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Avoiding Burnout and Building a Positive Organizational Culture

Match head with smoke streaming from it as it diesIt’s 2019, and by now, you’re probably all too familiar with one of the great scourges of the modern workplace: burnout. It’s the uniquely current sensation of exhaustion from feeling like you need to be working all the time.

And for those of us who work in nonprofits, sometimes that feeling can be exacerbated by the importance of the work we’re doing; after all, when your job is to make the world a better place, time spent not doing your job is time not making the world a better place. There’s a sense that we always need to be doing more with less. And in a sphere where we’re always hunting for the next grant that’s going to fund the next big project, it can begin to feel like we’re on a treadmill, constantly racing forward, never able to stop and rest.

That’s why it’s becoming increasingly important to know how to navigate the narrow strait between nonprofit burnout and high achievement. It’s not simply taking care of oneself and those around you, but rather, it’s about ensuring that your team fosters a productive, balanced environment for continued success. Having a functional organizational culture is no longer just a perk; it’s often a top priority for job seekers, with top talent gravitating toward places where they know they’ll have a positive experience.

Assessing Your Organization’s Well-Being

Luckily, there are lots of ways we as leaders in the nonprofit sector can encourage this type of environment, and one of them is as easy as making a list. In her book Workplace Wellness That Works, Laura Putnam applies Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the contemporary nonprofit workplace:

  1. Do people have what they need to do their job?

  2. Do people feel appreciated and respected?

  3. Do people feel connected to one another?

  4. Do people feel like they have opportunities for growth?

  5. Do people feel like they are inspired and working toward a higher purpose?

With these priorities in place, it’s possible to use them as a sort of triage for one’s own workplace, starting with #1 (the “Functioning Factor”) and proceeding downward toward #5 (the “Fulfillment Factor”) only once the higher needs have been met. After that, the entire team can brainstorm ways in which various improvements to their workplaces would help fulfill these needs, assigning them as appropriate to each category. It’s a way of prioritizing which organizational and cultural problems should be dealt with first, and which can be put on the back burner for the time being.

Using Capacity Building to Improve Organizational Culture

It stands to reason, then, that the top priority of any nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the well-being of its team members is to make it more functional and resilient, and perhaps the best way to achieve that aim is through capacity building. Philanthropy University offers courses like Human Capital Strategy that help teams do just that, equipping staff with the skills they need to perform key tasks like project management, monitoring & evaluation, and human capacity strategy.

In an age when burnout is all too common, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself and the people around you. But as long as we’re willing to put in the work, a happier, healthier organizational culture is within our grasp.

For more strategies on how to promote well-being in your workplace, check out Beth’s book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, which teaches leaders to take a critical eye to their organizations, identify problems, and establish a healthier work-life balance without sacrificing results.

Beth KanterConnor Diemand-YaumanBeth Kanter is a master trainer, speaker, and author of The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. Connor Diemand-Yauman is co-founder and CEO of Philanthropy U. He is passionate about empowering local civil society and education reform.

Topics: work-life balance Healthy Nonprofit Practices