Compassion fatigue is caused by chronic stress and can result in physical exhaustion, anger, irritation, insomnia and impaired decision-making. Other-focused and empathic people feel that it is their part to do everything in their power to help and care for others, which explains why so many of us are drawn to the nonprofit sector—and precisely why we may be at higher risk for personal and professional burnout. And research shows nonprofits have higher annual employee turnover than business and government: 3.1 percent versus 2.7 and 1 percent, respectively.
Whether for yourself or the essential personnel working with or reporting to you in a nonprofit, here are some mix-and-match ways to combat compassion fatigue and employee turnover.
The Importance of Self Care
As the famous saying goes: You cannot pour from an empty cup. This means you and your nonprofit team members can only give so much and for so long before you start to feel exhausted and lost. Particularly as so many of us continue to work from home, where research has shown we work longer hours, it’s vital to allow yourself to relax, find quiet times, listen to music, perhaps even enjoy a long breakfast without your phone or watching television.
As a leader, how can you help your employees build in self-care and restorative time to replenish their energy, health and store of compassion? Flexibility in terms of scheduling work hours is a highly prized and proven benefit. When you allow a morning bird to tackle tasks while mentally and emotionally at their peak, they will thrive. Likewise to the night owl who would prefer to do a couple of hours without distraction after the kids—and their colleagues—have gone to bed.
Make it Okay to Say “No”
Empathic female leaders have particular difficulty saying no. You may think saying “no” is seen as a lack of interest in helping or supporting. Saying “no” could mean that now is not the right time, rather than that it is not possible.
Focus more on explaining the reason for your answer than feeling guilty for not pleasing them. Saying “no” sets boundaries and builds respect.
Also empower your team members to say “no” to requests that would overburden them. Discussions of how to say “no” to clients, volunteers, board members and even each other can build trust and deepen rapport among your stakeholders.
Lighten Your Load
It’s important that both leaders and colleagues have people you can emotionally connect with to share your feelings, frustrations and regrets. You need people that are open to just listening as you share—not offer solutions or advice.
Make a ground rule for sharing that we each assume our colleagues already know what they should be doing, and what they need is a colleague or mentor to simply hear them out.
Leaders, Learn to Delegate
Leaders often make the mistake of taking on all the work themselves. Influential leaders know how to delegate responsibility. Not only is this a way to increase productivity, but it also allows others the opportunity to grow under your mentorship.
Delegating wisely also shows that you have invested in getting to know the people that work with you.
Find Hobbies Outside Work
This is great advice for every member of your organization: from board members and trustees to frontline employees and volunteers. Develop new hobbies or go back to doing things you enjoyed before your work took over.
Take back control of your off-hours. Many people enjoy gardening, redecorating their home, fishing, painting, or even catching up on their favorite shows.
Challenge yourself to do something more physically challenging or mentally liberating than your job to engage the muscles and neurons that get the least simulation on weekdays.
Change Your Lifestyle
If your schedule is fully booked with everything work-related, this could be one reason you are feeling overwhelmed and burning out. Maybe it is finally time to change your lifestyle. Change your routine and include exercises, such as morning walks or an evening jog. Schedule what time you should be in bed and schedule a nonnegotiable time to meditate. A healthy diet is also good to start.
All of these suggestions will help you to shortcircuit compassion fatigue so that you can recharge and get back that sense of fulfillment. Experiment with combinations until you find the perfect restorative mix.
By Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, JSG & Associates