3 Leadership Tips to Help Employees Avoid Burnout

5 min
Contributing Author

Working for a nonprofit can be incredibly rewarding. However, while it can be fulfilling work, nonprofit employees are often overworked and run the risk of burning out.

The nonprofit environment can demand long hours, cause stress and exhaustion, and diminish an enthusiasm for work. This can be further compounded if employees neglect to take care of themselves. That’s where leadership comes into play though.

For example, leaders across different industries sometimes adopt continuous performance management best practices. This management style keeps leaders in constant contact with their employees and offers opportunities to develop staff into committed professionals.

These frequent touchpoints also provide an opportunity to monitor and prevent employee burnout. When you recognize that individuals are overworked, you can take preventative measures to keep staff engaged and excited about their work.

Below, we outline three ways you can work with this system to prioritize the mental wellbeing of your staff and help prevent employee burnout.

1. Establish Frequent Contact

When you take the time to get to know employees on a personal level, it’s easier to see when they’re struggling. Assuming that they’ll reach out when they’re overwhelmed is easy to fall back on, but rarely works out well. For example, employees may feel intimidated or uncomfortable approaching managers with personal or work-related problems.

In this case, you could proactively set the standard for open communications with your staff. At the beginning of a meeting, consider taking a few minutes to ask someone how they’re doing and how they feel about their workload. You might also implement an open-door policy, where employees can drop in and speak with you about whatever is on their mind.

There are also more structured methods to check in with staff. To avoid missing signs of employee burnout, set aside time, either weekly or monthly, to bond with team members.

Taking employees for coffee, lunch, or an out-of-work activity can foster a sense of community, helping people feel comfortable with sharing more about themselves. As stated in a Forbes article, these “strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance.”

This approach can be carried over to more traditional one-on-one feedback meetings as well. Setting a schedule and establishing a cadence of meetings like this ensures that you’ll stay aware of your employees’ wellbeing.

Asking questions, and both giving and receiving feedback, is key. As employees get more used to the regularity of these meetings, you’ll be able to establish an environment of open communication and trust. And when team members feel that they can trust to share feelings openly, they’re likely to be more upfront about concerns they have regarding burnout.

2. Be Transparent When Taking Time Off

It can be difficult to take time off from work, especially when you’re passionate about your nonprofit’s cause, mission, and impact. However, you can lead by example and show your staff it’s both natural and healthy to take time off from the job.

The health benefits are clear: time off can relieve stress and improve your mental and physical health. When you give yourself time to relax, you’ll be refreshed and energized when you return to work, allowing you to be more productive and creative.

Taking time off is also an essential part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When employees understand their work stays at the office, it gives them the opportunity to enjoy their free time and indulge in hobbies.

Creating this sort of company culture can seem difficult; establishing a healthy environment requires more than just laying out expectations and encouraging employees to follow them. It’s important to actively work with staff in order to ensure vacation can be enjoyed without impacting overall work.

Consider setting individual, work-related goals for staff members at the beginning of each quarter. Doing so will help gauge how they’re performing. Having clear goals defined will also help staff complete their work while factoring in their vacation time.

Working together to understand what each employee is capable of completing within a given quarter will help ensure they can enjoy time off without stressing about uncompleted or unexpected projects.

In that light, it’s also important to sit down with staff before and after vacation to discuss accountability. Having a one-on-one meeting to discuss what is expected of that employee while they’re away and when they return is key to a smooth transition and stress-free time off.

Another way to ensure your organization stays on track while employees are on vacation is to establish a culture of shared success. This involves having workers look out for one another and handle certain tasks while someone is away.

Even if a member of your team shares that they will be checking their email while on vacation, something urgent may come up at the office. Having someone that is willing to cover that employee on vacation can ensure issues are taken care of quickly and work doesn’t pile up.

A culture of shared success can encourage trust, transparency, and appreciation, all of which can be further developed from continuous performance management practices. When leaders are transparent with expectations and open to communication, staff are more likely to adopt the same attitude and work together to prevent employee burnout.

3. Offer Competitive Benefits

In the nonprofit world, money isn’t always everything. But, with a high turnover rate, it’s essential that you do everything you can to retain strong employees. Building a culture of self-care and offering competitive benefits can play a major part in engaging and retaining employees.

For example, consider offering things like unlimited sick days, compensated gym classes, and the ability to work remotely. In-office benefits might include free coffee and tea, special events such as a speaker series or workshops, or weekly breakfasts.

Low-cost options, like designating an in-office meditation space or flexible work schedules are also creative ways to help reduce burnout and keep staff engaged. In fact, 44 percent of workers in the UK shared that flexible work arrangements were the top perk they wanted to see at their office.

Perks like these can be attractive to candidates and current employees because they show the company cares about employee wellbeing. Before making any major changes though, ask employees what’s important to them: this shows you value their input.

Showing your staff that you want them to operate at their best while at work is an important part of continuous performance management. When you shows you’re listening to your staff by making, or at least considering, the changes they ask for, it can increase enthusiasm about coming into work.

Even something as simple as stocking the kitchen with a team member’s favorite type of coffee or snack can have a big improvement on engagement and quality of work.

Employees suffering from burnout can be cynical and have a bad attitude towards their work. That’s why providing a few simple perks and taking the time to show you appreciate their hard work can make a big difference. When an employee feels that they’re being heard, they’re more likely to feel like they’re a part of the team. The more they enjoy being at the office, the more committed they’ll be to working together to achieve your brand mission.

It’s easy to get caught up in your day-to-day and forget to do something as simple as check in with an employee, but if you can prioritize these steps it can help prevent employee burnout at your nonprofit. Let us know, in the comments below, if you put any of these into practice to create a more relaxed, productive, and dedicated organization. And let us know if you have anything else to add. 

David Mizne is Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, one-on-ones, and 360 degree reviews. David’s articles have also appeared on The Next Web and The Economist Blog. Follow him @davidmizne.


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