Seeing Signs of Burnout at Your Nonprofit? 5 Tips to Help Your Team

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Burnout isn’t just a trendy term — it’s real and it’s widespread. So many of us seem to feel overworked — we take on more and more and more until that telltale feeling of extreme stress takes over.

Sasha Butkovich, Content and Editorial Manager, Justworks

Now, thanks to the World Health Organization (WHO), we know burnout isn’t simply a buzzword. The organization has classified burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis according to its International Classification of Diseases, a handbook used to guide medical practitioners in making diagnoses.

Clearly, burnout is more serious than the occasional spike in work stress, and it can strike any working professional. But what does it really mean, and what can we do about it?

In this article, discover what burnout looks like, and get five simple strategies you can try at your organization to help ease burnout among your employees.

What is Burnout?

Burnout may not manifest the same way in every person, but there are some common symptoms. The WHO handbook lays out the following symptoms for doctors to look for when making a diagnosis of burnout:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

As an employer, it’s obviously not up to you to diagnose your employees. But if you are recognizing these symptoms in your team, that’s good information to have. You have the power to make changes in your workplace that can help to ease some of these issues for your employees.

Here are a few suggestions for doing just that.

1. Consider Flexible Work Options

If it’s possible for their role and the nature of the work, giving people the opportunity to work flexibly can be very helpful. Working from home saves people their potentially stressful commute. Maybe that remote environment, free from the typical chatter and distractions of the office, allows the employee to be more productive and check more off their to-do list. Even allowing for one remote day per week or every other week can be a big relief.

Perhaps some people would actually prefer flexible hours rather than flexible locations. Having the ability to shift their schedule to come in early and leave early (or late) would allow certain people to capitalize on their best working hours, or handle things outside of work that cause them additional stress. If these are feasible options, given the work your nonprofit does, it may be worth surveying your team to see which options they’d value most.

For more, here are five questions to ask when considering a flexible work policy.

2. Encourage PTO Usage

It’s great to offer paid time off (PTO) or vacation days, but it won’t make an impact if people don’t use it. This is very common in companies that offer unlimited vacation policies.

Under these policies, employees are free to take as much time off work as they need or want to. However, many don’t take enough vacation because they don’t feel they “own” it.

Sometimes, an employee is reluctant to fully disconnect from work when they actually do take vacation. It can be helpful to suggest a minimum of PTO days that people should take each year to help them feel empowered to use the perk.

Even if you don’t offer unlimited vacation days, encourage your team members to take time off to reset and refresh. Finding more work-life balance is an important aspect of avoiding burnout.

3. Help People Log Off

Another important component of work-life balance is leaving the work at work. Studies show that younger workers are driven by a sense of purpose and are personally invested in their work. In the nonprofit field, this is often true regardless of age. It’s likely that for many of your employees, work is integrated into their long-term life goals.

However, that doesn’t mean they should be hitting “reply” at all hours of the night or taking calls on vacation. Consider making it a rule to disconnect outside of work hours or make logging off when appropriate part of your company culture. Having some way to get in touch if there is something urgent and time-sensitive, such as via a text message, can help employees have the confidence to pause checking their email. This will help people to create those all-important boundaries.

4. Offer Mental Health Benefits

Though it stems from work, burnout is ultimately a health issue. By providing your employees access to mental health benefits, you have the ability to help ease some of the stigma around mental health and burnout in the workplace.

If you’re making mental health benefits a priority, it may be worth considering that type of coverage when selecting insurance plans to offer your employees. While medical coverage plans are important and impactful, there are also plenty of ways to support mental health at work beyond the insurance plans you offer.

An Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is a great option for employers who want to address mental health in the workplace. EAPs generally offer a wide range of services, including mental health benefits like counseling and referrals for long-term counseling or specialized care. Additionally, providing a help line or a counseling number, such as Talkspace, can be a huge mental health benefit to your employees.

5. Create a Compassionate Culture

As an employer, you can instill values of understanding and compassion at your company. Work toward creating a culture of empathy and positivity that steers people away from burnout.

One way is to simply encourage employees to develop healthy strategies for coping with work stresses. Encourage midday breaks that help people reset, whether that means taking a walk in the park, visiting an art gallery, or attending an exercise class. Getting away from their desks to do another activity can be a great way for many people to de-stress. 


Guest author Sasha Butkovich is Content & Editorial Manager for Justworks, a company that helps entrepreneurs and businesses grow with confidence by giving them access to big-company benefits, automated payroll, HR tools, and compliance support — all in one place. Learn more at Justworks.com.

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