By Trish Bachman, Bethany Planton, and Johna Rodgers
One question sparked the conversation. "Have you ever experienced burnout?" As a grant professional, we have a never-ending workload of deadlines and reporting. To make matters worse, we often face unrealistic expectations and an ever-increasing level of frustration due to timeliness or lack of information on the part of our coworkers.
A 2019 survey of grant professionals from across the country indicated that 84% of respondents suffer from the symptoms of burnout, including exhaustion, sleeplessness, fatigue, and poor concentration. Also, 78% reported being cynical or distrustful at work.
And, in the time of COVID-19, we are doing more with less while working from home.
We are doing everything we can, and we're doing it in crisis mode. Sometimes, it's more than we can take.
Burnout is a common term used to describe feeling unmotivated, indifferent, tired, or overwhelmed by life, and is most often used to describe difficulties in the workplace. In the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization defines burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- 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."
Whether it is long-term persistent stress or short-term high stress, burnout leads to feelings of hopelessness, loss of motivation, exhaustion, and dread. The leading causes are poor leadership, poor communications, unclear expectations, little to no recognition, too few resources, not enough recovery time, and other conditions that make a person feel they are not appreciated and have no control.
Many grant professionals can directly point to the lack of control in their everyday work. The expectations are too high or sometimes aren’t stated at all. This lack of control and the accompanying stress take their physical and emotional toll.
That stokes our determination to state the obvious-but-seldom-shared truth. It’s not just you, and it’s not your fault. Your burnout will not be fixed by working harder, working longer, or bringing in more grant funding. That likely will make things worse.
Being able to identify burnout in yourself and others is the key to affecting change. Understanding the leading causes can help you identify strategies to alleviate the stress you feel and take action. Most important, remember that you are not alone.
Burnout is real, it is crucial to address, and there are resources to help you manage the way you feel. Consider the following:
- Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout
- Mayo Clinic Job burnout: How to spot it and take action
- Help Guide: Burnout Prevention and Treatment
- American Psychological Association Psychology Help Center
- Dial 2-1-1 to connect with mental health professionals in your area.
In July 2020, we partnered with Foundant to present a webinar, “You are not alone. Burnout is real, relevant, and recoverable,” where we discuss our journeys through burnout and how you can make it through, too. Identifying burnout is only the first step. Once you recognize it in yourself and others and begin to identify the root cause, take the next steps to reach out for help from friends, family, coworkers, and professionals in your community.
Together, we can become more effective as grant professionals and help create an environment where it is acceptable to take care of our mental health and build more resilient lives.