New findings: Improving the mental health of contact centre workers

09 October 2019

The frontline nature of contact centre work can put people at risk of mental ill-health, particularly contact workers in the financial services industry. For example, Group Insurance who often talk to people who are experiencing the worst day of their lives due to the death or illness of a loved one. Call centres in the Superannuation sector also face challenges in terms of explaining complex product details or legislative requirements. The need to provide prompt resolutions to customers also means workers may also have limited control over aspects of their work environment, such as when they can take a break.

SuperFriend’s Wellbeing on Call: Creating Thriving Contact Centres Project is a pilot designed to protect and promote the mental health and wellbeing of Victorian contact centre workers with the aim of improving their job satisfaction and job engagement.

SuperFriend have engaged five of our Superannuation and Insurance Partners to co-design a program of training, coaching and resources for contact centre team members, their Team Leaders and HR-focussed (e.g. OH&S, L&D) employees in each of the five organisations..

The project is funded through the WorkSafe Victoria WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

The pilot is nearing completion, with results expected in early 2020. However, we have interesting early findings from benchmark data that show a link between capability (defined as ‘building and applying skills in mental health and wellbeing – MH&W’) and key outcomes. We surveyed 96 team members from across the five participating contact centres.

 

What did we find?

 

Team Leaders are key to the wellbeing of workers in contact centres

Team members reported moderate levels of MH&W capability in their organisations, roughly consistent with Australian norms. These levels of perceived capability were in turn bolstered by the support provided by Team Leaders (i.e. direct managers).

Specifically, Team Leaders’ ability to provide team members with appropriate resources to do their job was the highest-rated capability across all organisations (31% strongly agree). Providing practical support and resources is a critical part of maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

Conversely, only a small number of participants reported that their teammates had appropriate skills to be able to support mental health and wellbeing (12%).

Maintaining skills in MH&W is particularly challenging for contact centres, as many have a high turnover rate. Other challenges include a younger workforce with less work experience who are less likely to have had relevant training in previous roles. This is being addressed in the wellbeing on call program by providing training to team leaders around understanding mental health, having care conversations and strengths-based coaching. A common theme across all training modules is a proactive and integrated approach. Evidence suggests that putting a mental health lens over all relevant business functions gets the best results [2]

 

Recommendations:

  • Support Team Leaders in supporting their staff with appropriate training and resources
  • Ensure Team Leaders and team members are trained in mental health and wellbeing.

 

“Support them, be an open, unbiased canvas for them to avoid second sense, either in a safe team environment or to meet one on one …I can see you’re not you’re bright usual self, let’s have a chat. You know, let’s bring up what’s going on so I can support you.”
HR Manager


Capability is linked to workers’ satisfaction and mental health

Outside of culture, an organisation’s capability in MH&W was found to be the strongest driver of workers satisfaction outcomes and intent to stay.

Perceived capability was strongly correlated with job satisfaction, in particular intrinsic satisfaction, or the nature and structure of their work (as opposed to pay and benefits). This relationship may be explained by two pillars of capability; providing appropriate support and employees’ ability to voice concerns around the job. Both of these factors illustrate how leaders can remove barriers for their team members to make roles more enjoyable and productive.

Low capability scores were also associated with higher levels of psychological distress, which have been found to be   associated with increased business costs absenteeism, presenteeism and workers’ compensation claims[1]

Finally, intent to leave the role – another driver of business cost – was also correlated with perceived level of capability.

 

Recommendation:

  • Consider retention and claims costs in the business case for investing in the mental health and wellbeing capability of your organisation.

“I want my team to perform at their very best each day and be happy each day as well.
And if I feel and I can see that they’re not ready to perform, then I’ll ask them that question.
So, you know, should you be at work right now? Is your head in the in the right space?”
Team Leader

 

What is preventing employers from taking action to improve mental health and wellbeing?

Despite many contact centre workers expressing the need for more action around MH&W, most also reported their organisations are not prioritising this.

Lack of knowledge and skills around mental health issues and interventions was mentioned as a common barrier to employers taking action.

Issue
Lack of time, everyone’s so busy 61.8%
More important business issues to address 44.4%
Lack of understanding around mental health and wellbeing issues 34.0%
Not knowing where to start in taking practical steps 29.8%
Lack of appropriate skills held by managers 26.5%
Compliance culture so employers only do what they have to do 23.8%
The focus tends to be on physical health not mental health 22.4%
The stigma of mental illness 21.0%
The costs associated with taking action 17.2%

 

“There’s always a stigma to mental health, whether or not they feel comfortable in themselves,
in the workplace to actually talk about it.”
HR Employee

“I think to build an organisational mental health program you definitely need funding and executive commitment,
and the help of training learning and development to build it”
Team Leader

 

Recommendations:

  • Meaningful improvement to MH&W capability requires commitment from leaders – not only time and resources, but in the way the communicate with their staff.
  • An organisation investing in MH&W send a powerful signal to its staff that they are valued.

 

 

[1] https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/beyondblue_workplaceroi_finalreport_may-2014.pdf

[2] https://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/972395/WHW-Network-White-Paper.pdf

This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.