People that are driven to work for nonprofit organizations are often compelled by an intense sense of compassion for vulnerable, often marginalized people and by societal issues that demand advocacy and action.
The responsibilities that these employees take on can be difficult and time-consuming as well as often exhausting and heart-breaking. Nonprofits often exist because there are significant gaps in our society’s systems. If these needs did not occur then these agencies would not have a reason to open their doors and employ those called to serve.
But the needs are there, and fortunately, there are a myriad of nonprofit organizations that address a seemingly endless supply of issues for people and the communities in which they live. And thankfully, there are nonprofit employees who devote their skills and generous hearts to these causes, but sometimes at a cost to their own well-being.
Addressing compassion fatigue is a critical component that nonprofit leadership must maintain at the forefront of caring for staff. The well-being of each employee, from an organizational standpoint, can reflect the success of services provided by a nonprofit. From a human standpoint, it is simply the right thing to do, especially when many employees are providing direct services to often the most vulnerable clients.
Take a good hard look at what your employees face every day. They are aiding people and communities who are often suffering from illness, homelessness, or a variety of traumas. The hopelessness and despair that often accompany these issues can infiltrate staff members’ lives and manifest in both physical and mental health issues.
Decision-makers, in combination with nonprofit consulting firms, should create a strategy that cares for their employees as deliberately as they care for their needy clients. A safe and compassionate work environment is the best place to start treating staff with the same thoughtfulness they give to the community every day.
Sometimes the simplest measures can produce the most beneficial results. Allow employees the opportunity to decompress after particularly stressful or traumatic situations. Staff members often cannot solve their clients’ problems, and this can contribute to a sense of failure or feeling hopeless. Time away from the office to rest and re-energize can alleviate the impact of weighty job responsibilities as well. Remind staff to take vacation days and to not resort to overtime.
No one employed at a nonprofit organization can function in a silo. Collaboration is vital in both their own workplace and with partner agencies. Nonprofit leadership should encourage personal connections both internally and externally so that employees have peers who understand the work conditions as well as offer advice to cope.
It is important to encourage staff members to have some fun. Allow for some planned events like potluck lunches or seasonal get-togethers. Share success stories and highlight employees who have made meaningful contributions to your mission. And never forget that even the smallest recognition of an employee’s value can contribute to building positive feelings.
While all of these efforts offer benefits, sometimes it becomes necessary to harness the mental health expertise of professionals. Don’t think of this as a last resort. Instead, think of this as enlisting counselors as an added component of self-care and a part of the organization’s commitment to staff mental health. We realize that this will not always be a necessary or reasonable avenue for some nonprofit, but it is important to know your options.
Make sure that all employees receive training about mental health literacy and how to identify the signs of compassion fatigue. They will often realize that irritability and loss of sleep are manifestations of difficult workplace circumstances as well as recurring feelings of despair and lack of focus.
Whether through one-on-one conversations or in group meetings, mental health therapists can help employees learn how compassion fatigue may be affecting them and how to navigate this sometimes-vicarious trauma so they can maintain optimum well-being.
Nonprofit employees, especially those who provide direct services to highly vulnerable people and societal issues, risk their own mental health while caring for others. It is not only professionally essential but ethically critical to care for employees with the same heartfelt compassion as those who strive to make the world a better place for all.
We would love to share more examples of low-cost self-care options you can provide your employees with. Contact KM Clark Consulting today to set up a free discovery session with us!