Addressing Burnout & Compassion Fatigue In Nonprofit Employees - UST
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Nonprofit workers strive to make the world a better place. However, these passionate professionals often face long working hours, limited resources, funding deficiencies and an unrelenting stream of other on-the-job challenges. All this and more can lead to employee burnout, as well as nonprofit compassion fatigue.
How can nonprofit employees of all levels better address such difficulties and avoid becoming overly strained? Below are some actionable ideas to help prevent employee burnout and work toward a healthier work-life balance.
First, what is nonprofit compassion fatigue and what does it look like? Referred to at times as secondary trauma or vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue is a way to describe the excessive stress affecting those exposed to the traumatic suffering of others leading to desensitization, indifference or apathy. When untreated, it could lead to exhaustion, irritability, reduced productivity and absenteeism, along with physical and mental health problems.
Essentially, compassion fatigue means that a person working continuously under strenuous conditions no longer feels able to care about the people they serve. Often, these individuals get to this point by minimizing their own suffering. In fact, industry reports have found that 62% of people who engage in emotional work tend to hide their personal feelings. Combine this with being buried in work and these people can easily develop feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Over time, this not only affects an employee’s health and relationships, but it can significantly impact employee retention. A 2021 study found that 69% of participants believe their organizations are understaffed. Chronic staffing issues ultimately whittle away at a nonprofit's ability to achieve objectives.
What can leaders and HR professionals do to address compassion fatigue and burnout? It starts by implementing a strategy designed to promote a healthy work culture. Everyone should be encouraged to capitalize on vacation time, lunch breaks and time off-the-clock to de-stress from the important work they are striving to accomplish. Leaders should also establish and enforce reasonable work hours.
Another way to help address arduous workloads is to create a prioritization system for projects and tasks. While the job market is understandably in flux, efforts should be made to hire more staff or recruit additional volunteer support.
Lastly, open the door to enhanced communication strategies. Extend genuine thanks to the staff and encourage honest feedback, anonymous or otherwise. Not only are these methods more sustainable, but, in the end, they can generate greater employee engagement, retention and job satisfaction.
For employees, to avoid becoming burnt out and feeling powerless, it’s advised to utilize vacation time and take regular breaks. By “unplugging” during the day — even if it’s only a short break — it’s possible to reduce stress, gain perspective and feel more in control. Also, learn to say “no” without feeling guilty. Setting clear boundaries on messaging after hours, task delegation and more could do wonders for future productivity.
To learn more about combating nonprofit employee burnout, please see the accompanying resource.