How to Beat Burnout in the Charity Sector
Having a job that makes a difference in the lives of others results really does give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And those who work in the sector are known for having a zeal for their cause and a tenacious passion to see change.
But being emotionally invested in your job can come at a price if you’re not careful. A healthy dose of responsibility can escalate to a pressure or a burden; feeling like someone’s entire livelihood depends on you.
You might have heard about compassion fatigue for helper professions, like doctors or therapists, but in the charity sector, emotional burnout can affect anyone involved in the chain, not just those on the frontlines. And a mental breakdown can be devastating, taking up to a year to fully recover from and even risking long term health effects.
As the saying goes, you’re not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm. Here are six boundaries to put in place to keep your balance and build your endurance for the long run.
1. Manage expectations
First things first, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on your expectations of yourself. You can’t do it all. That’s really okay. There are always going to be life-transforming or even life-saving initiatives that your team simply can’t take on.
Remember that you’re one member of staff employed nine-to-five by a charity and if you’re not able to do the task within that capacity, it’s should not be your burden to bear.
Secondly, try to manage your colleagues’ expectations of you. If you’re struggling with your workload, don’t let pride get in the way of saying ‘no’ to any extra work that comes up in the day. In a normal week, plan out your work in sprints and allow buffer time in between to be able to take on any additional tasks that a colleague may ask of you (and to take breaks where needed). That way the job will get done, but it’ll be done on your terms, not at your expense.
2. Don’t work when you don’t need to
If your company has an unhealthy culture of spilling overtime, flag it up with your supervisor. You may believe that if you stay later, you’ll have a greater impact on the work you’re doing. But that’s simply not true. Having an understanding of pace and your own stamina will make you far more useful to those around you on a longer scale.
As enticing as it might seem to take off large portions your annual leave at once and spend that time backpacking on the other side of the world, it’s not worth it if it comes at the cost of burnout later on in the year. Space your holidays so that you’re taking frequent times to recharge and reset.
3. Don’t talk work outside of office hours
This is the hardest one for professionals in the sector because you’re naturally passionate about your charity. And when you’re with your friends at the pub and they ask how work is doing, you’ll want to take hold of that ball and run with it.
But if talking about your charity is your full-time job, it suddenly becomes one of those grey areas where your work starts to pervade aspects of your home life. And the line between when to think about work and when to switch off gets increasingly blurred. Even if you’re not a fundraiser or a campaigner, keep an eye on how much you chat about work outside of office hours to avoid work worries creeping into your thoughts at night.
Does that mean you should bottle it all up? Absolutely not.
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4. Surround yourself with community
Whether they’re colleagues at work or friendships made on CharityConnect, people around you in the sector need to become your safety shield. We’re all here to support one other in this and there’s so much wisdom you can get from a seasoned professional in your field who’s run the long race and made it the other side.
Charities are getting better with facilitating training programmes and reflective group debriefs to look after the mental wellbeing of their staff. But there’s still room for improvement and sadly, it’s not a resource yet available to everyone. In the meantime, you can informally set up support groups with your co-workers, creating a space to be honest, grieve campaigns or battles lost and come to terms with how you’re feeling. Allowing that time for reflection, closure and encouragement will altogether make you a stronger team.
5. Remind yourself on your ‘why’
Finally, take some time to reflect on what got you into the job to start with and why your job is so unique. Remind yourself of your most proud moments and tell your colleagues what you admire about them. These are the sort of things that will keep you going through the especially stressful times.
Ultimately working for a charity is a job worth doing. And your compassion is a great strength in this world. So any measures taken to slow down and keep a work-rest separation are seeds sown into a long, fruitful career of doing phenomenal good.