Why Charities’ Stress Management is Worse Than Business’
I come from a non-profit sector background and now provide training in leadership, resilience and stress management. I work with both businesses and charities and have noticed some differences in these groups. Based on commonly portrayed stereotypes one might think that charities are full of good-hearted people and are nice fluffy places to work, while businesses are cut-throat and stressful. I have found this not always to be the case and the third-sector has some unique stress and resilience issues worth highlighting. I feel some hesitation writing this as I imagine this will be a somewhat controversial article as it’ challenges the taboo of stress in charities and the subtle domination with a smile that can exist there. I have seen these issues causing people in the NGO world to suffer for some years though so I think it’s worth it.
So why can working for a charity drive you bonkers?
Charities Over Commit
One might think charities are stressful places to work because (sadly) they don’t have enough resources to do the job. This actually misses the point though that charities are only under resourced for jobs they have taken on. I have made this mistake personally while working in areas of conflict and it comes from a mix of good intentions and arrogance. Charities bite off more than they can chew.
Invincible Saviours Not Humans!
A key mental error charity workers can suffer from is thinking they are Superman/woman and can single-handedly save the world. Been there, done that, got the burnout. The ironic denial that people are human and have limits is rampant in the third sector and a cultural norm in many major organisations. The phrase and associated book “Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits” includes at this saviour complex along with some other tendencies.
Guardian Reader Jobs War – Supply and Demand
3rd sector work is a competitive field due to the large number of high quality (and often parentally supported) candidates entering the NGO marketplace. Many smart people are not motivated primarily by money which floods the field with volunteers and creates a job “sellers” market. People are often expected to work for little or nothing for quite some time, then fight for jobs which offer poor extrinsic rewards. These are major stress factors no matter how much one believes in helping others.
Sometimes Mean and Rubbish People Work For Great Charities
As in any area of work, there are sucky bosses and people suffer under them. Charities have a wad of people in who are trying to fix internal emotional problems with external charitable solutions. Analytically, there can be a collective shadow and projection and odd projection issues around “the bad guys” which leads to some pretty bad behaviour. There can also be incompetent people working for charities who would be sacked in the business world immediately but are kept-on to nobody’s benefit in the 3rd sector out of a misguided sense of ethics.
The Misson is More Important Than Wellbeing
Is the message many 3rd sector workers are given in culture where working unsustainable hours and burning out becomes normal. “The end justifies the means” is the hidden motto and one”means” can be churning-up staff’s health and wellbeing. Often in charities there is a subtle pressure to stay late and work weekends “for the cause” in a way which would not be expected in business. Frankly in many charities people are taken advantage of.
The Bottom-Line of Why Charities Suck at Stress Management
Because they choose to. Many charities “can’t afford” stress management or resilience training and support for staff, adequate holidays or working conditions that promote wellbeing. What this usually this means they don’t prioritise investing in staff’s well-being and are either in denial about workplace stress or in a false economy of burnout. Harsh badly in need of saying from what I’ve seen.
Free Stuff – We’re Not a Charity but What the Hell
If you can’t get training, a holiday in the Maldives or find some kryptonite to remove your Superman boss these videos may help. Free of charge lest anyone say I’m not really a fluffy charity type at heart. May all beings be happy, healthy and get 2 days off a week so they don’t hate Mondays.
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