Many of my clients have found great satisfaction – and open doors to career opportunities – through volunteering. Without a mindful approach to volunteering, however, burnout can occur. There are also similar signs that can point to workplace burnout in general. If your mood is low and your anxiety and stress high, you may be experiencing volunteer burnout.
Warning Signs to Consider
- Do you dread doing things that you used to enjoy?
- Are you doing more but feeling less productive and less fulfilled with your achievements?
- Are you mentally unfocused?
- Do you lack enthusiasm? Are you frequently worried?
- Are you dropping the ball on your commitments?
- Has your personality changed? Were you at one time upbeat but now pessimistic or withdrawn? Are your words becoming increasingly negative, peppered with frustration?
- Are you irritated by day-to-day challenges and distractions?
- Do you feel guilty about your performance or situation?
Common Causes to Consider
- Not saying “no.” Do you struggle with the word “no”? Is it elusive when you need it? Keep in mind that sometimes saying no to requests and commitments is just healthier; sometimes self-care has to come first. It’s hard to be productive in the throes of resentment, physical weariness, or too many balls in the air.
- Overcommitment. If you’re in a job with high demands, raising children, and caring for aging parents, adding heavy volunteer commitments may not be a good idea.
- High expectations and perfectionism. Perfectionism can be counterproductive and time-consuming. This is probably the most frequent issue to arise in discussions with my clients who are experiencing the symptoms of burnout. Mark, an executive in career transition (and job search) and an active volunteer in the public school system, said, “A very hard lesson for me to learn has been that sometimes B+ is good enough.”
- Not taking a break. Spending years or even decades in the same volunteer position without breaks can lead to burnout. Put some breathing room between your commitments – mix them up. You may well realize a quick rejuvenation!
- Misplaced roles. Volunteers, like paid workers, should be positioned for success based on their preferences, skills and talents. Just because a person has an MBA, doesn’t mean he or she should sit on a financial committee. Perhaps that person’s best fit might be on the front lines, working the food shelf or greeting folks. If you find yourself in a role that doesn’t feel right, ask to move out of it and into another.
- Taking on too much accountability too soon. New volunteers need time to assimilate into the life of the organization. Think about starting with short-term volunteer opportunities before progressing to more challenging leadership roles.
- Taking from the same pool too often. Every organization has a few “yes” people who tend to take the volunteer roles. Well-meaning volunteer recruiters go back to those same few again and again. The result is that a core group of folks shoulder the main load. It not only increases their chances of burnout; it also poses potential difficulty for others who may feel they can’t step forward and volunteer.
As an individual volunteer, it’s a good idea to take inventory of these signs and causes of burnout. Then see where you might make changes to maximize your optimal comfort and success. As a volunteer recruiter, here are a few suggestions for creating a volunteer-friendly environment:
- Have a clear vision and communicate it.
- Show appreciation in real time, not just with end-of-year celebrations.
- Have a well-organized volunteer program with written job descriptions.
- Ensure that the job is doable. Perhaps shared duties works better than one person manning the fort alone.
- Design commitments with specific end dates. Open-ended obligations can lead to burnout.
- Provide an off-ramp for volunteers. Empower them to say “no” if they are overextended or overwhelmed.
- Match the right person with the right job by asking people about their interests and passions.
Do you have experiences or insights regarding volunteer burnout? I’d love to hear from you!