How to Avoid Burnout

Even people who love their jobs sometimes… hate them.  Because of the nature of the work, philanthropic and non-profit employees are at risk for the dreaded burnout more than your average 9-5er. Grantmakers, in particular, can be subject to high levels of responsibility while wielding limited decision-making power – mix that with workload that can include emotional interactions with passionate grantees, and you have a recipe for burnout if there ever was one.

You and your foundation may be saving the world, but who’s saving you? Job burnout is a real thing that causes real emotional and physical health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, and disrupted sleep patterns.

Are you calling in sick more, feeling distracted from your purpose and suffering from the Sunday Night Blues? It happens. A lot. Let’s look at a few ways snuff burnout before it gets out of control.

Talk it Out

If you’re starting to feel antagonized or depressed about a project, ask for help. I know – it sounds like the simplest advice possible, but if it’s so simple, why don’t people do it when they need to? Go to your team, rant, complain, cry if you need to and say the following words: “What would you suggest?” Your colleagues have likely been in this place and can show you a way out.

Shake it Up

If you’re dragging in your day-to-day and feeling unfulfilled, look at your workflow. Is there anything that can change? Even finding somewhere new to eat lunch could help break out of a stagnant routine. Staring at a computer screen for eight hours (or more) with no break is a plague in American offices. If you commute to work only to sit all day and then commute back home for more of the same… that digs a deep rut. Do anything you can to break the cycle. Start by changing your morning routine. Take four 15 minute breaks to walk around the building, or heck, at least go outside and read a real book for a while. Anything can help – you spend most of your time at work. Keeping it interesting is essential to your well-being.

Pass it On

And, finally, if there is a specific duty or grantee issue against which you have tried multiple survival strategies and continue to feel like you’re losing the fight – take it to the top and ask for it to be removed from your plate. It’s okay to say you’ve tried everything if you really have tried everything. Be honest about the burden you have been shouldering and how it is affecting your time and other work. Make the case to pass it on to someone who can tackle the problem with a fresh perspective, or dump it altogether.  The important thing is: you’re getting it out of your life, opening space to rejuvenate your work. Entrepreneurs are pros at the pass – you can try to fix something until you go crazy, but if you’re not the right person to fix it, all you’re left with is a crazy mess. The key is bold honesty.

Take it Off

Wait! One more thing. Don’t be the person who complains about how burned out they are who has 60 days of unused vacation time in the bank. If you’re feeling like you need a break, for goodness sake, take one! Kathe Elwell, Director, Grants & Stewardship at the YMCA of the USA, notes that she struggles with capping out on both vacation and sick days earned, but she has developed a nifty tip to get some time off. “My trick now is to proactively block off days on my calendar that are meeting-free or are nearly so. If needed, I can release the days, but if it gets close to the day and nothing has cropped up, I take a random day off.”  It’s good for mental and physical health to take a day off now and then.


Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is PEAK Grantmaking's effective practices director. You can find her on Twitter @nikkiwpowell.

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