Job Burnout Exacts a Toll on Nonprofits, But Can Be Avoided

By Eric Cormier

Eric Cormier
Because nonprofit employees often wear multiple hats and juggle several jobs at one time, frequently involving evening or weekend events and even travel to meet with donors, it’s not surprising that they can feel burned out.

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is “A special type of job stress ”“ a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

Employees with job burnout may be consistently irritable, show a lack of interest in their work, and have difficulty working with others. They may be hypercritical of their own work or that of their colleagues, experience tremendous fatigue and anxiety, and also be angry and depressed.

Burnout not only affects employees, but can also exact a heavy price on nonprofits. If staffers suffering from burnout underperform or call in sick more frequently, the organization operates sub-optimally. If others consequently seek alternative work opportunities, job turnover increases for the organization.

Job burnout can have several causes, including feeling powerless over job responsibilities, the inability to understand or meet demanding workplace expectations, or disillusionment with the work itself. Employees with very hectic and demanding jobs may feel trapped, whereas those with monotonous and unchallenging assignments may feel bored and frustrated.

Is job burnout reversible? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Employees Can Take Action

The first step for an employee is to recognize there is a problem, take pause, and consider the root cause of the burnout. Once the stressors causing the problem are identified, additional steps can be taken to help reduce or eliminate them. Below are a few suggestions:

  • Prioritize assignments. Ask management for additional resources, or reduce some after-work activities. More free time can enable an employee to look at the bigger picture.

  • Consider investing in a time management training course. Learning specific tips, such as making daily to-do lists or setting aside a specific time each day to do a specific task, such as making fundraising calls, can streamline job tasks.

  • Try something different. Seek fresh ideas, or learn new skills. This can lift an employee out of a rut and lead to a more positive attitude.
  • Take some time off from work, even if only for a one-week vacation. A break from daily pressures can be both uplifting and re-energizing.

  • Seek support from others. Discussing job burnout concerns with family, friends, and colleagues can be cathartic and open one's mind to new ways of thinking and behaving.

  • Keep healthy. Eat right and snack healthily. Taking a walk during one's lunch hour can improve physical and mental health.
Managers Can Support Employees

In addition, nonprofit managers can take steps to prevent burnout among their team members. For example, they can:

  • Cross-train employees. Workers who feel stifled, especially those who have been with an organization for many years, can benefit from shadowing their colleagues and learning new skills. An added bonus is that these employees, once trained, can step in to help when more support is needed or a colleague is absent.

  • Refresh the physical environment. Employees like to work in bright, cheerful settings. Consider painting the walls, updating furniture, changing the lighting or setting up or changing a lounge area. A clean, vibrant setting can lift one's mood.

  • Provide feedback. No one likes to work in a vacuum. Employees can benefit from learning how they are doing and what steps they need to take to advance in their jobs. Also, this communication can reveal any problems that may be brewing, enabling a manager to deflect a potentially negative future situation.

  • Recognize achievements on a regular basis. Take time to acknowledge, both privately and publically, an individual's achievements. Praise for a job well done boosts morale and reminds employees that you appreciate and value their efforts.
Anyone can fall victim to job burnout, but it can be especially problematic in the nonprofit sector, just because those organizations generally have fewer resources to relieve job pressures on their people. However, employees need not succumb to it. By taking proactive steps to change the behaviors that may lead to job burnout, employees, with support from their managers, can be healthier, happier, and more productive.

Eric Cormier is a human resource specialist in the Boston offices of Insperity (NYSE: NSP), a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 28 years. For more information, visit
March 2015