Hidden Cause of Agent Attrition: How “Ambient Gaslighting” Impacts Your Contact Center and How to Stop It

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Contact Center | 0 comments

Have you ever wondered why your contact center experiences high agent attrition? Are you aware of the subtle forces that might be influencing your agents’ experiences and their decisions to leave? Could a phenomenon known as “ambient gaslighting” be happening in your organization, affecting the entire workforce?

In a recent USA Today article, physician psychiatrist Dr. Grant Brenner discusses the concept of “ambient gaslighting.” While the article doesn’t specifically address contact centers, I believe a clear thread connects this phenomenon to the agent experience in these settings.

What is “Ambient Gaslighting?”

Dr. Brenner describes ambient gaslighting as a form of background noise. “There’s just this background feeling that maybe I’m being tricked in some way,” Brenner says. This feeling can create a general sense of unease. In the context of a contact center, this unease can lead to dissatisfaction, disengagement, and, ultimately, attrition.


“Ambient Gaslighting” in Contact Centers

In contact centers, ambient gaslighting manifests in various ways. It can be as simple as a leadership style that makes a team fearful to speak up or as complex as imbalanced information that affects perceptions.


Examples of “Ambient Gaslighting”

  • Passive-Aggressive Communication: Feedback that seems constructive but subtly undermines the agent.
  • Misleading Metrics: Measurements that don’t accurately reflect an agent’s performance or are manipulated to present a different reality.
  • Denial of Issues: Management dismisses or denies problems or concerns raised by agents.
  • Blaming the Agent: Leader accuses the agent of issues outside their control.
  • Undermining Confidence: Supervisors constantly question an agent’s decisions or suggest they cannot handle their responsibilities.
  • Ignoring Accomplishments: Management ignoring or downplaying an agent’s milestones and successes.


10 Ways To Combat “Ambient Gaslighting” and Reduce Agent Attrition

  1. Promote Psychological Safety: Create an environment where employees feel safe to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of punishment or ridicule.
  2. Encourage Peer Support: Foster a culture where employees support each other, which can help victims of gaslighting feel less isolated and more empowered to speak up.
  3. Implement Feedback Sessions and Surveys: Regularly ask your workforce about their environment and relationships with colleagues and supervisors. This can help identify potential issues, including gaslighting, early on.
  4. Provide Conflict Resolution Training: Equip people with the skills to handle conflicts in a healthy and constructive manner. This can help prevent gaslighting situations from escalating.
  5. Establish a Whistleblower System: Implement a system where employees can report gaslighting or other forms of abuse anonymously. This can encourage victims or witnesses to come forward.
  6. Promote Transparency: Be open about the steps the company is taking to combat gaslighting and other forms of psychological pain. This can help build trust and reassure employees that their well-being is a priority.
  7. Offer Mental Health Support: Provide resources for mental health support to deal with gaslighting or other forms of stress.
  8. Recognize and Reward Positive Behavior: Encourage a positive workplace culture by appreciating and rewarding behaviors that promote respect, collaboration, and inclusivity.
  9. Create a Culture of Accountability: Ensure that everyone, from top management to entry-level employees, is held accountable for their actions. This can deter potential gaslighters and reassure victims that their concerns will be taken seriously. Includes proper training and leadership support.
  10. Hire The Right Leaders: When hiring or promoting managers, consider not just their technical skills but also their ethical standards and how they treat others. Leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for the workplace culture, so it’s essential to choose those who will foster an empathetic and supportive environment.

The Impact on Agent Attrition and Customer Experience

Ignoring “ambient gaslighting” can lead to a pervasive sense of uneasiness and susceptibility among agents and, thus, low morale, decreased productivity, and a lack of engagement, contributing to higher attrition rates. The cost of replacing an agent can be significant, factoring in the expenses of recruitment, training, and the time it takes for a new agent to reach full productivity. High attrition rates can also lead to a loss of experienced staff, negatively impacting the quality of customer service provided.

Moreover, the effects of “ambient gaslighting” extend beyond the agents themselves. The customer experience is directly impacted by the agent experience. Agents who feel valued, respected, and supported are more likely to be committed to their work, leading to improved customer interactions. They’re likelier to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction, fostering more robust relationships and loyalty.


“Ambient gaslighting” is a subtle but pervasive force affecting individuals and organizations alike. Contact center leaders must recognize its presence and take deliberate actions.

By understanding the nuances of ambient gaslighting and implementing the strategies outlined above, leaders can create a contact center environment where agents feel confident, valued, and empowered, leading to lower attrition rates and ultimately, better customer experiences.

Remember: Agent Experience and Customer Experience are intertwined. When we nurture our agents, we indirectly nurture our customers. They are, indeed, two sides of the same coin. 

This article is part of the Vistio Knowledge Collective. 

If you like this article, check out more content full of actionable information:


8 Strategies To Get Great Customer Experience (It Starts With You)

(I co-wrote this with Dr. Brenner, originally featured in Psychology Today publication)

Creating A Speak Up Culture For Greater Fulfillment

Doing CX Right podcast ep. 14  featuring Stephen Shedletzky

Reducing Burnout To Deliver Better Customer Experiences

Doing CX Right podcast ep. 33 featuring Marcy Rader


Keyword themes: agent experience, customer experience, psychology, Communication, Customer Service, USA Today, Contact Center, Call center, employee experience.

Master Your Customer Experience and Service Skills with Stacy Sherman

*All views expressed are Stacys and do not reflect the opinions of or imply the endorsement of employers or other organizations.


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