Why Self-Care Should Be a Priority for Contact Center Leaders in 2020


Ralph Waldo Emerson knew about #selfcare before it was a hashtag trending on Instagram.

In his essay, Self-Reliance from 1841, he writes, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

As a contact center leader, the idea of peace within yourself might sound mystical, foreign and likely non-existent. With every phone ring, message ding or email pop-up, you’re chomping at the bit to get it all done, all the time.

When we put our phones down and back away from our computers for a second, we notice a self-care ripple effect happening amongst the cubicles. In order to take the best care of your contact center teams, you must first take the best care of yourself. And, by doing so, you set the stage for your team to take the best care of themselves in order to help customers. 

Self-care boils down to a bio-individual behavior, unique to each person, and includes things like nutrition, physical activity, relationships, spiritual growth, mental health, and stress management.

At work, in roles where you’re helping others, it’s easy to put yourself last in the care queue. Complex demands on contact center agents and leaders make it difficult for self-care to be a priority during a hustling workday. And often, the stress is carried home with you on your commute back to family and friends.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that in 2018, 39% of U.S. adults felt more anxious than the previous year.

The mental and physical issues that stem from burnout cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S. The actual day-to-day cost that businesses might expect to see can show up as low productivity, high turnover and the loss of their best talent.

You may read this and think, “Oh, this isn’t something I need to address. I’m just a busy manager with a team to lead. I’m fine.”

It’s interesting to note that many others think it’s also not worth addressing. In a 2011 Can J Psychiatry study, 40% of employees who reported severe depression actually went on to seek treatment to control depression symptoms. The other 60% just kept chugging along.

You’re a busy person. With your to-do list the size of Machu Picchu, telling you that you need more time for self-care is enough to cause more anxiety. 

The answer isn’t just about sitting down to sip green juice, meditate or get a massage. While those are wonderful things, they may not advocate for the bigger self-care picture.

When a lot of people think about self-care, they think about how they can feel better. But self-care isn’t necessarily always about feeling better, it’s more about being better at the feeling.

Self-care might mean understanding your personal boundaries and saying “no” instead of “yes” to another project. Self-care might mean turning off your favorite TV show to be in bed by 9 pm to feel rested and be more productive the following day. Self-care might mean finally having a difficult but much-needed conversation with someone that you’ve been putting off for years.

Supporting your support team starts with you. Ben Nemtin, New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of The Buried Life movement, says, “It is an act of service to care about yourself.”

A friend of mine told me the story of her former boss that came to the office one day with a serious kidney infection. He mentioned how he was in urgent care the night prior, didn’t get any sleep, and was back at work the following day to, in his words, “push through it”. Imagine how she felt when she approached him a few weeks later to request a day off because she had an ocular migraine. Turns out, she didn’t even ask because she thought her request would be rejected.

Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, encourages leaders to consider the behaviors modeled to the team. She says, “If you’re running from meeting to meeting and don’t have enough time in the day to breathe, what message does that send?”

Setting the example starts by having an awareness that you’re setting one in the first place. You may not even realize your own behaviors and how the team is responding. But, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be perfect. It’s less about being the happiest person in the room and more about being authentic and aware. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Leaders need to own up to their role in constructing the workplace stress that leads to burnout - things like heavy workloads, lack of communication, job insecurity, unnecessary amounts of meetings and zero time for creative work.

The self-judgment kicks in, though. How can you set a good example for the team when you, the leader, are stressed and burned out? Even if you’re uncertain about how to manage your own stress, it’s beneficial to demonstrate that you take the issue of self-care seriously. What could it look like to take on self-care as a team? David says, “Say to your team, ‘Even in the context of this change or challenge, how do we come together?’” Starting discussions about it can be advantageous to the team and it will also hold you accountable for taking care of yourself. Just don’t force anyone on the team into these activities if it will make them uncomfortable.

When self-care becomes a priority for contact center leaders, you’ll notice an uptick in agent productivity and a decrease in absenteeism. You’ll notice that your team might be communicating stronger, clearer and more truthfully - to coworkers and customers. There may be more genuine smiles, there may be some real tears. Either way, guiding your agents to bring their human to work will improve your contact center in numerous ways, which in turn, increases customer happiness. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Jenny Dempsey


Jenny Dempsey is currently the Customer Experience Manager for NumberBarn.com. She's the co-founder and regular contributor over at CustomerServiceLife.com blog. She's also a self-care coach for customer service agents and leaders. She is the mother of a toothless rescue cat named Chompers. Avocados and veggie tacos are the way to her heart. Hanson fa [...] Read More >

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