We lose too many nonprofit workers to burnout, but it is preventable. The nature of nonprofit work leads to higher instances of burnout. Factors such as an unmanageable workload, unrealistic expectations and few opportunities for career advancement all lead to burnout and are more likely common in nonprofits. So how do we prevent burnout and retain our nonprofit heroes?
Burnout is chronic stress caused by a workplace environment. As discussed in previous articles, chronic stress is dangerous for our health so we need to learn to recognize and treat stress, but as nonprofit leaders are particularly susceptible to burnout, and they are the ones with the most power to make the necessary environmental changes to prevent burnout.
Set clear and realistic expectations (aka manageable workloads)
One of the key factors of burnout is a feeling of overwhelm because there is simply more to do than the time allows. Nonprofit leaders can address the feeling of overwhelm by spending time goal setting. Accept that you will not be able to do everything for your mission, and focus on the 20% effort that brings the 80% results. Break down the goal to specific and achievable actions and clearly define the roles that each person plays.
Better yet, involve your team in coming up with the goals and actions (AGILE is a great way to do this!!). By involving your team, you let them have a sense of agency in the decision making which is crucial for burnout prevention. Feedback from team members also allows leaders to be more realistic in workload management and to recognize efforts team members are making.
Allow growth opportunities
Burnout and disengagement occur when people feel there is no opportunity for growth or career advancement. Small nonprofits may not have much to offer for career advancement, but we can all offer growth opportunities, and when our people grow, they are more engaged and bring more skills to impact our mission.
Growth and development opportunities are not limited to conferences and one-and-done training. In fact, developing a learning culture where learning is integrated in daily practices will bring the greatest rewards. To be most effective, allow people to set their own learning goals. Perhaps someone wants to master using macros in word or learn about podcasting to broaden your audience. Allow them time searching google, looking at youtube and opportunities to apply those skills. They can share those new skills with your organization, and now your whole team may be able to save hours from using macros and you may find new donors by having a podcast that reaches a new audience. Your organization has made huge gains from the 'loss' of a few hours of learning, and your employees are now more engaged and recognize that they still have growth opportunities even if there isn't a new position for them.
Encourage Work-life balance
Organizations that have a wellness plan or just tell people to practice self-care have taken a step in the right direction, but stopping there will only create resentment because you are not addressing root causes. Leaders need to have a full spectrum of practices that incorporate work-life balance.
The first and most important is respecting personal time. Nonprofit leaders needs to set an example by not working more than a certain number of set hours. I promise you that working more will not allow you to get everything done. You will work more effectively by limiting your work time and taking at least one day per week of rest where you do not work. Don't send emails after hours - schedule them to go during office hours. Our minds and bodies need down time to process and repair. Consider how when athletes train, the off days and down time actually are what make them stronger - it gives their bodies the time to take advantage of the training they have done.
Recognize that self-care is key to give us energy for our work. That means full nights of sleep (sorry, catching up on the weekends does NOT cut it). Self-care also means regular movement to release cortisol. Self-Care means learning to be mindful and to make time for joy and connection in our lives. Self-care is not being selfish, but is the way we 'put on our own mask' so we can take care of others and keep well to work for our mission. Mission driven workers often put their own needs last, but that is a sure formula for burn out, and that means you won't be able to work for your mission.
Achieve Work-Life Balance with Group Coaching
I offer a 90-Day coaching program to help you develop habits of work-life balance. Maybe you already know what you need to do, but you need someone to help you make time for yourself and hold you accountable to changing your habits. Visit Lindow Learning to learn more.