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

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

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?

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.
  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. 


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.

Investing In Agent Experience: The Key To Delivering Customer Excellence

Investing In Agent Experience: The Key To Delivering Customer Excellence

The Importance of Agent Experience (AX)

Customer experience (CX) is a significant driver of business success in the modern age. Customers expect more than just good products and solutions; they want authentic personalized experiences, high quality, and delivery of the brand promise. This does not happen without prioritizing agent experiences and investing in their success.

Agents are the front line just as much, if not more, than sales teams. Service agents have the power to make or break a company’s success. It’s no secret that engaged agents are motivated, connected, and satisfied with their job, team, and organization, and this connection transfers to the customer.

Investing in agent experience is about more than just providing them with the proper training and tools. It is also related to helping them feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, providing support and resources, and empowering agents to succeed. So let’s dig deeper into agent engagement tactics.

    Invest In Agent Experience Tools and Recognition

    Deploying the right technology is essential for agents to do their job effectively, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems access to customer data and analytics. Equipping agents with tools and simple ways to do their job with less effort, they can quickly and accurately diagnose customer issues and provide the best solutions. Additionally, having the right tools help agents save time, enabling them to focus on building customer relationships and increasing retention.

    Furthermore, recognizing agents for their hard work and dedication fosters loyalty and appreciation, which fuels them to provide even better customer service on purpose. Recognition can be in the form of rewards, such as bonuses or promotions, or it can be more informal, such as public praise and a personal thank-you call from the CEO. Remember: small actions usually have significant impacts!

    Invest Time and Care in Getting Agent Feedback  

    Including customer service agents in decision-making is another essential aspect of investing in agent engagement. Customer service representatives have a unique perspective and understanding of the customer experience, and their insights can be invaluable to the business. In addition, giving agents a seat at the table to represent the “voice of the customer” makes them feel empowered and motivated to go up and beyond. So, it’s a win for the company, the agent, and ultimately the customer.  

    Key Takeaways for Leaders To Enhance Agent Experiences

    The following are some actionable tactics to improve agent experiences and success for better customer outcomes:

    • Focus on agent well-being, including physical, emotional, and mental health. Tactics include direct conversations, sentiment surveys, and more.
    • Establish a community for agents to provide a space for feedback and support. Include cross-teams in the community to foster connectivity and collaboration.
    • Recognize and reward agents who provide exceptional service. Read customer surveys and social media, as people often mention agents by name.   
    • Provide regular agent training to enhance their skills and knowledge. i.e., Lunch and learns. Onboarding sessions.
    • Create a meaningful work culture and foster a sense of purpose and belonging among agents. 
    • Engage agents in decision-making by giving them a voice at leadership meetings to inform business strategies.
    • Streamline administrative tasks so agents can focus on providing the best customer experience possible and build relationships.
    • Provide customer service to the agent. i.e., if they need help with equipment, respond quickly and fix their pain points as they pay it forward to the customer.


    Investing in agent experience is crucial to delivering exceptional customer experience and long-term success.

    Listen to CX QA Live show hosted by Rob Connelly at Vistio, where I was the featured guest. We dive deep into agent engagement topics and strategies for Doing CX Right. Got questions? Let’s talk. 

    And sign up for my newsletter full of actionable free tips.

    Check out my guest appearance on Vistio CXQA Live.

    Breaking the Cycle of Burnout and Disengagement: How to Reconnect and Thrive

    Breaking the Cycle of Burnout and Disengagement: How to Reconnect and Thrive

    Have you ever felt drained of all motivation and energy and struggled to find purpose in your work? If so, you’re not alone. Burnout and disengagement are two common issues affecting millions worldwide, causing decreased productivity, low morale, and poor mental health.


    Identifying Burnout vs. Disengagement

    While burnout and disengagement are often used interchangeably, they are different. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, while disengagement is a lack of motivation and commitment to work. Identifying the signs of burnout early on is crucial to avoid its negative consequences.

    Some common signs of burnout include chronic fatigue, decreased productivity, and feelings of cynicism and detachment from work. On the other hand, disengagement is characterized by procrastination, reduced quality of work, and a lack of enthusiasm for tasks.

    The good news is that you can overcome burnout and disengagement by reconnecting with your work and thriving.


