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Stress Management Series: Identify and Eliminate Stressors

How to prevent and manage stress in today’s fast paced call center environment.

In the last entry, we explored some of the "stress triggers," both in general as well as those in the workplace. As they say, the first step to managing any situation is awareness: Awareness of what your stressors are, so that you can better manage situations where they are present and/or avoid them altogether.

The "trigger," or what causes good or bad stress, is a "stressor." Below is a list of some of the most common stressors. Review these stressors and think about what causes you good stress and what causes your bad stress.

Types of Stressors:


  • Good
  • Bad
  • Anticipation

  • Economic
  • Global/Political
  • Financial
  • Family/Friends
  • Community

Major Life Changes:
  • Grief
  • Marriage/Divorce
  • Pregnancy
  • Parenthood/Empty nest
  • Death of loved one
  • Senior years
  • Daily/minor/constant

  • Perfectionism
  • Unrealistic expectations: self or others
  • Personality/self-esteem

  • Noise
  • Pollution
  • Food
  • Crime

Notice that this list is missing many types of stressors and these are just some of the basics. When these stress triggers result in good stress, most of us are pretty happy. But, it’s when they cause bad stress that we run into problems, particularly when it comes to stressors in the workplace.

10 Most Common Distressors

Now, let’s take a look at what studies have shown to be the most common "distressors" in the call center. Keep in mind that while some of the stressors stem from our personal lives, they often spill over into the workplace. As you review the list, ask yourself if this applies to situations in your call center. If the answer is yes, we’ll discuss later on how to eliminate and/or mitigate the source of the stressor.

(And, if you have overcome any of these we’d love to hear what you do to avoid, minimize or eliminate these workplace stressors!)

    1. Environmental Challenges. These can apply anywhere, but in a call center ergonomics issues come up much more often.
    2. Interruption Insanity. Everyone gets "interrupted" while at work. But because work arrives randomly in the call center that is another stressor in itself. If your reps are trying to do other tasks in between calls, that can also be very stressful since they are constantly interrupted by other calls.
    3. Goal Glitches. Does everyone in the call center know what is his or her goals are? And do any of these goals conflict? The potential for goal conflicts to occur can be very high in the call centers, (e.g. measure on calls answered, handle time and quality.)
    4. Teamwork Tribulations. Is everyone in the call center pulling his or her weight? Or are some folks pulling more than their own? Some reps find themselves taking the heat for others’ mistakes, or suffer when folks are out sick, come in late etc. What about the "negative" tem members, who make everything a problem?
    5. Resource Restrictions. Does everyone have access to the tools and resources required to do their jobs?
    6. Limited Decision-Making Input. Here, we are talking about control: control over the work (which is a big "no" in call centers) and control or input into the decisions being made. More often than not, there are many more rules (that may seem controlling, but are often very necessary) than input into decisions.
    7. Lack of Communication. There may be a lack of communication about what is happening in the company or even other areas of the call center that are not communicating with us. This includes occasions where there is no time for team meetings or coaching, no time to read company emails, policy updates etc.
    8. Constant Correction. It affects us when we hear only the “bad stuff” that we’re doing, but never about the good.
    9. Under-Appreciation. When there is little or no recognition of good work (such as, only for a "home-run" situation.) Good work should be rewarded - or at least recognized - on a regular basis.
    10. Constant Change. The biggest stressor of them all!

Commuting headaches may also apply to every workplace, but it can really be a source of stress for call center agents, because we’re measuring them on adherence and the impact of being late can be much greater to an agent vs. someone in marketing.

Handling Stress

So why does the same stressor or stressful event energize one person and distress another? Two factors determine if, when faced with a stressful situation, an individual will experience good stress or bad stress/distress:

1. Your Perception. The most basic criteria for assessing the stressfulness of a situation is: How do I feel about this? A particular event or situation can cause positive reactions in one individual and negative reactions in another. A particular event might even cause "mixed feelings" within the same individual. Some people do their best work under pressure, while pressure can seriously hamper the productivity of another individual.

2. Your Resilience. Resilience is the ability to "bounce back" from a difficult situation or adjust to the demands of a new situation. (This is extremely important in a contact center, isn’t it?)

Some are able to accomplish this change easily, while others have great difficulty. The more resilient you are to a stressful situation the more likely you will be to view that stress as positive!

Now that we've defined stress and outlined situations that may trigger it, we’ll look at the effects of stress and start on our journey towards managing them in the next installment.