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Burnout - the next pandemic to hit the not-for-profit sector

Against the backdrop of the last few years, I have a real concern that Burnout is going to be the next pandemic that hits the not-for-profit sector. And un-checked, it's not that far away.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress AT WORK

Symptoms of burnout include feeling drained, tired, detached, and unfulfilled at work; feeling trapped, helpless and maybe even defeated; developing a negative or cynical outlook, feeling irritable or anxious; procrastination and self-doubt; overwhelm and exhaustion; and losing / loss of motivation for your job

There are also physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, stomachaches; increased blood pressure; struggling to get to sleep AND struggling to stay awake

In 2021/22, 17 million work days in the UK were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression. (HSE Labour Force study 2022)

That's 71 thousand work years.

I'll give you a minute to let that sink in: - 71,000 work years were lost LAST YEAR due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression

And the biggest cause of work-related stress if not properly managed??

Workload / Demands - increasing workload, need and demand against reducing resources, time or opportunities

followed by:

  • control - no control over your work

  • support - lack of support, information, connection, communication from colleagues and managers

  • relationships - ranging from poor or non-existent relationships to bullying, gaslighting, being ignored

  • role - different understandings of who is responsible for what - overlap and gaps

  • change - not engaged in decisions or process when undergoing change, ongoing external environmental change, ongoing change in colleagues, line management, responsibilities

(derived from MANY sources, including HSE, CIPD, Mind, Mental Health UK and our own sector wellbeing research)

And yet still, far too many organisations are basing their expectations and relying on colleagues to "up their game" rather than on focussing on our responsibilities as employers / senior leaders / trustees - to manage the cause areas above properly in our organisations

How many people (you reading this included) are being asked to deliver MORE this year than they delivered last year, when last year, they delivered more than they did the year before?


with either the same or less resource; against either a similar or more challenging backdrop;

with the either the same or less control, support, positive relationships and clarity;

with either the same or less role expectation understanding and clear un-shifting priorities; and

with the same or more change going on around them?

We have got so used to asking for more or being asked for more, and delivering some or all of that more, that we're forgetting that more of people is not an infinite resource. There is a point at which we break.

As I look out over the vista that is the UK charity / not-for-profit sector at the start of this new year, I am more worried than ever about the wellbeing of my colleagues and about the wellbeing of our organisations.

I'm worried that this year is going to be the year we see widespread "breaking"

Because we've faced such huge change and challenge over the last few years, and have had some huge 'fires' to put out, we're not seeing the 'hot-spots' that are lurking just beneath the surface of many of our organisations. And my fear is they're not hot-spots, they're hot-blankets.

The 'more' we're demanding is always driven by a desire to deliver more for our beneficiaries and their needs - which everyone wants. And our colleagues' passion for our causes, or work and our beneficiaries, mean they struggle to then push back at those expectations of more.

But just because need is greater does not mean that we can deliver against all of that need. And we certainly can't deliver against it if we're losing colleagues to burnout

Employee Experience experts, LumApps' research in 2022, found that 88% of UK workforce had experienced at least some level of burnout over the last two years

I'm not sure about your organisation, but most I know can't afford to lose 8% of their resource, let alone 88%

This needs to be the year when we focus on organisational responsibility.

Is it responsible to set expectations, workloads and demands that make colleagues ill?

We cannot rely on plans which break one group of people in the pursuit of helping / empowering / serving another

This needs to be the year when we address the underlying challenges and issues in the workplace, and we set a course that sees us improve culture, processes, clarity, communication, support, training, development and wellbeing; and in doing so, improve health, productivity, performance, retention, ambition, creativity, motivation, and delivering that which is needed by our beneficiaries

To put the needs of our beneficiary groups first, we need to put the needs of our colleagues, and ourselves, firster (I know that's not a word, but you know what I mean)

It's only by putting our colleagues first that we can deliver our mission and purpose.

Claire x


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