Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Staff Burnout - Healing Our Sector's Secret Sickness

By Kedren Crosby, Principal, Crosby Consulting 

In the nonprofit sector, we're encouraged to punch the time clock with our hearts. Of course, there is rarely a time clock, so often our hearts work around the clock in frenzied pursuit of our agency mission. We love our work but can become consumed by its bottomlessness. Perspective begins to wane, personal lives suffer, balance is lost and so goes the denouement from zealot to burnout.


The nonprofit movement in America was birthed out of the same religious fervor which esteems martyrs and saints. In the 1800s, Tocqueville internationally esteemed our uniquely American ability to self-sacrifice and organize to create a more civil society. Our roots are steeped in self-denial for the good of the cause. We often throw our personal lives 'under the bus' for the betterment of the organization. Honestly, is it any wonder people burn out?


Technology has inextricably enmeshed our work and personal lives. We find it difficult to compartmentalize when one piece of our world goes awry. Operating in this fiscally austere economy is also extraordinarily discouraging with the reality of budget cuts, program eliminations and lay-offs. If the wrong stars are aligned for long enough, one begins to relate to Sisyphus, the character in Greek mythology who was destined to push a massive boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again and again - for all eternity. Ugh!

So.. what do you do about it? Read on....


Rick Lofgren, CFRE said...

I humbly submit that the non-profit sector is not very different than the for-profit sector in regard to budgets during these trying economic times. As a 25 year veteran fundraiser and administrator, I cannot think of any time during my career in which life has been any more difficult for charities than those businesses that support us when they have profits (hopefully) at the conclusion of their fiscal year. I believe we demoralize ourselves and our staff when we complain that ‘we have it so bad here in the charity world’, and look past the fact that businesses are laying off or cutting back on staff hours and raises just as we are.
My friends and family members are also feeling this same level of ‘do more with less’ mentality in every sector, and complaining that the government should do more by taxing more will only place a greater burden on all of us at home as we are the ones working and paying taxes.
Let us focus on the things we are able to accomplish for the betterment of society and get away from the hand-wringing and complaining that I read in almost every issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Non-Profit Times. We are better than that and our sector – and our individual organizations – is better than this. Those we serve deserve more than ‘I wish we could do more’ with what we have.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir;
I read your article with great interest and as I read I could have sworn that you were discussing my lovely wife. You see, my Wife has worked in the field of social work for over 30 years and has put her heart & soul into ensuring that the thousands developmentally disabled have all of the services and top providers helping them through their daily struggles. She certainly has no time clock. She has rescued, bailed out, fostered, prayed, and cried many a late night with clients and family members and regrettably neglected herself and her family in the process. Throughout her career she was always asked to take on enormous case loads, which she did. She was always asked to take on the folks which the worst behaviors and largest needs, which she did. In those 30 plus years she never took a vacation, never took sick time even when she was hobbled with an ankle broken in 4 places, or pneumonia. She battled through it because her people depended on her. She cried when then Governor Mitch Daniels closed Central State Hospital and other mental health facilities to make his budget look good. She knew that those people that were housed in those facilities would wind up on the streets and would either kill or be killed to survive. She cried when she saw nonprofit organizations forget what their purpose was and began to only look at the bottom line. Well, my Wonderful Wife has finally had enough. She resigned after 30 plus years of thankless dedication to organizations that bled her. My family & I are ecstatic to know that in a few days we will have her for ourselves. We know that she will need to rest and heal and mourn and we will continue to love & support her as we welcome her back into our loving embrace. Shame on the people that drove her out, they have lost a once in a lifetime advocate. Shame on the greedy so called nonprofit organizations that truly profited from her and her wonderful heart, and shame on me for allowing them to use her up like they did.