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Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Mission-Driven Leaders

What do these three have in common? A lot! Chances are, if you serve in an organization with a social-impact mission, you have some experience with burnout and compassion fatigue- whether you recognize it or not. By recognizing what burnout and compassion fatigue are, you can mitigate the threat to you and your team and better serve your mission.

What do burnout and compassion fatigue look like in mission-driven organizations?

Burnout, as discussed in this post, results from chronic stress in the workplace. Burnout is primarily caused by an unmanageable workload. Anyone working in a mission-driven organization can relate to that concept! Our missions are so big and lofty, but we can never do everything we need to fulfill our missions. The fact that we can never have enough time or money leads us to feel a lack of efficacy. When we spend our days without feeling we are making progress, we lose our joy and enthusiasm for what used to be a driving factor for our work. However, we also feel tremendous guilt because of how important we know our work is.

Compassion fatigue is a kind of burnout that presents when we serve people. It can be that the people we serve are in hard positions that wears on us, or it can be that we simply exhaust ourselves from always serving. We become hardened to others as a way to protect ourselves. We may still be doing the work, but we lose the caring aspect we may have once had toward others.

Both burnout and compassion fatigue arise out of a kind of self-protection as we exhaust ourselves by dedicating so much of our hearts and souls to our work. This passion for our work is common in mission-driven fields, so we are particularly susceptible to working tirelessly for our mission and others and putting our needs last.

Why do mission-driven leaders need to understand burnout and compassion fatigue?

Both of these conditions are extremely costly to our organizations and decrease the impact on our mission. As we exhaust ourselves in our work, the most common response is to save ourselves by divesting our emotions or quitting our jobs.

When we start to divest emotionally, we don't have the passion and energy to give our best ideas and efforts in support of our mission. We do only what is necessary to get our paycheck...quiet quitting. Instead of blaming employees for their lack of motivation, look into the environment your organization has created and see how you may be contributing.

When burnout or compassion fatigue causes us or our team members to quit, it costs our organizations up to double the annual salary to replace us. Our budgets are extremely limited, and by taking steps to increase retention through addressing burnout and compassion, we will save our organizations huge costs.

How can I take steps to mitigate burnout and compassion fatigue?

Manage workloads

Break down your mission into smaller, bite-sized, achievable goals with shorter timelines. This will help you and your team feel less overwhelmed. It will also give you many small measures of success, empowering you to do more. Also, TRUST your team instead of micromanaging them. I promise you will get better work from them, and you will help them develop a sense of agency that mitigates burnout.

Recognize achievements

Show your team members that you recognize their efforts. You don't need always to use monetary rewards, but just by noting what efforts team members are making, they will feel seen, heard, and valued.

Protect time outside of work

Make sure you and your team have a chance to develop your passions and interests outside of work. These outside interests will re-energize your team for your mission. This means setting hard and fast non-work hours. Recognize that we don't need to be putting in more than 40 hours per week. Respect those boundaries for all employees - including yourself!

Action Steps

Start by enforcing end-of-work times. Don't send any more emails outside of work, and make sure you take at least one whole day off each week.

Want help in beating burnout?

Join my webinar 5 Time Hacks to Beat Burnout to start taking steps to balance time for work and yourself.


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