5 Ways to Support Self-Care in the Nonprofit Workplace
There’s no denying nonprofit employees are passionate. Many of us come to work day after day because we care about the cause – not because we’re cashing massive pay cheques. (But wouldn’t that be nice too?)
Unfortunately, our passion for the work often results in compassion fatigue and burnout. Burnout is a real problem in our sector. It stops amazingly talented people from continuing to work in their field. It prevents new talent from entering the sector. And it cuts off the leadership pipeline at many of our organizations, as talented staff get too burnt out to even consider taking on a role with more responsibility.
Realistically, we can’t reduce compassion fatigue completely.
It’s everyone’s job to put their own self-care practices in place, but employers have a special responsibility to prioritize and facilitate self-care in the workplace. Beyond providing fair pay, benefits packages, and employee assistance programs, we must consider how our practices as nonprofits can be contributing to staff burnout.
Here are five ways your nonprofit can contribute to your staff’s self-care practices.
1. Encourage staff to take breaks.
Martyrdom is not a pre-requisite of working in nonprofit. Taking physical breaks from work helps relieve some of the stress of the job, and helps employees do a better job when they are back at it. Encourage staff leave the building for lunch and to use all of their vacation days. Make it acceptable for staff to use their sick time or personal days if they are feeling drained from work.
2. Be aware of how physical spaces can affect wellbeing.
The space around us has more impact than you’d think on your mental health. Empower your staff by giving them input into what their workspaces look like. Consider letting staff choose the paint colours on the walls, or the freedom to decorate their desk spaces as they wish. Some people may not be able to concentrate in cluttered environments, so an investment in storage systems will decrease their stress.
3. Prioritize debriefing.
Debriefing is especially important for nonprofit employees. We help people grow and heal, but we also end up absorbing a lot of trauma. Having formal check-in systems helps, and this is especially important for the staff who work on the front lines. Checking in could include a transition period between shifts, a daily debrief meeting, or having another employee on-call if needed. It could also come in the form of periodic group meetings where employees can air their concerns and feelings, and feel heard by management.
4. Create an email policy.
What’s worse than seeing an email from your boss at 11:30pm? Sure, she may not expect you to respond right away, but the implication is that if she’s thinking about work then you should be too. Combat this by outlining a policy for checking email. Who needs to have access to emails on their phone? What is the response expectation outside office hours? Some organizations implement a rule that all emails after 6pm must be saved as drafts to be sent the recipients during their working hours.
5. Encourage employees to build and tap into their support networks.
Our support networks are what get us through every week, day, month. Encourage your employees to make sure have both personal and professional support networks. Personal networks could be their family, friends, religious groups, etc. Professional networks might include other coworkers, mentors and coaches, or peer support groups.