“Doing more with less” often means burnout

Aug 9, 2016 | Life Coaching Blogs

Helping until it hurts isn’t helping. It’s martyrdom.

Nonprofit employees are a mission-driven bunch and sometimes help until it hurts, often doing this work at the expense of our families, health and mental wellbeing.

Here’s a huge caveat to this statement: Helping at the expense of our mental health and personal relationships is where things get dicey. Helping when we feel challenged to step out of our comfort zone, challenge our stereotypes, and find our capacity for compassion growing is where we find abundance, joy, and true charity.

In a 2011 study, Opportunity Knocks, a national nonprofit job and career services group, found that over 50 percent of the nonprofit employees they surveyed were burned out or were in danger of becoming burned out. In part, the survey found that when an individual leaves a nonprofit, the organization often redistributes the duties.

As positions are eliminated or people leave, according to this study, the nonprofit sector is extremely unlikely to refill those positions, even with temporary help or consultants. We simply spread the work out among the existing employees. The cliché, “Do more with less” is a truism in our work.

Burnout is most often related to how organizations are staffed. The marketing manager is a one-person department in charge of social media, print material, public relations, appeals, volunteer projects, working with the Board’s marketing committee, website technology, planning special events, and marketing for new clients, volunteers, and donors. This is done in the name of those the mission serves. In other sectors, this would be at least four people’s jobs (minus the volunteer management, of course).

It’s time that these practices stop.

We need (and deserve) a resource to avoid burnout, to teach those of us serving the hungry, homeless, refugees and abandoned children how to also take care of ourselves. As the studies show, and we’ve experienced, we can’t be great professionals and continue to serve otherwise.

Coaching and group workshops are available for nonprofit staff, boards and volunteers. These services can help with advancing the mission through one-on-one consultations, team trainings, and retreats:

  • Managing time and productivity: saying “No” more often and “Yes” to the right things that advance the plan
  • Understanding communication and work styles individually and as a team
  • Training staff to implement strategic plans
  • Managing for accountability and follow thru
  • Reducing stress

An Indianapolis nonprofit program director and client shared the power of coaching. She said: “I’d always assumed that coaching was for high-powered executives, not regular people. Boy, was I wrong. I began working with Stefanie at a time when I was facing some daunting personal and professional challenges.

“I felt overwhelmed by the choices, and was becoming increasingly unhappy. She derailed my path of unhappiness, helping me to stop and look at things in a new way. I came away from the experience feeling more relaxed and much more flexible about my life. The challenges didn’t go away. It’s just that I have more tools available to meet them.”

I faced this same burnout on more than one occasion in the 10+ years I worked for charities. This is how I found coaching and a new way to contribute to organizations’ missions. Specifically it helped me create a unique way to all the various missions I love: through starting a new business that touches many organizations’ and people’s lives.

What’s the unique way you’ll do this work?