Beating Burnout in the Charity Sector
Having a job that makes a difference really does give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. 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 burden, and you could end up feeling like someone’s entire livelihood depends on you.
In the charity sector, emotional burnout can affect anyone involved in the chain, not just those on the frontline. But, as the saying goes, you don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.
What are the signs of burnout?
Burnout is usually stress-induced. It happens when you take on more than you can handle over long periods of time. It’s easy to beat yourself up if you’re experiencing burnout, especially if you enjoy your job. But try not to compare yourself to others or what you think you ‘should’ be able to handle.
Common signs of burnout include:
- feeling chronically tired or drained
- feeling that you don’t have control
- feeling overwhelmed
- constantly doubting yourself
- feeling isolated.
Here are our top tips for beating burnout in the charity sector.
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―and that’s 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 only one member of staff. If you’re not able to do the task within your working hours, it shouldn’t 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. In a normal week, plan out your work in sprints. Allow buffer time in between to take on additional tasks that colleagues 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
This one’s key to beating burnout at work. If your organisation has an unhealthy culture of working overtime, flag it up with your supervisor. You may believe that if you stay later, you’ll have a greater impact, 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.
As enticing as it might seem to take large portions of your annual leave at once, it’s not worth it if it comes at the cost of burnout later on in the year. Space your holidays out so that you’re frequently taking time to recharge and reset.
3. Don’t talk work outside of office hours
This is the hardest one for professionals in the charity sector because you’re naturally passionate about your charity. When you’re with friends and they ask how work is going, it’s easy to get carried away.
But if you’re constantly talking about your charity, it becomes one of those grey areas where work pervades aspects of your home life. The line between when to think about work and when to switch off gets increasingly blurred. 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.
4. Surround yourself with community
Beating burnout sometimes takes a community. Whether they’re colleagues at work or friendships made on CharityConnect, people in the sector can become your safety shield. You can get so much wisdom from a seasoned professional in your field who’s run the long race and made it to the other side.
Charities are getting better at 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, these resources aren’t yet available to everyone. In the meantime, you can informally set up support groups with your co-workers. Create 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 make you a stronger team.
5. Remind yourself of your ‘why’
Finally, when working on beating burnout, take some time to reflect on what got you into the job to start with. For many, it begins with a passion for the organisation’s cause. If you feel you can no longer give as much as you’d like due to burnout, it might be time to reassess.
Many charities are currently feeling the squeeze due to the cost-of-living crisis and after-effects of the pandemic. This means that some are expecting a lot with very little they can offer in return. If, despite trying the steps above, you’re still simply overrun, it could be time to move on to another organisation. Remember that as much as you’d like to be able to do it all, this isn’t a realistic expectation. Your job, no matter how impactful, is not worth more than your long-term wellbeing.
Thinking of looking elsewhere? Take a look at the roles currently available on CharityJob.
This post was originally published in 2020. We’ve updated it to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience.