Contact Center Operations | Mental health of staff

Posted by Robert Coyne



“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organisation.

The stresses and strains of modern society can put a lot of pressure on people and it can have very serious effects to our mental well-being affecting our personal and our work lives. If these issues are not noticed, managed and supported they can lead to significant employee absenteeism.

Addressing mental health

More and more in recent years mental health is being talked about in a more positive and progressive manner. There is still progress to be made but the old negative perceptions about people experiencing mental health issues are slowly but surely being drained from the cultural zeitgeist.

This is giving people confidence to talk more openly about, and to spread the education of, mental health and how important it is to try to look after your own.

Any public facing role can add a different dimension to work related stress and mental well-being. As anyone who has worked in a contact center can attest, there is a high probability of encountering unsatisfied and frustrated customers on a daily basis.

The negative interactions that almost inevitably occur in some contact center roles can have a big effect on our mood and if these are repeated on a regular basis it is vital that contact center managers take steps to ensure they manage the stress on their team members.

A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey in the UK showed that Stress ranks 2nd for most common cause of short term absenteeism (table 5) with Mental Health coming in at 5th with issues like depression and anxiety.

For long term absenteeism (table 7) Stress is the number 1 cause with Mental Health moving up to 3rd behind Acute medical conditions such as heart attack or cancer in 2nd!

Stress and mental health can be closely related and some of the steps and initiatives that companies can utilise to manage, support and prevent both are, similarly, closely related. Tackling these two issues can significantly reduce levels of absenteeism and is also an important obligation of a company’s duty of care to its staff.

Traditional management methods to reduce employee Absenteeism

  • Back to work interviews

  • Trigger mechanisms to review absence

  • Line managers handling absence reviews

  • Disciplinary procedures for excessive/unacceptable absence levels

In the above mentioned CIPD survey the same methods that appear as most commonly used for managing absenteeism are also cited by employers as the most effective.

However, it is worth asking the question are they the most commonly used methods because they are the most effective, or are they thought to be the most effective because they are the most used?

The risks of ‘Presenteeism’

One prominent issue discussed in the CIPD report is ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism is where an employee comes to work even though they are unwell.

If an employer relies too heavily on deterrents to absenteeism they run the risk of seeing high levels of presenteeism.

This can have a negative effect in more ways than one. If the employee has a viral infection there is the risk that this will spread to other employees.

It also increases the risk that the employee’s ill health, whether it be physical or mental, will worsen and ultimately result in long term absenteeism.

Methods for supporting employees growing in popularity

While back to work interviews and trigger mechanisms do have positive effects and should not be abandoned employers should look to have a broader approach and include more diverse methods to improve absenteeism. Employers should look to invest in supporting and preventing employee health issues.

Methods that look to support employees rather than deter them from absenteeism include:

  • Employee Assistance Programme

  • Flexible working options (where possible)

  • Increasing awareness of mental health issues

  • Promoting mental well being

  • Training for managers to help support employees with mental health issues

It is also crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of each initiative introduced.

There can be a temptation to employ newer, popular techniques but if the company does not actively and regularly assess the effectiveness in their own business they could end up being counter productive and a waste of time, resources and money.

Employee surveys and reporting methods for tracking attendance trends can help evaluate the effectiveness of the different approaches being used.

The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ should be on the minds of any company looking to reduce employee absenteeism. Obviously not every illness can be prevented and certainly not every one is related to work. However, something like stress can often be strongly related with one’s working life.

Managing stress in the work environment

The biggest reasons cited by employees as causes of stress are long working hours and work loads. A manager who is equipped with the right knowledge and skills, through appropriate training, can effectively and evenly distribute workloads in a manageable way across their team.

Also, companies where longer than normal working hours are common tend to have higher levels of absenteeism.

Ensuring that employees have the capabilities and support to complete their tasks within a normal working day and promoting a positive work/life balance are key areas for management to focus on.

It is important for companies to research other methods and initiatives to help promote and support employee well being, because the investment will pay dividends. Older, well established methods certainly have their place when used effectively but companies should be open-minded and willing to research and try other methods, particularly where well being is a focus.

Key Takeaways
  • Stress, depression and anxiety can be contributed to by working conditions

  • Mental health is a significant cause of short and long term absences

  • Companies can reduce absences by implementing best practices for managing mental health

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