Help Your Agents Stay Energized at Work

image of businessman asleep on keyboard

Help Your Agents Stay Energized at Work

Updated May 2022 (originally posted January 2019) Ann started her day with a double espresso and a quick lap around the block, but by 2pm she has been staring at the same customer service ticket for ten minutes and can’t remember what her last action on it was. She’s so tired she doesn’t even care.  Low energy, especially in direct customer contact work like customer service, is detrimental to the company bottom line. Support agents’ mental health, physical well-being and connection to help your agents stay energized at work even if they work from home.

The Importance of Mental Health

The speed and quantity of change brought on by the pandemic helped to highlight the importance of mental health. Whether working from home or in-house, the mental well-being of your employees is just as important to their energy as food and water. After all, it’s hard to digest under stress.

For those working from home, isolation from colleagues can lead to lack of connection which has been tied to work performance too.

Even pre-pandemic, loneliness had reached numbers on par with an epidemic. Supply workers with a mix of online and, when possible, in person options that foster quality connection. Educational resources, counseling, social events and games are ideas on what to offer.

Health For All

It is important for all workers, regardless of race, gender affiliation or religion, to have substantive support for their well-being.

A 2021 study by The Harris Poll in regard to progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) revealed that less than half of respondents saw DE&I at their current/previous employer. Further, people of color reported more pay disparity, discrimination and less feeling of safety.

However, 86% of all respondents agreed that they want to work for an employer that makes their mental/emotional health and well-being a priority.

We Are 50-75% Water

Image of workers around a water cooler
© Wavebreakmedia Onepixel_1763397

Yeah, you’ve heard it before, but who knows, maybe the 100th time will make it stick. We need water for all of our bodily systems including brain function. Who wants their customer service issue handled by a dried out brain? Ick.

Seriously, hydration in the workplace has become so important the UK even has a Natural Hydration Council. Now that’s getting serious about water. From their fact sheet:

“Not only can staying hydrated help to improve our work productivity, helping us to perform better mentally and physically, it can also help to offset potential safety risks. For example, dehydration could lead to reduced concentration, which is a risk for anyone operating machinery, or driving a vehicle.”

Yes, it’s important to operate machinery with competence.  You can’t take it back when you put that important document through the shredder by accident. Get out the scotch tape. It is just as important for your customer service agents to have their minds clearly focused to tackle customer issues efficiently and accurately.

How Much Water?

Ok, not everyone likes the taste of water. If you have really crappy water in your area you could invest in a filtration system or a water cooler service for your contact centers. These act as a reminder to stay hydrated. If your workers have access to quality water they are more likely to drink it.

As their hydration level impacts their performance the investment is worthwhile. It shows that you care about your workers’ well-being, which builds loyalty, which reduces new agent training costs.

Sufficient hydration comes from more than just plain water though. Water heavy foods like fruits and even coffee and tea count. That’s good because the suggested daily amounts are significant:

“A panel of scholars convened several years ago by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that women should consume, on average, about 91 ounces of total water per day. For men, the suggested level is even higher (125 ounces).”

The water cooler and coffee maker are for more than casual conversation. They provide ROI. Initiate a Fresh Fruit Fridays and provide hydrating and nutritious snacks to keep your agents energized.

Alternatively, try making a game or friendly competition around hydration. Borrow from ideas like step and sleep trackers. Send a daily reminder to agents. Have them track their glasses of water or post images or videos of themselves drinking water. Give out prizes for the most proactive, which encourages others to up their hydration game (who doesn’t love prizes?). Involve both in office and at home workers, bringing them together through health and fun.

You Are What You Eat

Energize from Hydration with fruit
© Danieldash Onepixel_3697752

Consistent food means consistent blood sugar levels which means consistent energy.

Hunger is draining, distracting, and irritating. Anger brought on by hunger gave us the fun term ‘hangry’. Waiting until hunger is so bad one worker is ready to fight another caveman style leads to reduced performance, poor decision making and emotional impairment.

An Israeli study led by Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz found that a high calorie breakfast was key to keeping cravings down. Even better, it was found :

“that eating chocolate in the morning – yes, every morning – was found to help people lose weight…”

By the way, she was referring to a 600 calorie breakfast that includes dessert, not made entirely of dessert. Still, chocolate as breakfast incentive to stay energized at work sounds good. Having snacks in the break room helps ensure your agents’ blood sugar stays level providing consistent energy.

