Most charity leaders fear staff burnout within months

Research among voluntary and community leaders has found that more than four fifths are concerned their staff will burnout within six months.

The findings are based on a series of surveys with charity leaders into the impact of the Covid pandemic on the mental health of voluntary and community sector workers.

The research has been carried out by the charity People’s Health Trust and is based on evidence gathered between April 2020 and February this year.

This covers lockdowns caused by the health crisis as well as the current cost of living crisis.

Concerns over staff burnout have increased over the period of People’s Health Trust’s research, it has emerged.

In April 2021 just under half (44%) of respondents were concerned about their own or colleagues’ mental health and the risk of burnout. This rose to 82% by February 2022.

This year the vast majority (97%) of those surveyed have identified mental health support as their biggest challenge ahead, compared to 90% when asked in November 2021.

A lack of well-being training among staff has also been revealed, with 29% not receiving any formal training on mental health issues.

In February almost nine in ten (89%) of those surveyed said their organisation was facing increases in demand for services, which is contributing to burnout fears.

Extra work includes increased support to meet mental health issues, financial problems, isolation and digital exclusion.

“While the course of the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, the needs of people experiencing high levels of disadvantage continued to increase and evolve, requiring constant and often complex support,” states the Trust’s report.



The figures suggest “that the sector is on the brink of real crisis and the risk of collapse in the workforce is a real possibility”, said the Trust.

Increasing intensity of support charity workers need to offer due to rising levels of poverty among beneficiaries, is among other factors in a rise in burnout fears.

The escalating need to support people who are experiencing trauma is also cited.

Lack of work life balance and feeling overly responsible for beneficiaries’ wellbeing are among other concerns around a rise in burnout among staff.

“Staff do set clear boundaries, however, because of their empathy for others in need, they are stretching themselves to fit in as many referrals as possible, said one respondent.

“I watched two volunteers die”

Another respondent wants to see a specific focus of support on the wellbeing of charity leaders, which they say is lacking.

“We have continued to monitor and support our staff's mental health but there's no one to monitor ours,” said this respondent.

“I've heard people die on the phone, I watched two volunteers die from heart attacks because they worked so hard during the pandemic.

“I had a breakdown in October of last year, I didn't think I would come back from it, I will never recover from what has happened over the last two years.

“I'm lucky that my work pays for a counsellor but there's zero support out there for the third sector. The NHS were heralded as heroes during Covid, we were absolutely invisible.

“We never stopped during lockdown and there was no public acknowledgement or support. It's soul destroying really.”

The provision of accessible mental health support for charity workers is among recommendations made.

In addition, better training for voluntary and grassroots organisation leaders need to be provided to recognise burnout, trauma and mental ill health among front line staff.

Funders should also build mental health support for charity sector workers into grants, the report adds.

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