Check In To Prevent Employee Burn Out

Georgia’s Own addresses emotional exhaustion among call center staff members now working at home.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • Emotional burnout can degrade job performance and prompt good workers to find employment elsewhere — sacrificing member service as well as increasing turnover expenses.
  • Awareness and engagement are key ways to detect and address the issue.

Call center work is tough in the best of times. The novel coronavirus and the remote work practices instituted in its wake have made call center work even tougher, with good employees suffering from the lack of in-person camaraderie and leadership.


Georgia's Own Credit Union
Data as of 09.30.20

HQ: Atlanta, GA
MEMBERS: 205,054
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.3%
ROA: 0.46%

That’s the reality Georgia’s Own Credit Union ($3.1B, Atlanta, GA) faced when it switched suddenly from approximately 5% of its 330 back-office staff working regularly offsite to 90% of them.

Putting the technology in place was not easy, but it was doable. The bigger challenge now lies in keeping up morale and productivity among its front-line, back-office folks so crucial to member service. Contact centers were a hot spot for burnout before COVID-19. The added stresses of the pandemic make burnout an even larger potential problem.

“We’ve shared ideas to help staff break up the monotony of the at-home work environment. And, when necessary, we’ve changed job responsibilities to better align with the virtual environment.”

Cindy Boyles, Chief Talent Officer, Georgia’s Own Credit Union

What Is Burnout And How Do You Spot It?

“Burnout can be defined as losing motivation for your job or company,” says chief talent officer Cindy Boyles. “Those with burnout lose excitement for their job and can feel emotional or physical exhaustion as a result.”

Boyles says people in stressful jobs like call center work are at particular risk, and she asks her managers at the Atlanta credit union to look for signs such as reduced productivity, negativity, and disengagement — basically, signs of checking out.

Cindy Boyles, Chief Talent Officer, Georgia’s Own Credit Union

But employees don’t need to display the telltale signs to be at risk of burning out.

“It’s important to consider the employee’s personality and living situation,” Boyles says. “Employees who are having to juggle multiple responsibilities, such as being their child’s caregiver or teacher while they’re also working remotely, can be at higher risk for burnout. We’ve also seen that staff members who live alone and feel isolated are at a greater risk as well.”

She says Georgia’s Own encourages its leaders to provide human contact via individual weekly check-ins and weekly huddles.

“These interactions allow employees to feel more comfortable sharing what they’re experiencing and how they’re feeling, and they allow the leader to ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue and offer support,” Boyles says.

Virtual sessions heavy on professional support as well as entertainment helps to build authentic relationships at five credit unions across the United States. Learn more in “How To Manage Morale During Social Distancing.” 

The Risks Posed By Employee Burnout

The risks posed by employee burnout involve more than just the employees themselves, says Diana Dix, a human resources risk adviser for Cavignac, an insurance risk advisory based in San Diego.

“When employees are experiencing these feelings, the chances they’re going to look for new jobs increases tremendously,” Dix says. “That impacts a company’s turnover and employee retention statistics, impacts revenue, and increases the cost of the hiring and the future training process.”

Diana Dix, Human Resources Risk Adviser, Cavignac

That emotional exhaustion also poses a risk to the member relationship.

“An employee experiencing burnout is not going to be performing their duties to the best of their abilities, which ultimately affects the customer experience in a negative way,” Dix says. “With call center staff, it would be very easy to recognize the signs of burnout and frustration in the employee’s voice and temperament on the call. This could potentially lead to a less than stellar experience on the caller’s end, which might prompt a negative, public-facing review.”

But it’s important to understand it’s not just front-line staff that’s feeling the stress.

“Management teams are also becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of visibility they currently have into the work that’s being done, given the physical distance between them and their teams, and this leads to a domino effect of frustration and burnout across the board,” says Dix, whose company serves clients in industries such as construction, real estate, manufacturing, government, and defense. “Employee burnout has truly a domino effect — once it starts to spread, it’s very difficult to remedy.

7 Ways Georgia’s Own Beats Burnout

Cindy Boyles, chief talent officer at Georgia’s Own Credit Union, offers best practices the credit union has developed to help employees battle burnout in their now-virtual contact center.

  1. Prioritize — It’s important for managers to prioritize workloads and ensure staff are getting adequate break time. Some employees might be eager to work through lunch or stay late to answer calls, but this can quickly lead to burnout.
  2. Support — It’s important employees know they’re supported. Leaders should have an open line of communication for employees to discuss both the nice and not-so-nice parts of their job.
  3. Equip — Give employees the tools they need to succeed. This includes technology.
  4. Empower — Give staff the opportunity to make decisions to help the member. This will save time and help stave off emotional exhaustion. It’s especially difficult to get manager approval in a remote environment, so making sure employees have the autonomy to do their job is more critical now than ever.
  5. Reward — High achievers make or break a department. Merit increases, special awards, or simple verbal recognition can engage a high achiever and, most importantly, help them develop a career path to keep them engaged.
  6. Train — Ongoing training for employees and managers will help employees do their job better and feel better about the organization. In addition to skills training, things like empathy training can be important, especially for managers.
  7. Recognize — When high achievers experience burnout, it can be detrimental to the whole department. Signs to look for include reduced productivity, negativity, and disengagement. Talk to employees exhibiting these signs and try to turn the situation around.

How To Address Work-From-Home Burnout

Georgia’s Own encourages staff members to tend to their own needs as well their members’ while paying special attention to those who interact with members every day.

“We ensure those member-facing employees in particular are able to have work/life balance,” Boyles says.

That means enabling staff to take time off, make time for doctor’s visits, and taking regular breaks throughout the day, just like they would in a normal face-to-face environment, Boyles says.

“We also encouraged our employees to take PTO, even if that just means staying home and getting some much-needed rest,” the cooperative’s chief talent officer says. “Time to wind down is critical to overall health and wellbeing.

But that’s not all Georgia’s Own does.

“We’ve also shared ideas to help staff break up the monotony of the at-home work environment,” Boyles adds. “And, when necessary, we’ve changed job responsibilities to better align with the virtual environment.”

Making The Changes Permanent

According to Boyles, Georgia’s Own is codifying policies and procedures for managers to follow when it comes to engaging with employees. The credit union is also continuing to train managers to help employees experiencing burnout, especially of the work-from-home variety. Health and wellness challenges, a digital platform for staff to recognize one other for their good work and good deeds, and employee satisfaction surveys are all ways the credit union is showing its employee support.

Of the latter, Boyles says, “This was something we put in place prior to the pandemic and has been especially important to us now.”

She also points to regular WebEx sessions that began with the CEO and now includes the entire senior team to keep the rest of the staff informed, often by answering questions sent in advance by employees.

“These measures have been very effective in keeping everyone informed, especially when they’re not able to see their managers or co-workers in a face-to-face environment,” Boyles says.

Georgia’s Own member services and lending call centers are now both nearly 100% remote, according to Boyles, and newer employees are only coming into the office for onboarding in training.

“The ability to work remotely had previously been viewed as a privilege,” Boyles says. “Now it’s a necessity and an expectation of our workforce. The pandemic forced us to move quickly toward a remote-capable workforce, and there’s no going back now.”

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