3 Types of Fatigue That Can Destroy Customer Service

Many customer service employees view the holidays with dread.

It is supposed to be a joyous, festive time. The reality for many of us is our already busy days are filled with holiday activities such as baking, writing holiday cards, getting our Christmas shopping done, and attending a multitude of holiday parties.

Some customer service employees experience all that coupled with their absolute busiest time of year. They log countless hours of overtime. Each workday is a never-ending line of customers.

It's exhausting. 

There are three types of fatigue in particular that are dangerous this time of year. Here is an overview of each one and how it may harm your customer service.


Lack of Sleep

Health care professionals generally recommend adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of us get less than that.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists concentration and memory as the two highest-reported effects of insufficient sleep. We see this in customer service when employees have difficulty concentrating on your needs or remembering to call you back as promised.

Many of us overdose on coffee to compensate for a lack of sleep. Studies show too much caffeine can lead to difficulty sleeping, which makes the problem even worse. 

How much employees sleep is largely outside of our control, though there are a few things we can do.

  1. Share this blog post with employees and discuss it.
  2. Try to keep employee schedules as predictable as possible.
  3. Schedule holiday parties in January. (I've done this several times and they are often so much more fun!)


Directed Attention Fatigue

Customer service employees are besieged by distractions.

We're asked to multitask. The average contact center agent juggles five to seven computer programs using two monitors. Our daily world is filled with buzzes, beeps, screen flashes, and other signals that constantly capture and redirect our attention.

Over time, those distractions cause fatigue in the parts of of our brain that focus attention and block out external stimuli. This is known as Directed Attention Fatigue, or DAF. Some psychiatrists refer to it as Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) and suggest the symptoms are very similar to ADD.

Here are a few signs from DAF from Bernadine Cimprich:

  • Distractibility
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficult starting and finishing tasks

All of these can be detrimental to outstanding customer service. This makes it essential for customer service leaders to help employees avoid or recover from DAF.

There are only a few things that are known to work:

  • Promote a workplace free of unnecessary distractions. 
  • Reconsider whether using two computer monitors is a good solution.
  • Encourage employees to take breaks outside, since nature is known for its restorative qualities.
  • Set up a quiet room at work to give employees a place to unwind.


Empathy Fatigue

Customer service employees are supposed to care about customers.

We're expected to listen intently, try to understand customers' feelings and emotions, and take action to show we really understand.

Demonstrating too much empathy can be exhausting. The resulting fatigue is referred to as empathy fatigue, compassion fatigue, or even burnout. Here are just a few symptoms from Psychology Today:

  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Isolating yourself
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Difficulty concentrating

This is another list that clearly isn't conducive to outstanding service. 

My study on contact center agent burnout revealed a few factors that can lesson the risk. It is likely these same factors are applicable in other customer service environments, too:

  • Customer Focus. Burnout risk goes down when employees believe their company is customer-focused.
  • Empowerment. Employees are less likely to face burnout when they feel empowered to help their customers.
  • Quality. Better products and services mean fewer upset customers, which means less empathy is needed. Elite companies are relentless about avoiding angry customers in the first place.



In his article, The Dopamine Economy, Umair Haque explains how many of our habits are unhealthy for our mental well-being. A lack of sleep, constant distractions, and an inability to truly focus result.

These habits become ingrained because they trigger dopamine releases in our brain. This makes these unhealthy habits incredibly addictive.

One way to break the cycle and recover is to schedule an unplug event. You can try this on your next two-day weekend. 

Here's how it works:

  1. Avoid all digital media. That means your smart phone, your computer, and even the television.
  2. Spend time outdoors. Try going for a walk or a hike where you can get some fresh air and observe natural beauty.
  3. Engage with friends. Have a game night, invite some friends over for dinner, or do something else that allows you to spend quality time with other people.

The first day won't be easy, but it gets better. By the end of the weekend, you'll likely feel more refreshed and focused than you have in a long time.