents to find a solution.

Give agents a clearer view of the problem.

Humans are visual creatures. We learn, communicate and digest information faster when using pictures and video (up to 60,000 times faster than by reading text alone). Adding a visual component to your customer service arsenal can speed problem-solving and put customers at ease by replacing a voice or text with a friendly face.

Give agents faster, easier access to answers.

Seize the opportunity presented by Generative AI to transform your knowledge base into a more intuitive and accessible resource. If you’re still sending agents on epic quests for support documents, manuals and troubleshooting guides, you’re making it harder on everyone.

Give agents a daily sense of doing good.

Agents will feel more confident and capable with every interaction when they have the tools, technology and tactics that help them solve faster.


As contact centers continue to evolve with technological advancements, the human element is more crucial than ever.

Despite AI and automation enhancing efficiency, the emotional toll on agents remains a key cause of high turnover. Leaders must prioritize empowerment and support to nurture a healthier, more sustainable work environment.

By reducing emotional labor with strategic resources, organizations can enhance job satisfaction, boost morale, and significantly lower the risks of burnout and attrition.

Ultimately, a focus on the well-being of agents is not just a good practice—it's a vital strategy for thriving in the competitive landscape of customer support.

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