Back to Resources

Operations Leaders - How’s the Monkey on Your Back?

A Look at Manager Burnout and How to Relieve It

By: Luke Jamieson,

Operations managers know that feeling all too well of having a monkey (or 10!) on their backs.  

The stories are all the same—customer queues are getting longer, and service agents keep running into challenges. Many of them just feel like they’re better off taking over and saying the magic words, ‘leave it with me.’ 

And as operational managers take over service calls and front-line customer support, other important parts of their roles are left to the wayside.  

This leads to manager burnout, which increased significantly over the course of the pandemic.  

As we all know, burnout is not good. So, how can we fix this? How can managers shake the monkeys off their backs, lose the dead weight of menial tasks, and get back to what’s important?  

The Problem: Too Many Monkeys 

For a customer service team struggling to serve customers, an easy solution might be for the operations manager to simply say, ‘I’ll finish up here.’ This way, customers are getting served and the service agent can head home in time (because, of course, there is often no budget for overtime hours). 

However, it’s not a win for the operations manager. With their willingness and desire to serve their customers, they’ve taken on extra work outside of what they were hired to do. This extra work (the monkeys on their back), is not the only problem, though. It’s also what doesn’t get done.  

If managers are left picking up the slack for their customer service team, they can’t work on other important tasks. Some common, yet important, things that go to the wayside include:  

  • Preparing for coaching sessions 
  • Identifying knowledge and performance gaps 
  • Building career and development plans 

These are the meaningful, purposeful responsibilities that an operations manager signed up to do—and usually loves to do! But the monkeys of urgency, customer service, and lack of resources are all piling on their back, leaving no room for anything else.  

When people are not engaged in meaningful, purposeful work, they burn out. Symptoms of burnout include exhaustion or energy depletion, mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.  

Or, unhappiness, lack of productivity, and eroding operational rhythms.  

When left unchecked, operational managers facing burnout are unlikely to be able to support their staff as needed, leading to a vicious cycle of underperformance and attrition, which further requires the manager to take on more.  

Pressure from above starts to increase and all at a time when the operational manager can’t hear themselves think because of the screeching simians crowding their headspace.  

It all starts to paint a bleak picture— so what can be done?  

The Solution: Leveraging AI Tools and Systems 

If you’re looking for a silver bullet, unfortunately, there isn’t one. But thanks to the power of technology and AI, some of the thinking and analysis can be taken away from an operation manager’s tasks.  

Consider coaching. It’s an important part of a manager’s role, but time-consuming to prepare, especially when there are other demanding tasks at hand. Augmented coaching uses AI to provide real-time, personalized performance insights. This gives the manager guidance on what areas to improve and support.  

AI can also support skills gaps through micro-learning opportunities in the workflow. If a manager has an underperforming customer service agent, they can use AI to identify those skill gaps and use gamification or micro-learning to help bring the agent up to speed.  

These solutions are no panacea—AI never is. Instead, AI is used to support and nurture human relationships and skills. Human-centric models are always important to drive performance, as identified in this article. Two areas of focus for leaders can include:  

  • Employee-driven flexibility: As much as possible, employees should be given flexibility over their workloads.  
  • Empathy-based management: Instead of quickly jumping to, ‘Let me handle it,’ empathy might be carefully training and supporting a new hire through the process.  

Managers and operational leaders can integrate AI and automation into their workflow if it aligns with a human-centered approach as a way of reducing the cognitive load to make things simpler and more streamlined. 

The Way Forward 

In a time where turnover is high, the Great Resignation rages on, and many industries face labor shortages, it’s tough to be an operational leader. There is a lot of pressure to keep customers happy, which leads to extra tasks and burdens on the manager.  

To lessen this load and put their attention towards what’s most important—coaching, leadership, and skills development—operational managers can, and should, leverage AI to support their team goals. AI and automation might not be the “silver bullet” but they might just be the ‘bananas’ that entice the monkeys off their back. 


About the Author: Luke Jamieson is the Global Content Director at Centrical and one of the top 25 global influencers and thought leaders on customer experience and employee engagement. His rebellious, unconventional approaches have been attributed to him earning such titles. But it is his combination of vision, high energy, audacious creativity, and mischievous execution that makes him an inspiring and refreshing speaker, podcaster, and blogger. 

Request a Free Demo

Download your Copy