It’s something that any activist who has been around long enough will either have experienced themselves or know someone who has.
It’s called burnout, and it is a combination of exhaustion, frustration and depression. It is insidious in that it creeps up on you until suddenly one day you have a breakdown, an explosion, or both.
Friendships and sometimes organisations can be broken by one person burning out and so it is something you need to be continually on the watch for in yourself and others in your team.
What are the warning signs? Well, activists tend to be people who are tremendously self reliant. They organise others and manage to stay organised themselves. One of the warning signs is being unable to ask for help, which makes it an almost invisible symptom.
Some better external warning signs are :
- getting sick at the worst time
- having small accidents
- excessive emotion
- unable to turn off
- sleep problems
- withdrawal from social situations
These can all be signs of depression and anxiety as well, burnout is a syndrome related to both of these things. It takes a long time to recover from and the scars will show for years afterwards.
So how do you deal with burnout in yourself and others? More importantly, how do you prevent it?
Firstly, build some redundancy into your organisation. When you put on a theatre performance, you have understudies, in case the main player can’t perform. In the same way, you need understudies who can:
- talk to the media
- perform the Treasurer and Secretary roles
- man the phones
- write a press release or letter to the editor
- host a meeting
You most certainly need more than one person who is an administrator on your Social Media accounts. Firstly because if one person gets banned/blocked for some reason you don’t lose access to your group page. Secondly because who has the time or inclination to be on facebook alert 24/7?
I get alerts to my phone when someone comments on our page, so I can jump on trolls quickly, but even better is the profanity filter which blocks anything really nasty until I get a chance to review it. Oddly but happily, the filter also blocks comments which are all in caps and have too many exclamation marks, which is kind of like a volume filter
The third reason you need more than one person is that having a few people feeding information to the page makes it far more interesting. What you think is cool or funny won’t be the same for the next person.
Finally, you need an executive and employees who really work well together as a team. And I mean a real team, where the goal is the thing, and the roles get swapped around to whoever has the time or inclination to do it. Apart from statutory requirements like who signs the cheques, make sure you keep flexible about who can send out a member wide e-mail and who can organise an event. Build redundancy into your team and you will have people who can step up when it is needful.
Avoid ‘team-building’ management nonsense, but do take time out to go and have a meal together. Celebrate your victories, commiserate your losses and speak up about how you feel. Mostly, other people will feel much the same way. Allow people to back out of commitments if they have taken on too much. Let things which are unimportant fall by the wayside if there isn’t the time or money to make it happen. Tell members to put their family before their commitment to your group and you will have a more resilient membership.
Above all, with everyone including yourself, be honest.
What’s your experience with burnout?
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