    Strategies for Overcoming Burnout and Staying Motivated

    You can take some essential steps to prevent and overcome burnout. Here are some strategies that can help:


    Hacks to Keep People Motivated and Free up Time for Priorities

    • Prioritize tasks: Determine what is most important to do now, soon, versus later. I love the app called “Things” to keep from getting overwhelmed.
    • Take breaks: A “time out” is not just for kids. There are benefits for adults to recharge and re-energize. This can include stretching, taking a walk, or engaging in any activity that you find relaxing.
    • Set boundaries: Learn to say no to requests that don’t align with your priorities or goals. This helps to avoid over-committing and related stress.
    • Delegate: If you have a team, give up some tasks to free up time for strategic initiatives.  And if a friend or family member offers help, say yes with gratitude too.
    • Create a routine: Establish one that fits your lifestyle, including work hours, breaks, and leisure time to create a sense of structure in the chaotic world we live in.

    Productivity “Power-Ups” to Show up as Your Best Self Without Burnout

    Productivity “power-ups” are habits and tools that help you work more efficiently and with less stress. Marcey Rader, a productivity expert, shares many great tips about “power-ups” on my DoingCXRight podcast episode 33. Ideas include:

    • Reduce distractions: Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, close unnecessary tabs, and use noise-canceling headphones to block out noise.
    • Time-block your schedule: Allocate sections on your calendar for specific tasks to increase focus and reduce multitasking.
    • Use a task manager: Some popular platforms are Todoist and Trello, which can help you organize your projects and meet deadlines without relying on your busy brain to remember.

    Tactics to Amp up Energy, Conquer Calendars, and Emails with Focus

    • Take care of your physical health: Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep to boost your energy levels and reduce stress. These may be obvious yet often overlooked.
    • Use the “Two-Minute Rule”: If a task takes less than two minutes, do it immediately instead of adding it to your to-do list.
    • Schedule email and social media time: Set specific times for checking messages to avoid distractions throughout the day.
    • Set calendar boundaries: Schedule your workday with start and end times, and avoid planning meetings during your most productive hours.

    Get More Tips and Tricks To Reduce Burnout and Thrive

    Listen to Stacy Sherman’s Doing CXRight Podcast with featured guest Marcey Rader.

    Product Recommendation:

    Empower Employees and Customer Service Agents With ThriveGlobal’s “Reset”


    While attending 3 Tree Tech Customer Experience Executive roundtable, I learned about ThriveGlobal’s Reset solution presented by Richard Zee. If you are unfamiliar, I suggest you learn more about the popular product designed to help people quickly gain mental resilience, de-stress in real-time, and increase productivity. There are tons of use cases for contact centers, technicians working in dangerous environments, and more.

    ThriveGlobal figured out how to link science and storytelling to help people pause and focus on their breath and what is most important in life. It’s integrated into popular conference platforms such as Zoom and Webex too. More details are on the company’s website.



    Prioritizing your mental health and well-being is essential to avoid burnout and disengagement. By identifying the signs and taking steps to prevent burnout, such as using hacks to stay motivated, taking productivity power-ups, and amping up energy, you can stay on top of your game while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The same applies to your colleagues and work teams, where technology platforms like Thrive Reset can be a valuable resource. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to show up as your best self for your customers, colleagues, boss, family, and friends, no matter what challenges come your way.

    How To Balance BOTH Customer Service Agent Training AND Competing Demands

    How To Balance BOTH Customer Service Agent Training AND Competing Demands

    The Importance of Prioritizing Agent Training in Contact Centers

    Customer Service leaders continue to face a paradoxical challenge – balancing the high volume of customer demands with the need to provide ongoing agent training and development. While it is important to ensure that agents handle as many calls as possible, neglecting their learning and development can negatively impact service levels and agent retention too.

    So why do some contact center managers not make agent training a higher priority? I asked a few leaders and discovered that they view agent training as unnecessary and that the time spent on learning and development programs takes away from handling customer calls. Additionally, they see agent training as a one-time event rather than an ongoing process (indicating they overlook its importance.)

    On the flip side, many best-in-class leaders believe agent training is an important investment and advocate for BOTH learning and development programs AND balancing contact center demands, especially during talent shortages. This approach yields better results for agents and, ultimately, customers too.

