Nonprofit burnout has become a growing problem within the sector, affecting both employees and volunteers. According to a recent study conducted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, approximately 50% of nonprofit employees experience high levels of burnout. Working at a nonprofit organization may be tremendously rewarding, but it can also be emotionally draining. Employees at nonprofits frequently feel a feeling of urgency to improve the community they serve, which can lead to overwork and disregard for their own mental health.
The most important thing you can do for your nonprofit is to make sure you’re prioritizing yourself and managing stress so that you can keep going with your mission.
Sadly, burnout rates are high in the nonprofit industry. According to a survey conducted by nonprofit HR in January 2020:
- About 25% of nonprofit employees plan to leave their current employer.
- 45% are seeking new or different employment – that’s almost half the people employed in the nonprofit sector.
- 23% would not pursue a career in a nonprofit organization.
How do we address these numbers?
Nonprofits need to pay a little more attention to handling stress and burnout across the org. Let’s see how.
In this blog, we’ll cover:
- What is burnout and how to detect it in nonprofit employees
- The reasons behind burnout and how they can be addressed
- Cause of Burnout in nonprofit employees
- Nonprofits and the Human Giver Syndrome(HGS)
- How to prevent and manage nonprofit burnout
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional weariness induced by continuous periods of stress, pressure, and an overwhelming workload. Employees at nonprofit organizations frequently work long hours, have a high workload, and are continually confronted with the challenges and suffering of the communities they serve. Burnout may also be induced by a lack of managerial support, a lack of acknowledgment of successes, and a lack of resources.
How can nonprofits detect signs of employee Burnout?
Burnout may appear in a number of ways, with symptoms varying from person to person. Among the most typical indicators of nonprofit burnout are:
- Emotional Exhaustion: The state of being emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, and unable to deal with job responsibilities.
- Depersonalization is the feeling of being disconnected from one's job, coworkers, and the organization's goal.
- Reduced Productivity: A drop in work performance, a loss of drive, and a drop in production.
- Physical Symptoms: Headaches, muscular tension, stomach issues, and other physical symptoms are common.
- Negative Attitude: A cynical, critical, and pessimistic attitude toward work and coworkers.
What causes Nonprofit Burnout?
A multitude of causes can contribute to nonprofit burnout, including:
- Work overload: Nonprofit employees are frequently required to juggle several duties and initiatives, resulting in high levels of stress and tiredness.
- Restricted resources: Because nonprofits are frequently underfunded and understaffed, employees must work harder with fewer resources.
- Emotional tiredness and compassion fatigue are common among nonprofit personnel who interact with people who are typically confronting terrible life circumstances.
- Inadequate support: Nonprofit employees may struggle to manage their workload and stay motivated if they lack support from management, colleagues, and the community.
- Nonprofit work may be all-consuming, and employees may feel forced to prioritize their job above their personal lives, leading to stress and exhaustion.
- Organizational change: Changes in leadership, mission, or structure can create uncertainty and stress for employees, leading to burnout.
How can nonprofit organizations tackle employee burnout?
Early detection and prevention are key to reducing employee burnout. Organizations can also implement various measures, such as providing regular opportunities for self-care, fostering a positive and supportive work culture, and ensuring that employees and volunteers have a manageable workload.
Here are some ideas about how NGOs might deal with burnout that you can incorporate as a nonprofit leader:
- Establish a Good Workplace Culture: Nonprofit leaders should promote open communication, teamwork, and employee appreciation to establish a great workplace culture. Decreasing stress and enhancing morale, can assist to prevent burnout.
- Create Realistic Goals: Establish realistic objectives and priorities for the business and individual personnel. Avoid overburdening personnel with too many obligations and deadlines.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that give resources for workers to address personal and professional issues.
- Promote Employee Well-Being: Nonprofit leadership should emphasize employee well-being by promoting self-care, providing mental health services, and ensuring that staff has a good work-life balance.
- Provide Flexible Schedules: Nonprofits can provide flexible work schedules and promote work-life balance by including remote work choices, to assist employees manage their workload and minimize stress.
- Give Professional Development: Offering chances for professional development may help employees feel appreciated and motivated, as well as minimize burnout by allowing them to learn new skills and take on new tasks.
- Promote Team Building: By encouraging team-building activities, you might help employees create strong relationships, enhance morale, and reduce burnout.
- Identify and Handle Burnout: When burnout develops, nonprofit leaders must recognize and treat it. This might involve giving resources for mental health assistance, reducing workload or expectations, and providing time off as needed.
Nonprofits and Human Giver Syndrome (HGS)
The book, Burnout: The Secret to Solving the stress cycle differentiates between human beings and human givers.
Have you ever found yourself saying any of the following?
- “I feel like I’ll be called selfish for taking care of myself,” or
- “I feel obligated to just apologize for existing right or for taking time for myself.”
If you feel this way, you might have human giver syndrome. The nonprofit industry is filled with human givers. You wouldn’t be a nonprofit professional if you didn’t want to serve other people.
“When we deprive ourselves of our own basic needs as mammals under the misguided apprehension that that’s how we show our commitment to an issue, or to the people we love, we burn out. And then we drop. Only by making sure we have as much energy coming in, as we have going out, can we all stay committed, the people work and ideas we love.” – Amelia and Emily Lugosi, in Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle
Let’s look at what Human Giver Syndrome can mean for nonprofit professionals:
- We are trying to save the world
As much as you try to take care of yourself, there are a lot of things about nonprofits that make it difficult to do that. You are mission-driven, you want to serve other people and you are trying to make the world a better place. It’s very hard to do that and set boundaries, to prioritize yourselves.
- Low Salaries create personal stress
The nonprofit sector pays notoriously low salaries. The personal stress of financial trouble because you are not being paid enough is extremely detrimental to your mental health.
- Hustle culture
Sometimes, you don’t even set goals because the goal is to save the world, right?
But isn’t that too big a goal? You should set goals that have a finish line.
- Feeling selfish because we serve people who are suffering more
You feel that you’re being selfish while taking time out for yourself because you serve people who are suffering more than you. The issues feel so urgent you can’t take a day off, go on that vacation, or leave early to take care of yourself.
Before you go
Employee mental health is a top priority for organizations. Here are some more tools and resources that can be used to prevent burnout during these challenging times:
- Read Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
- Try the Shine App
- Listen to the Feminist Survival Podcast
Try the None to Run the program by Mark Kennedy
If you’re looking for immediate mental health support,
- Visit MentalHealth.gov and access mental health services.
- Text HOME to 741741 to connect with Crisis Text Line’s counselors.
We’d also like to thank all the nonprofit heroes in our unique way. Here are some freebies that nonprofit professionals can avail, of to help you with volunteers, networking, and marketing.