We’re not so great at renewing our spirit, taking a break, and avoiding burnout. At the same time, our organizations aren’t so good at supporting us with this either. According to The Talent Philanthropy Project, here are the top reasons that individuals might leave the sector:
- 90% due to burnout
- 82% due to low salary
- 69% due to lack of advancement opportunities
- 69% due to job-related stress
While I’ll save my soapboxes for the need for better compensation and the lack of advancement opportunities for another day, let’s look at how burnout and job-related stress can be avoided.
For those of us involved in major causes everyday (the environment, hunger, homelessness, mental illness, arts-education) and are doing work we’re passionate about, it’s hard to take a break from it. We know that our clients don’t get a break from being homeless or hungry. There’s no time for a break when there’s a deadline for the arts installation. There’s no break when you’ve just spent a year in Americorps earning $12,000 for the year and now must find a job (to pay rent and student loans). If you’re working on the campaign trail, there are no shortcuts or vacation days until November.
We push and push and push ourselves until we’re burnt out. And this needs to stop.
Personal and professional development can be used to enhance the good and mitigate the bad.
- Taking time to understand your strengths and how you job provides you with joy. It might seem odd to seek training or coaching when you’re happy, but it will only up your leadership game. The secret to every great leader is that they are self aware enough to know what their purpose and values are. You can discover these much more quickly through a retreat, training, or one-on-one coaching.
- Learning new skills. One of my favorite quotes is, “Leaders are learners.” In our important work, leaders are needed at every level and we need people equipped to take on new challenges in an educated way. Organizations can leverage new talents on their team in ways that make sense and investing in that learning. As individuals progress in their skill sets they can train others, automate repetitive work, and, ultimately, become more effective for the mission.
- Taking time to understand why you feel stressed. Nowadays stress and busyness are professional badges of honor. If we’re not too busy and overwhelmed, then we’re just not needed enough. You need to understand exactly where the stress is coming from. You may be feeling it because you just think you should. You may feel it because your job is way too broad and you need help trying to make it manageable again. You may feel it because a certain project has gone off the rails. Often times once we feel stress, we feel it all over and can’t differentiate the different stressors in our life.
- Respite. My husband and I volunteer at an organization that serves homeless teens. These case managers hear about the worst that humanity has to offer: sexual and physical abuse of kids, teens left to fend for themselves on the streets, drug abuse, untreated mental illness, the list is endless and disgusting. As employees who hear about these atrocities, they inevitably take on the stress of the situation. It’s devastating. They deserve rest that the organization pays for because the organization’s work contributes to the stress. And the clients deserve to have more present, compassionate employees to work with.
Development is a wise investment.
Given that hiring a new person for a position often costs 1.5 times the salary of that position, providing development opportunities is a small investment to make. Personal and professional development come in many forms that go beyond the typical training/conference/workshop. They can be used to jumpstart creativity, boost problem solving skills, and connect an employee back to his or her work.
- Create a meditation/nap space in the office and make sure it is used
- Encourage the use of unplugged vacations and unplugged evenings and weekends
- Job swapping with another organization (in an unrelated industry)
- Host yoga (for all levels) at lunch or after work
- Paid sabbatical of a month or more
- Paid spiritual retreats (individual and group)
- One-on-one coaching
- Celebrate more often
According to a McKinsey and Co. study, businesses spend about $120 per person per year on leadership development (which is skimpy) and nonprofits spend $29, which is downright wrong. Everyone is a leader and these leaders are doing some of the hardest work in the world. Beyond the salary, organizations can provide compensation that recognizes the toll that this difficult work takes on our hearts.