Burnout and compassion fatigue need to stop being normalized in nonprofit organizations. There’s a culture within non-profits that you must give, give, give – but there’s no counterbalance to help you fill your own cup. For professional do-gooders, we work really hard (mostly overwork) because we care about our mission and the people we serve while earning significantly less.
But does our passion have to be at the expense of our own mental health? I don’t think so! We hear some of the hardest, heartbreaking stories on a daily basis and we need to care of ourselves too.
What is Burnout and Compassion Fatigue?
Burnout is being “worn out” and can happen in any profession. You are stressed or sick and no longer find joy in the work that you do. This can be a result of no longer aligning with your mission and core values. For instance, I had a client who was burnt out because he was working long hours and what he was doing was no longer fulfilling. His creativity and drive were almost non-existent. And he was tired all the time even though he was getting the recommended amount of sleep each night.
Compassion fatigue has similar symptoms to burnout. Compassion fatigue happens when you absorb the trauma and emotional stresses of others. It can be explained as secondhand trauma where a Case Manager might take on the emotional stress of working with a domestic violence survivor. The prolonged exposure to hearing the client’s traumatic stories can make you susceptible to compassion fatigue.
Signs include exhaustion, irritability, negativity, joylessness, reduced productivity, and absenteeism. Over time this not only affects the health and wellness of the individual but can tremendously impact the organization.
4 Tips to Prevent Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
Mental health has become a huge issue across sectors and it must be addressed. An estimated 83% of U.S. workers report of significant work-related stress, costing businesses as much as $300 billion per year in absenteeism and treatment-related expenses.
So you might be wondering how do you prevent nonprofit burnout and compassion fatigue? Here are some tips to help protect your mental health and risk of burnout.
Set Firm Boundaries
This one is hard but you have to do it. You may hear those subtle and pervasive messages that whisper, “Saying no, setting boundaries, and taking care of yourself means you are lazy or you don’t care about your mission.” Shut those down with self-compassion.
You aren’t being selfish and you shouldn’t be expected to work 24/7. Set boundaries and stick to them. For me, I don’t open my email or phone from 5 pm to 7 pm because that is time with my child.
Be Okay With Asking for Help
This is not a sign of weakness! It’s an acknowledgment that you have limits and will need assistance with delegating tasks and making your team more efficient and productive. We must create brave spaces where our employees can speak up and be okay with asking for help.
Think About What Fills You Up
Take time for yourself outside of work to do things that fill you up. I love to walk by the beach, read, journal, meditate, have a kitchen dance party with my toddler, go to church, and hang with family and friends. Do what helps you re-center and destress.
Seek A Therapist or Spiritual Guidance
What you are learning on a day-to-day basis is hard and you need to process it. Get a therapist or spiritual coach who can help talk you through what you are experiencing so it doesn’t become secondhand trauma.
This is a process! But you need to make small changes today so you can make an even bigger impact tomorrow. Your organization will benefit when you are emotionally in tune, calm, and energized.