Updated: Feb 15
Today I took part in a session run by the group formally known as Furloughed Fundraisers Chat, on the topic of Burnout in fundraising and the charity sector.
In the session I talked about stress, eustress and distress, about the particularities of Fundraiser Stress, about the difference between periods of stress and burnout and about ways to help prevent stress becoming overwhelm and about what to do when you are facing on in the midst of burnout.
I was asked a question that I gave a spectacularly poor answer to and wanted to have another go but in writing.
Paraphrased, the question was, "what can you do when you've highlighted the incidence of stress and overwhelm in your team to your Manager and they've basically identified the problem as me being over-emotional rather than the actual problem?"
And in a very long and convoluted (and rubbish) answer, part of the answer I ended up giving included the words "sometimes an @r5£ is just an @r5£"
And I know what I meant but I didn't say it very well.
I spend all of my working life trying to convince individuals and organisations of the benefit of focussing on workplace wellbeing and that colleagues that are well and who are encouraged to be well, produce great work and perform brilliantly.
And to be honest, the question really pisses me off, not because it's a daft question but because I begrudge the fact that people have to work in circumstances where they need to ask the question. People should not have to work with a Manager whose response to concerns about overwhelm, exhaustion and people leaving left, right and centre, is "you're being emotional"
"Actually *Steve, you're damn right I'm being emotional! We're all working our wotsits off, our jobs ARE emotional, we're knackered, we're broken, we're doing the work of twice as many people, we need a break, this is still all going to be here waiting for us after Christmas with no change imminent, and you're being a total arse!"
So, now I've calmed down I want to have a proper go at answering the question.
We can't get away from the fact that the charity / notprofit / social enterprise sector is a passion and purpose driven place to work. We're all here precisely for that passion and for that purpose.
But when you push things and people to breaking point, guess what happens? They break!
And when they break, unless they're supported to rest, to recuperate and to recover, and then to reassess and make changes to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again, they either go off sick; they stay in work but a) don't do good work and b) get iller; or they leave. None of which are an appealing option to the Manager and the organisation OR to the individual.
One of the reasons I share stats about stress and burnout and loss of working days to work related stress is precisely because I want to help educate the *Steve's of this world about just how big a problem work-related stress, anxiety and depression is TODAY in the social good sector.
So, if you're in that position, what should you do?
1) Do not break yourself to do the work because, despite Steve being an arse, you know the need is there and you think you'll be letting your beneficiaries down if you don't. There is not one beneficiary alive who wants your organisation to deliver its purpose at the expense of your health and wellbeing, not ONE!
2) Share your concerns with your colleagues and together, share them with your boss, ideally in writing and with the facts spelled out - e.g. we're a team of 3 doing the same work done last year by 12 people etc. And, if you're in a position to be able to do so, offer some suggestions as to a) what is possible with that number of people and / or b) how many more people you think you need to do what is being asked
3) Find the colleague whose opinion they do value and see if you can gain their support
4) If that doesn't get you anywhere, take your concerns to another senior colleague or a Trustee. If the concerns are purely about a risk to yourself, these are generally covered under grievances. If your concerns are regarding risks to others, these are generally covered by whistle-blowing (Protect) - you may want to gen up on your own organisation's policies in these areas.
5) (and this is where the @r5£ comment came from) - you do need to consider the fact that sometimes, an @r5£ is just an @r5£ . There is no reasoning with them. If they're taking your concerns as purely emotional with no basis for further scrutiny, you are not going to persuade them any differently (more's the pity) and you may well want to consider either visiting your Doctor and explaining the work-related stress you're under and taking some sick leave, or leaving the organisation entirely!
Now, obviously, these are all extreme suggestions and ideally you would not need to go anywhere near that far.
Because who doesn't want to work in, manage in or lead in an organisation where we all are committed to delivering our best?
The assumption that anyone works in the social good sector for an easy ride, not engage emotionally, and to not want to change a bit of the world, is total bollocks! And anyone who thinks and instinctively acts as such does NOT belong here.
What SHOULD your organisation do if it wants to protect and promote the wellbeing of its colleagues but doesn't know how?
Ask all of your colleagues which parts of their roles cause them the most stress and why?
Ask all of your colleagues which parts of their roles take the most time and produce the least results and how they could be eradicated / done differently
Ask all of your colleagues what support they need to be able to better do the work they do
Encourage all of you colleagues to prioritise their wellbeing and mental health
Equip all managers with the skills and knowledge to support individuals who are struggling or who ask for help (spoiler alert - the way to deal with this is NOT to tell colleagues they're being emotional!) and to spot the telltale signs of stress, overwhelm and burnout
Have a Wellbeing Trustee - not necessarily someone who is an expert, but someone who is going to champion workplace wellbeing, give it a platform and ensure good wellbeing governance
Undertake Mental Health First Aid training
Listen to your staff - I don't believe there's a workplace problem in existence that those working in the thick of it don't know how to improve (they might not know how to solve it completely but they know how to make it a damn sight better!)
Accept that more in terms of input from one person is NOT infinite
Don't wait to get it all perfect, start and make something, one thing, better tomorrow. And then make something else a bit better. And so on
I think I've done that question more justice now
*not his real name