Written by: Aileen Carson, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
The third sector attracts people who are passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. It’s what drives them.
However, the pressures of providing services that make a difference, combined with constant funding cuts, staffing issues and meeting contractual and regulatory targets, can take their toll on the people who manage these services.
A survey of 350 charity workers by Third Sector, a publication for third-sector workers, found that more than 94% of respondents, the majority of whom held managerial positions, had experienced feelings of stress, overwhelm or burnout as a result of their work throughout the pandemic and 90% said their commitment to the organisation’s mission drove them to work longer hours or take on more than they could cope with.
Many described a commitment driven by a ‘pressure to perform’, a desire ‘not to let colleagues down’ or their own personal drive.
However, Covid isn’t the only reason for third-sector workers taking on extra work. Long before the pandemic, managers were pushing themselves too hard because of a lack of funding caused by austerity, scarce resources, a sense of duty and being totally committed to the organisation’s aims, as well as dealing with staffing and HR issues, which took them away from their day-to-day job.
The pandemic has exacerbated these problems and many people have also experienced increased anxiety about job security. All these factors can lead towards burnout, but many people don’t even realise their health is at risk or they think it will never happen to them.
The World Health Organisation defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Some of the most common characteristics associated with burnout are:
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
Increased mental distance from your job
Negativity or cynicism towards your job
Reduced professional efficiency
Recognising these symptoms can be hard enough, but doing something about them can be harder, particularly if you have no idea where to turn.
Being a manager puts you under even more pressure as it’s your responsibility to ensure your services are meeting people’s needs while supporting your staff. This means your stress levels are increasing, making it harder for you to function effectively.
This could show itself through sleepless nights, mood swings, irritability, tiredness, feeling as though you’re unable to function, chest pains and stomach problems, as well as feeling resentful that your career isn’t going as well as you’d like.
You might be finding it hard to find the time to do the things you once enjoyed or spending time with those closest to you. Even when you do take time off, you might find it’s harder to switch off as you’re still thinking about work even when you’re not actually working.
Caring about other people’s welfare was meant to be rewarding. You might still experience moments of satisfaction which feel like the best thing in the world and they remind you of why you moved into the third sector in the first place, but if you experience them rarely, you can end up wondering if your job is worth it.
You don’t want to leave as you’re still passionate about making a difference and you’ve no idea where you would go if you did leave. However, the stress of your work can make you feel like this and it’s harder to think straight when you’re exhausted.
Put yourself first
Recognising that you can’t help other people if you don’t look after yourself is the first step. You’ve always found this difficult, but you want to be a good leader and you can’t do this if you don’t consider your own needs.
Start by showing yourself some compassion – the same compassion you show other people – and put your own needs first. This might seem selfish to you, but it’s not. It’s absolutely essential. You’re so used to devoting all your energy to ensuring everyone around you is ok that you forget to make sure that you’re ok.
Feeling any compassion towards yourself can often be hard as your self-esteem might have decreased as your stress levels increased. You might feel that you don’t deserve to show any kindness or compassion to yourself as you’re unable to cope with your job. You might be feeling useless or worthless as it’s difficult to maintain any feelings of self-worth when you’re worn out.
Recognise your own needs
If this sounds like you, it’s time to put your own needs first. Whenever you feel your stress levels rising, ask yourself: ‘what do I need right now?’ and listen to what your body is telling you. You might need something as simple as something to eat or drink, some fresh air or exercise, or you might need a break.
Stop trying to do everything yourself. You can only support your team and provide the best possible services if you look after yourself and stop taking on everyone else’s worries.
Put in place firm boundaries with your team and your manager. Make time to speak to your manager to tell them how you’re feeling and how the stress you’re under is affecting you.
Ensure your team knows that you can’t be there for them all the time. Don’t assume that they’re all busy and don’t have time to take on anything else. Some people are good at looking busy when they actually have some capacity.
Check to see if any members of your team would like to take on more responsibility. You might find there are people who want to progress and would be happy to take on pieces of work that might help them do this. You’d be helping them progress with their career which can be difficult for them if you work in a small organisation.
Once you are taking practical steps to make life easier for yourself, you’ll be able to see whether you really do want to change your career or whether you just needed to make some practical changes within your current role.
If you want to gain clarity on your career, get in touch with me. I’ve worked in the third sector for years and have experience of each of the issues in this article.
Aileen Carson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Aileen Carson is a professional coach who specialises in helping managers find ways of reducing stress and avoiding burnout to help them gain clarity on the next steps of their career.
Aileen works with people who are unclear about where their career is heading as they are under constant pressure to achieve results. She helps them work out strategies to deal with stress so they can focus on their career ambitions.
Aileen’s own career transitions and personal experience of burnout have given her valuable insight that feeds into her coaching work. Her previous clients have learnt to recognise their own needs, improve their wellbeing, work out their next career moves, recognise the signs of burnout, increase their confidence and improve their leadership skills.