Burnout

by Stephanie Dohner

When a volunteer quits a job, especially quits volunteering altogether, the cause may be:

1. Overcommitment. This is probably the most common problem. Some people just cannot say “no”, and others seem to be able to ask no-one else.

2. Mismatch of job and volunteer. Another common problem. It is based on the fallacy that all hard workers can and should do everything.

3. Volunteer has been doing one job too long. Gene is so good at running the society auctions and small fund-raisers, that he has been coaxed into doing them for 8 years in a row. No one asks him to do anything else. He really would like to get involved with the social action committee, but he hates to say no, especially when everyone tells him what a good job he does. Instead of admitting to the president how he actually feels, he quits altogether.

4. Lack of recognition. A volunteer does not feel that her job is considered important. Another thinks his hard work is not appreciated. Perhaps they aren’t valued as people, either.

5. Inappropriate recognition. The volunteer wants to be rewarded for long service on the board of trustees by being asked to serve on the long range planning committee. Instead, she gets an orchid. The person who wanted to retire from service, and liked getting orchids, was asked to serve on the long-range planning committee.

6. Lack of job definition. This is usually coupled with displaced responsibility. It is inappropriate delegation. For example, Janice is asked to chair the new membership committee. She assumes that she will be responsible for ushers, greeters. and newcomers’ programs. No-one tells her that “membership” includes the potluck committee, since the president could find no-one to chair it.

7. Lack of training for common problem situations. People in responsible volunteer positions should be able to delegate, recognize basic personality types, run effective meetings. If they are not in charge and are frustrated with procedures, they should be able to express their complaints appropriately, instead of keeping silent or losing their tempers. Training in these skills should be offered frequently. As indicated in the previous chapter, understanding leadership and personality styles is very helpful. Examples of some popular books that may help in other areas are Milo Frank’s How to Run a Successful Meeting in Half the Time and Robert M. Branson’s Coping With Difficult People.

8. Lack of prioritization skills. Procrastination is a problem for everybody, but especially for volunteers. We all tend to do the tasks that we like best and are the easiest to accomplish, especially if no-one can fire us for not doing otherwise. It also is human nature to respond to the most urgent request, instead of the most important task. In addition, we tend to resist giving up jobs that we consider our territory, even if they are not getting done.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a very popular book that deals with this question. Its author, Stephen R. Covey, has developed an elaborate scheme to follow. You may not use all of his techniques, but he is worth reading to learn how to focus. Determine the goals you want to attain and concentrate on the important tasks that will accomplish your goals, instead of putting them off.

9. Lack of support. Jenny was given the responsibility of seeing that flowers were arranged for platform in a family society. Helen, who had done this for 30 years, had Just died. No-one told Jenny that Helen always consulted with her friend Mabel before she chose the flowers. When Mabel was not consulted, she complained bitterly to all within earshot and would not speak to Jenny. Instead of apologizing to Jenny for not briefing her appropriately, the president asked her how she could not have known about Mabel.

10. Lack of feedback. Volunteers often are handed jobs and then never hear whether what they did mattered or not. This can be just as negative as harsh criticism. People need to know they are on the right track. Roy Oswald and Jackie McMakin’s How to Prevent Lay Leader Burnout is a short booklet which summarizes the conditions under which burnout occurs and suggests what societies can do to cut down on burnout.