    5 Strategies For Effectively Training Agents When Teams Are Stretched

    1. Incorporate Microlearning into Agent Training Programs: Provide bite-sized information that is easier to absorb and retain. Also, increase efficiency by using technology such as E-Learning Modules and Virtual on-demand training to complete at their convenience.
    2. Create a Mentorship Program: Provide ongoing coaching and support to allow agents to continue developing their skills and knowledge. Also, encourage cross-training. Allow agents to have a broader understanding of the contact center’s operations, leading to increased collaboration and a more cohesive team.
    3. Schedule Training During Non-Peak Times: Create learning opportunities during slower periods to minimize the impact on customer service operations.
    4. Utilize Gamification Techniques: Make training more enjoyable and effective by incorporating rewards and recognition into learning programs.
    5. Create a Culture of Learning and Development: Establish a supportive workplace through regular coaching, feedback, and incentives initiatives.


    Investing in agent training is essential for improving customer satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. There are real ROI benefits that become visible over time.

    Aent training does not need to be an either/or situation but rather a “Both/And” win-win opportunity.

    Learn about the benefits of “Both/And” mindset and ways to thrive with multiple knotted tensions happening at the same time.

    Check out my conversation with Wendy Smith, a Professor at the Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware. She has done extensive research on strategic paradoxes and how leaders and senior teams can effectively respond to contradictory yet interdependent demands. I believe it relates to contact center investment decisions too.

    I encourage you to get Wendy’s book co-authored with Marianne Lewis, as you’ll quickly understand our brains love to make either-or choices, and that we choose one option over the other. Yet, there’s a better way through Both/And thinking!

    The Rise of AI Robots in Customer Service: How Humans and Bots Can Co-Exist

    The Rise of AI Robots in Customer Service: How Humans and Bots Can Co-Exist

    As technology advances, we have become accustomed to interacting with automated solutions like IVRs and chatbots for customer service. These systems have streamlined many processes, allowing us to get answers and support quickly and efficiently when companies follow CX best practices. However, the paradigm is changing, whereby it’s not just humans contacting customer care departments but also AI robots acting on behalf of humans too.

    DoNotPay, for example, is launching an AI robot that interacts with customer service agents through live chat or emails to negotiate bills, cancel a subscription, pay parking tickets, and more. So what are the ramifications? At a minimum, employee and agent communication skill building and training need modification. “Robot CX” is becoming a real thing.  

     CX Best Practices When Interacting With AI Robots

    1. Don’t make assumptions. Take time to understand the capabilities of the AI robot. Many chatbots are built on top of existing rule-based systems, which means they are limited in the types of conversations they can handle. So, be aware of what it can and can’t do to manage expectations and reduce frustration. As emerging technology rapidly advances, get educated, so you are always prepared and ready.
    2. Be Impeccable With Your Words: Use concise and simple language. Avoid negative terms, sarcasm, jargon, and technical phrases that the AI robot may not comprehend, leading to longer talk time and aggravation. Likewise, be mindful of legal compliance. The same regulations apply whether conversing with a robot or a human. Everything is trackable so never let your guard down.
    3. Don’t take anything personally: AI robots are not human with emotions. Interacting with bots can be stressful and a test of patience. So, remember that the perceived lack of empathy or understanding is not personally against you. Stay calm and composed. Take deep breaths.
    4. Always do your best:  Focus on delivering meaningful customer experiences, whether human or robot. Robot CX is a strange concept, but it’s a reality, so adopt the changes, or your competitors will outpace you.

    Note to reader: If you have yet to read my favorite book, The Four Agreements, I recommend you do so, which is the basis of my above recommendations. The Four Agreements is life-changing for personal growth and incredibly valuable for leading business transformation, as I explain in my other article.

    People must approach conversations with an AI Robot as if they are interacting with a human customer.

    The lines are getting blurry as to who is on the other side of the customer call or online chat. So, always be friendly, helpful, informative, and impeccable with your words. Likewise, avoid taking anything personally or making assumptions. And do your best when negotiating or solving an issue. Get educated on AI robot capabilities and adapt problem-solving strategies.

    While I’m expressing views about human-to-bot interactions, there will soon be robots handling complaints and questions from another bot. Will they argue? Will they get frustrated like humans? It’s kind of funny to imagine, yet, challenging to comprehend too. Time will tell. Buckle your seatbelts as we’re in for an interesting journey.