Eat Like a Cow

The power of grazing vs feasting is shown in performance. According to this NBC news article:

“Your goal should be to keep your blood sugar at an optimal level as well as consistent throughout the course of your day by selecting foods that release glucose slowly, rather than quickly, and grazing on them throughout the workday. This one change could dramatically boost your productivity.”

But it isn’t just frequency. Different foods equal different results. A study from Brigham Young University of 20,000 workers revealed:

“Employees with unhealthy diets were 66 percent more likely to report having a loss in productivity…

Employees who rarely eat fruits, vegetables and other low-fat foods at work were 93 percent more likely to have a higher loss in productivity”

This is not to say never have a doughnut. That’s asking a lot. I mean, they’re delicious. There’s a compelling argument for making them an occasional treat rather than relying on them for nutrition.

Ideas for encouraging healthier dietary actions in your agents:

  • Create an agent newsletter that includes a healthy recipe weekly or monthly
  • Quarterly healthy events that include information on quality food choices
  • Organize a snack pot luck and lead the way by providing a vegetable or fruit tray
  • Congratulate team members with fruit arrangements
  • Provide fruit in the breakroom on occasion instead of doughnuts and cookies

Take A Break

How many of you eat at your desk, slopping sauce over your keyboard, instead of taking a proper civilized break?  (Okay, how many of you clean your equipment afterward?) Those who see you slaving through your lunch hour may think you are dedicated, but you are not likely more effective. The same is true for your workers.

This Washington Post article references a survey showing 39% of US workers eat at their desks and additional data reveals the most productive people are those who take regular breaks:

“Taking a break from cognitively taxing work improves creative thinking,” says Kimberly Elsbach, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Davis,”

Proper breaks are not only the law, but they improve the bottom line. Encourage your agents and managers to take their breaks, especially lunch breaks. KPI metrics like First Call Resolution and Call Time could improve saving on cost per call.

Move that Body

Stay energized with exercise
© Pressmaster Onepixel_2157693

Remember when agents are doing air squats in the hallway they’re improving their metrics. There are studies to back them up.

Just like water, you’ve probably heard about exercise so much it just makes you roll your eyes. Humans are meant to move not stare at a screen in perpetuity. This doesn’t mean running a marathon or competing in powerlifting, from Forbes:

“Interspersing short movements and exercises throughout the workday can boost employee energy, engagement and efficiency, says sports scientist Jack Groppel. Whether it’s stretching periodically in your cubicle or walking to a coworker’s desk rather than sending that intra-office email, small actions can go a long way toward improving both individual and company performance.”

The benefits of regular movement aren’t just physical but mental. From HBR:

“Consider the following cognitive benefits, all of which you can expect as a result of incorporating regular exercise into your routine:

  • Improved concentration
  • Sharper memory
  • Faster learning
  • Prolonged mental stamina
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Lower stress”

The body and the mind are deeply interconnected. Working both effectively is necessary even when that work is sedentary. The same HBR article poses the idea that exercise is low on the priority list because it is seen as a luxury, but that view is costly:

“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves—a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work—it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself. The alternative, which involves processing information more slowly, forgetting more often, and getting easily frustrated, makes us less effective at our jobs and harder to get along with for our colleagues.”

Take a Stand

Providing workers with adjustable workstations improves their posture, mood and performance. In a study of standing vs sitting workers:

“In fact, non-standers took an average of 47 percent more work breaks and each work break was 56 percent longer than that of the standers. Over a three-day period, non-standers took over twice as much total time on breaks from work as the standers did — clearly having an effect on productivity.”

For those that cannot easily stand, like pregnant workers and those with injuries, adjustable chairs, keyboards and monitors go a long way toward reducing fatigue and injury from non-ergonomic work stations.

Night Owl? Morning Person? Neither?

Some people wake before the sun. Others are the last one out of the bunk in the morning. Human sleep and energy personalities vary. Putting workers on the shifts that target their highest productivity times benefits both worker and business. This is an incentive for from-home/remote agent positions where the worker’s freedom to choose their own hours results in better performance and life balance.

Michael Breus, PhD has defined what he calls chronotypes – groupings based on different biological clocks which have different windows of highest productivity. He developed a quiz to help identify a person’s chronotype.

Identify when your agents are most energized innately and use it to schedule effectively. This is far better than achieving minor results pushing against natural abilities. That’s the sticking a square peg into a round hole analogy. Even if it gets wedged in there it still won’t be round. Who wants to be a miserable, ineffective peg?

When you prioritize mental health, physical well-being and connection you help your agents stay energized at work. Your business reaps the benefits in lower operating costs, better agent retention and improved performance. I’d drink a glass of water to that.