How to protect your goodies from burnout
We can’t wrap staff in cotton wool, but we can do our darndest to create a healthy work culture to prevent AND put systems in place in case employees tip off the edge of high productivity into the depths of burnout.
Protecting your staff from burnout isn’t just about one person, the effects ripple out and others end up taking up the slack while they recover. Rumours of burnout spread in the sector and your organisation doesn’t look too flash if your staff are regularly going down.
So, what does a healthy work culture look like?
A healthy work culture is one where employees feel valued, have a good relationship with their managers and there is laughter and friendly energy in the office, co-working space, or remote communications. A healthy workplace acknowledges the needs of introverts, extroverts and polyverts (I just made that last one up). It is one where taking leave is encouraged, people leave the office on time and are not expected to work onerous or uncompensated overtime. Employees understand how vital their work is in the greater vision of the organisation and hear appreciation for a job well done. You will have a Family leave policy for when people have, or adopt or foster, babies. Your staff might work flexible hours, and you might have a Mental Health policy where staff can take a day off if they’re in need of a mini-break. Annual professional development would be included in employment contracts.
Pitfalls for the do-good sector to watch out for
Pace yourself and your staff. A healthy work culture starts with your job vacancy listings. If an organisation is advertising itself as a fast-paced, go-getter workplace, further inspection may reveal that they have high staff turnover and correspondingly high burn out rate. We humans, are famously short-sighted and this scenario just underlines that tendency.
A generalist or a person with too many hats on? The not-for-profit sector is famous for its employees being generalists, which is a very polite term for many fulltime roles being rolled into one. One employee might wear many hats. A fundraiser might be the comms, social media, admin and programme manager. Throw into that heady mix that remuneration is less than the corporate sector, a passion for the cause leads to too much overtime being worked, and you have the ideal conditions for a case of burnout to flourish. We glorify busy. It takes a concerted effort to wrestle your organisational work ethics into a healthy place but it’s worth it. Employees cite a good work culture as a prime reason they stay at a workplace.
Fostering a healthy work culture is one side of the coin. The other is to catch staff when they fall. Do you know the signs of burnout? Do you have the kind of relationship with your staff that means they will come to you when they need support?
Burnout is a result of chronic stress. Symptoms can be:
- Exhaustion. Look for binge coffee or tea drinkers with dark circles under eyes.
- Lack of motivation. This one looks like depression.
- Inability to focus from chronic stress or not taking care of yourself.
- Preoccupied with work. Intrudes inappropriately in personal life.
- Frustration or negative thoughts looping.
- Job performance slipping. Is your star fundraiser flagging?
It can happen to the best of us. Burn out is especially likely if the person has challenges in their personal or family life as well as work stress.
Burnout prevention – build a safety net
Invite senior management and HR to develop an action plan when you establish that an employee is at risk of burnout. This might include the ability to take time off, work from home for a period of time, or work reduced hours.
One organisation I worked with had a yoga and mindfulness teacher come to the office one a week. Another introduced a four day work week. You could even call a staff meeting to discuss what burnout is and how to avoid it, what a healthy workplace looked like to them and what changes they recommend. Good leadership attuned to the signs and symptoms of burnout goes a long way to nurturing a stable work base.
Encourage staff to cross off one day a month from any meetings or email. This day is to take a breath, reflect on their work and tidy loose ends from to-do lists and should be held sacred.
Structure professional development courses into your annual budget. Good time and stress management courses are investments in your people and staff retention.
Make sure you have people you check in with so you don’t burn out either. Having leadership go down in a burnt out husk is not a good look.
In being proactive in preventing burn out we are also creating an awesome work culture that our staff will flourish in. This leads to your organisation being known as a great place to work, and in turn, it means you get top quality job candidates for vacancies, your staff retention rates will increase, as well as leading to more content and productive employees. Not to mention high productivity and nailing your annual organisational goals. That’s a win for everyone!