How to Practice Self-Care and Maintain Mental Health While Working in the Nonprofit Sector
The nonprofit sector is filled with dedicated and hard-working employees who care deeply about helping to fulfill their organization’s mission. While this passion and drive is important, it can also lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout. The World Health Organization recognized burnout in 2019 as a syndrome characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Burnout affects workers in every industry, but especially in the nonprofit sector where often employees experience long hours and situations more likely to induce stress.
Research found that half of nonprofit workers are already experiencing or are close to burnout. This burnout is not only harmful to the employees themselves, but to the organization as well. Burnout can cause a decrease in productivity and engagement from employees, resulting in lower performance. It can also lead to an increase in turnover, especially for employees who experience direct client contact. While focusing on the care of others, they are more likely to forget to prioritize their own care. Employee turnover is especially high in the nonprofit sector. A study conducted showed that the annual turnover rate for the nonprofit industry is 19%, while the industry-wide average is 12%.
To reduce burnout, employees at nonprofit organizations need to learn how to practice self-care. It’s important for workers to prioritize their mental health when it comes to their job and to make sure to set aside time for their self-care practice, whether it’s daily, weekly, or just whenever most needed. Some ways employees can practice self-care is by exercising, meditating, going for a walk, reading, etc. It’s really just whatever helps them recharge, so that they can be better equipped to handle the stresses of the day.
Self-care must be encouraged from the top. Management should model self-care by practicing it themselves and making it transparent to the lower levels. Mental health continues to have a stigma and leadership that opens up the conversation about how to best handle stress and burnout will have a great impact on employees. It’s also beneficial to have one-on-one conversations with employees about what they need to help them manage their stress. Even if a leader hasn’t had experience with mental health problems, or even doesn’t fully understand it, they should treat it with the seriousness of any physical illness and show kindness and compassion.
However, it’s important to remember that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some people might like having an open conversation with their coworkers or supervisor, while others might prefer to take action privately and on their own. Offering resources to employees that they can access at any time, such as informational guides or employee assistance programs, can be of use to those who want more confidential help.
Giving workers the permission to practice self-care during work hours is important, so that they can feel comfortable stepping out or going for a walk when they need to recharge. Focusing on productivity rather than the amount of time an employee is at work can help them better manage their self-care. Having an organizational culture that supports the practice of self-care can boost productivity and engagement, as well as lead to fewer sick days brought about by burnout.