VOLUNTEER BURNOUT: WHY IT HAPPENS AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT IT.Sep 20, 2022
“Thank you to all the volunteers who made this event happen.”
I can remember sitting in church the week after summer camp had ended and seeing dozens of depleted people. The excitement of the week was starting to wear off and the aching muscles and exhaustion were setting in.
That summer I didn’t sign-up to help. Each week I felt guilty when they asked for volunteers. Set-up, small groups, clean up, snacks, decorating, the list of needs went on and on. But still, I sat content to not participate. Looking back there was likely a heart issue involved but I distinctly remember feeling exhausted just thinking about the work of volunteering for church summer camp.
For years I had volunteered in children’s ministry, music, greeters, hospitality, youth, you name it I was involved. I even played the piano at the senior's center for their services. But I was done, I had enough. I was tired and I didn’t want to feel exhausted and resentful again. So, I sat listening to the call for help but refusing to step-up.
The church is an organization heavily dependent on volunteers and in recognition of volunteer appreciation week, I want to speak to volunteer burnout. The church needs to be aware of volunteer burnout, why it happens and what you can do to prevent it.
SO, WHAT IS BURNOUT?
To put it simply Burnout is comprised of 3 components:
- High levels of prolonged stress
Hopelessness, or the thought that nothing is ever going to change. Helplessness, or the feeling that you have no control of your own circumstances and prolonged high level of stress.
Let go deeper.
HOPELESSNESS OR THE BELIEF AND MINDSET THAT THINGS ARE GOING TO BE THIS WAY FOREVER.
Within church programs, there is often very quick turnaround times and each week you are turning out new activities, new services and every season brings a special event or service. There is very little breathing room (if any) before the next event service and project is due.
This reoccurring workload could quickly and easily feel like a hamster wheel, and you are just trying to keep up. Thoughts of hopelessness creep-in and soon turn into beliefs that nothing will ever change.
A good example is the dreaded weekly bulletin. Every week you are expected to design, organize and distribute the bulletin. And as soon as you finish one you have to move on to next week’s issue.
It is vital that volunteer team members have opportunities to rest and step away from the constant deadlines and demands. This is necessary to prevent feelings of hopelessness and feeling trapped in the relentless schedule or constant call to serve.
I’m reminded of Matthew 11:28 where it says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest is important, but equally as important, is learning to identify when people are weary and need the rest.
HELPLESSNESS IS ALL ABOUT LACK OF CONTROL AND THE FEELING OF POWERLESSNESS AND THE ABILITY TO SAY “NO.”
A person can experience helplessness when they are unable to contribute creatively to a project and they are just handed a list of tasks to complete. And frustration grows when someone is not able to have control of their working environment and deadlines.
Engaging your volunteer team and sincerely asking for input and then actually moving forward with some of their ideas provides a sense of ownership and collaboration.
Another way to overcome feelings of helplessness is giving permission for people to say No. This can be scary to do because there is just so much work to be done, but when guilt and shame are removed from service people find freedom and motivation to engage not because of external pressures, but internal motivation.
Saying “no” can be very difficult for most people. Here is another article about how to say no without feeling guilty.
PROLONGED HIGH -LEVELS OF STRESS
Having high levels of prolonged stress is commonly known to be dangerous to the body. Studies have shown that stress can cause harm to blood pressure, immune system and even to our mental health.
Most people recognize that God created us with different giftings and interests and therefore different roles. You cannot be all things to all people. That is just not how God made you
Moses is a great example of that. In Exodus 18, Moses was sitting as a judge for the people. This was a necessary role and Moses was likely good at the job, but it was not what he was supposed to do.
Jethro, his father-in-law told him to delegate tasks to other leaders and go back to the role God called him to. Because as Jethro said in verse 17 “Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out.”
So, when you are recruiting volunteers, be aware that they may not be called to serve in that area even though they are good at it.
Have you done something that seemed really looked easy on the outside, but it was very stressful for you?
Or something that appeared to be overwhelming for others, but it was easy for you?
God doesn’t gift us the same and so what causes stress if different for each person.
Being asked to fill a role or task that volunteer isn’t gifted or called to can be very stressful. Even though from the outside it doesn’t seem like a stressful work.
Prevent prolonged high levels of stress by regularly checking-in with volunteers about the role they are filling and if they are enjoying the work. Perhaps they want to shift or change tasks.
Retraining and onboarding volunteers can be very time consuming; however, it is more costly to burnout a volunteer, so they no longer wish to serve in any capacity.
To prevent burnout with our volunteer teams so that they can remain healthy and have longevity in ministry we need to consider 3 areas.
Prevent Hopelessness through providing times of rest and clearly communicating vision and direction for the team.
Avoid Helplessness through providing opportunities for input into the work that people are doing and creating a culture of healthy boundaries, with permissions to saying no.
Manage stress by recognizing when work is hard and validating its impacts and allowing people to work in areas that they are gifted and called to. It’s not just about recruiting warm bodies.