There’s shame and stigma involved in openly communicating difficult situations, especially when they revolve around our mental or physical wellbeing. We’re taught to think positively and be happy, but those may not be our true feelings. Unfortunately, this stigma has a damaging effect throughout the workplace. We ignore our wellbeing at our own peril. The more we look away, the more we risk decreased wellbeing having an impact that goes beyond the employee experience and begins harming the customer experience, too.

And no matter how good you are at your job, if you’re ignoring your wellbeing, after time, it will eventually catch up, following you around like a bug that keeps buzzing in your ear as you’re trying to sleep.

Customer Experience is Linked to Employee Wellbeing

After battling an eating disorder for several years, I knew it was time to get help. A diagnosis from a doctor determined that I needed to go to an outpatient program at a hospital. The hospital provided me a note to share with my employer to give me permission to ask for time off.

Instead of handing it to my boss, I shredded it. I was a front line agent at a tech support company and I felt it was too risky of a career move to share that I was going to spend time in a mental hospital. Instead, I told my boss I needed to change my schedule because I was going to “nutrition school." Hopping into a very intensive outpatient program during the day and helping customers at night became my new life. It definitely offered up challenges. There were moments where, no, I was not at my best helping a customer. And, yes, it ultimately impacted my customers’ experience. Did I communicate that to anyone when I got marked down on my reviews? Nope!

But I’m not alone. Research shows that 95% of people who took time away from work due to wellbeing issues did not feel they were able to give their employer the true reason. When you look at the big picture of all of this, there’s one thing that links both the wellbeing of employees and the entire customer experience together: communication.

Communication Is a Part of Your Company Culture

The culture of a company generally starts at the top and trickles down. If a leader is pushing for their team to openly communicate issues, whether they be personal or professional, but they themselves are not openly communicating, how can everyone else be expected to participate?

Effective communication is the vehicle that keeps businesses thriving -all businesses. Employers who devote time and energy to wide-open channels of communication will build trust among employees, which can fuel productivity and overall morale. Studies find that stuffing negative emotions may bring on higher levels of stress. When channels of communication are stifled, you’ll likely end up with unmotivated individuals that don’t speak up and may begin to disengage or question their jobs.

The 2019 Mental Health at Work Report found that 60% of employees never talked to anyone at work about their mental health. And, lurching forward, 20% have left employers due to a lack of mental health support.

In a previous role, a supervisor I worked with noticed a shift in an employee on the team. This individual is typically a high achiever, and within a couple of weeks, their email responses to customers included a defensive tone and were missing critical details to help the customers solve their issues. When pulling the agent aside to seek some understanding of the big picture of what might be going on in their life, not necessarily even about the tickets, the question was dodged and a response was given that they just forgot how to find the answer in addition to being overly sensitive to the customer’s attitude. A week went by and the supervisor noticed another significant drop in quality.

In the next meeting, the agent seemed to break down and shared that their close friend recently passed away and their mind hasn’t been present at work. The supervisor recommended that the agent take the rest of the week off to grieve, rest and recharge.

While we all know situations like this are not resolved in just a few days, having the time to grieve while not answering customer emails, and permission from your company to do so is absolutely necessary.

Boundaries Are Part of Your Company Culture

In most organizations, human resources is typically the go-to for disclosing personal information. This may not be because employees want to, however. It might be because that’s the only route they have.

It’s found that less than one-third of employees reach out to a senior leader to discuss a mental health or wellbeing-related issue. But, it was found that over 60% of employees are willing to give support or ask for support from a fellow team member first before reaching out to leadership.

When we care about our colleagues, in some cases, setting boundaries is necessary to ensure the individual’s wellbeing needs are met.

My friend, we’ll call her Cate, has a job at a medium-sized tech company. She’s an account manager that often works with the contact center but does not actually manage a team. Recently, a new agent gravitated toward asking her questions about customer inquiries. Cate was open to providing the answers this agent needed but wasn’t sure why she was not talking to the supervisor. She didn’t report this to the supervisor though, as the questions were initially few and far between.

One day, Cate received a phone call from the agent. The agent was crying on the phone. With a listening ear, the agent disclosed a very serious and personal health situation. She suggested that due to the severity, the agent needed to share it with her supervisor to ensure she has the resources and support available. The agent agreed to reach out. Cate felt conflicted - she is in a higher role at the company and wants to be a reassuring source for the agent. But she knew that she wasn’t able to hold the mental capacity and energy to be there for this person. She was a good listener, but the details of the story were leaving a mental strain, impacting her productivity. She spoke with her manager to get help refocusing the conversation and find a way to set boundaries toward what she was comfortable with hearing.

The next day, another call arrived, this time with more troubling information. The agent confessed she did tell the supervisor that she was having issues but did not go into detail. She only felt comfortable sharing the actual details with my friend. Using the tools provided by her manager, Cate shared that she cares and wants the best for her, but that she has another resource for her to reach out to, one that can offer the accommodations she needs at this time.

In that situation, Cate had the support of her manager, communicating the situation and finding a solution to make sure that the wellbeing of both individuals is taken into consideration. Having resources like that for the team and leaders as well is crucial.

Employee Wellbeing Means Better Customer Service

It takes a brave leader to realize the importance of communicating the good stuff along with the tough stuff. It takes a brave leader, willing to be vulnerable, to sit back and listen to the good stuff, along with the tough stuff. And, it takes a brave leader to know when to redirect someone to another supportive source.

The wellbeing of your customer service team isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s not about fake smiles or pretending everything is fine when it’s not. It's about communicating our authentic selves, with whatever we’re comfortable with at the time because that can always shift as we learn along the way. Through the real-life examples in this article we see how taking time to communicate with our contact center teams can make a positive impact.