Increasing demands of Covid causing burnout
The charity sector is facing a leadership crisis after new research found nearly half of senior leaders are considering walking away due to burnout.
In a survey of charity leaders by insurer Ecclesiastical almost half (44%) admitted they were considering their futures as a result of the increased demands due to Covid-19 - a major cause for concern for a sector under pressure from staff and volunteer burnout.
These stark findings follow on from Ecclesiastical’s Charity Risk Barometer, released earlier this year, which found that two thirds of charities had seen an increase in staff stress levels since the beginning of the pandemic, sparking fears that burnout among charity employees and volunteers may cause them to walk away from the sector.
The latest, UK-wide study also found that two thirds (66%) of charity leaders were concerned about the effect that staff burnout could have on their charity – in particular not being able to provide services to users (36%) who have become dependent on the support they offer.
Four out of five respondents (81%) admitted it had already become more difficult to meet the needs of service users due to the pandemic, a situation that would be worsened by a loss of staff and volunteers to stress or burnout.
At the same time as the risk of burnout, charities have also seen an increase in anxiety and depression among colleagues since January 2021.
According to Ecclesiastical’s research, two in five charities (44%) had experienced an increase in colleague mental health concerns since the start of 2021. Cases of anxiety (71%), stress (70%), depression (66%) all rose in that time – while a quarter said they had seen an increase in both self-harm (25%) and suicidal feelings (27%),
Mental ill health has been one of the unseen issues of the pandemic, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that from January to March 2021 nearly one in five (21%) adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression – an increase from one in ten (10%) prior to the pandemic.
Challenges at home such as childcare or home schooling (33%), concerns about the health of family or friends (30%) and fatigue of home working (30%) were all cited as the main concerns for colleagues as the effects of the pandemic impacted on their mental wellbeing.
Facing these challenges alone is not an option for charities, with over half (52%) calling on the government to do more to provide mental health support.
Pat Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish charity sector leaders' body Acosvo, told TFN: “The findings of this study don’t come as any great surprise to those of us working with leaders in the sector. The pressure on leaders during this period has been immense – whether that is scaling up to meet demand or scaling back through lack of funding or restrictions on ability to operate – or just keeping thing going.
"Holding the responsibility for staff wellbeing while trying to take your own into account is no easy task. We’ve found that it’s been a time when peer support has been more valuable and valued than ever. I also think there are other factors to take into account. A study we did with Acosvo members a few years ago showed that around 50% were planning to leave or retire in the next five years, so there was an aging demographic and a pipeline challenge already. This along with many re-evaluating life plans post pandemic has meant that many changes may be on their way.
“To take an optimistic spin could be that those that need it most have a chance for a well-deserved rest, not forgetting that many of our leaders move on to sector support roles as mentors, board members, facilitators etc, and we get a new pipeline of those ready and excited about leading the sector into the emerging future.”