I’m tired. In fact, scrap that. I’m exhausted. It’s the end of the year in not for profit world and things should – we always think – be quietening down. Instead I have a huge (and quite frankly unachievable) list of things to do before Christmas and it is feeling somewhat overwhelming. Our plans for 2020 are exciting but ambitious, and ambitious feels hard when you are knackered. Is anyone with me?
Let’s face it – there is no quiet time through the course of the year when you work for a charity. Everyone at every level is doing as much as they possibly can with as little as possible and that in itself can be exhausting. Add in a constantly evolving workforce, compassion fatigue, the pressing requirement of shifting to digital, meeting the immediate needs of social media, funding bodies and so on and so forth – no wonder we are tired. And let’s also not forget our motivation for our work in the first place – the cause to which we are committed. Whether it is people, animals or the environment there are few causes which are experiencing huge wins. There is no cure for cancer, people are still homeless and the world is still warming – which means our energy expenditure (in many cases) is met with little reward.
So where do we turn to for energy and support? friends? colleagues? our partners and children? Or do we just burn out?
After 15 years in senior management roles in the not for profit world I am not sure I have nailed it. Some of what I have learnt is this…
– A good boss is hard to find, if and when you come across one STAY CLOSE! More importantly, lean on them, share your thoughts and feelings, ask for their time. Through some of my toughest work times I had an exceptional manager; she helped me find paths through the challenges and she suggested I take a break when I simply needed to recharge and find my passion again. Any good manager wants you to connect, so don’t feel like you are bothering them.
– Unfortunately, really great NFP Managers are few and far between, or simply too stretched to be able to support people in the way they would like to. Feeling like you can’t get the support you need from your manager can become a huge issue when you’re tired and/or stressed. If they haven’t been a great boss up until now, they are unlikely to come to the party in the tough times. Don’t make this another problem – accept it and find your support from other sources or it will drive you mad. Literally.
– Family and friends probably don’t get it unless they have worked in the not for profit world. I have worked (in varying capacities) seven different non-profits – they have all been wonderful in ways but equally totally weird. I recently got an email titled ‘Christmas Campaign – Tree of Hope meets Fruit Fly Research Project’. I have spent work days getting last minute One Direction tickets to teenagers with cancer; doing zumba in the bush with Aborignal women; convincing volunteers on projects in India that getting shot at, does mean that yes, they need to be deployed elsewhere and making appearances in supermarket adverts. Not for profit jobs are rarely normal, the stresses and strains are plentiful and often downright bizarre. We need people who get it to support and give energy in the tough times.
So what does this mean? Who should we turn to? The relationships that have got me through the toughest, most exhausting work times have been my peers; but these relationships take time and effort to build. We are all busy… oh that business culture… and to take the time out to have a coffee and truly share a problem (not just bitch) and solutionize is seen as a luxury. Not core business. It’s not on my bloody huge to do list that’s for sure.
Peer support is a well-known model for many of our client groups, yet many of us don’t invest in it ourselves. In recent years commercial models of peer support have started up in the non-profit space, providing CEOs and executive managers with a space to connect and share. If you don’t have colleagues who you might choose to build and deepen relationships with, look outside your organisation – that person who you came across at a conference/research forum/interdisciplinary meeting – set up a meeting to share ideas and connect. And for those people who you like at work but haven’t had time to chat to in more depth – set up a coffee. Only you can create your peer support, whether you choose a formal or informal route.
A weekly coffee or hour long phone call with a trusted colleague is far more time efficient than the days or weeks required to recover from burn-out. It may feel luxurious – but trust me, it’s worth it… so much so I am adding it to my 2020 to do list right now; at the top!