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3 leadership tips to help employees avoid burnout

Written by: David Mizne
Published on: Mar 14, 2023

matches half burned

(Image: Nataliya Vaitkevich)

While nonprofit work can be fulfilling, nonprofit employees are often overworked and run the risk of burning out.

One way that leaders across different industries have been combating burnout is by adopting “continuous performance management” best practices. This management style keeps leaders in constant contact with their employees and offers opportunities to develop staff into committed professionals.

These frequent touchpoints also provide an opportunity to monitor and prevent employee burnout. When you recognize that individuals are overworked, you can take preventative measures to keep staff engaged and excited about their work.

Below, we outline three ways you can work with this system to prioritize the mental well-being of your staff and help prevent employee burnout.

1. Establish frequent contact.

When you take the time to get to know employees on a personal level, it’s easier to see when they’re struggling. Assuming that they’ll reach out when they’re overwhelmed is easy to fall back on, but rarely works out well. For example, employees may feel intimidated or uncomfortable approaching managers with personal or work-related problems.

In this case, you could proactively set the standard for open communications with your staff. At the beginning of a meeting, consider taking a few minutes to ask someone how they’re doing and how they feel about their workload. You might also implement an open-door policy, where employees can drop in and speak with you about whatever is on their mind.

There are also more structured methods to check in with staff. To avoid missing signs of employee burnout, set aside time, either weekly or monthly, to bond with team members.

Taking employees for coffee, lunch, or an out-of-work activity can foster a sense of community, helping people feel comfortable with sharing more about themselves. As stated in a Forbes article, these “strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance.”

This approach can be carried over to more traditional one-on-one feedback meetings as well. Setting a schedule and establishing a cadence of meetings like this ensures that you’ll stay aware of your employees’ well-being.

Asking questions, and both giving and receiving feedback, is key. As employees get more used to the regularity of these meetings, you’ll be able to establish an environment of open communication and trust. And when team members feel that they can trust to share feelings openly, they’re likely to be more up front about concerns they have regarding burnout.

2. Be transparent when taking time off.

It can be difficult to take time off from work, especially when you’re passionate about your nonprofit’s cause, mission, and impact. However, you can lead by example and show your staff it’s both natural and healthy to take time off from the job.

The health benefits are clear: Time off can relieve stress and improve your mental and physical health. When you give yourself time to relax, you’ll return to work refreshed and energized, allowing you to be more productive and creative.

Taking time off is also an essential part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When employees understand their work stays at the office, it gives them the opportunity to enjoy their free time and indulge in hobbies.

Creating this sort of company culture can seem difficult; establishing a healthy environment requires more than just laying out expectations and encouraging employees to follow them. It’s important to actively work with staff in order to ensure vacation can be enjoyed without impacting overall work.

Consider setting individual, work-related goals for staff members at the beginning of each quarter. Working together to understand what each employee is capable of completing within a given quarter will help ensure they can enjoy time off without stressing about uncompleted or unexpected projects.

In that light, it’s also important to sit down with staff before and after vacation to discuss accountability. Having a one-on-one meeting to discuss what is expected while they’re away and when they return is key to a smooth transition and stress-free time off.

Another way to ensure your organization stays on track while employees are on vacation is to establish a culture of shared success. This involves having workers look out for one another while someone is away.

When leaders are transparent with expectations and open to communication, staff are more likely to adopt the same attitude and work together to prevent employee burnout.

3. Offer competitive benefits.

In the nonprofit world, money isn’t always everything. But with a high turnover rate, it’s essential that you do everything you can to retain strong employees. Building a culture of self-care and offering competitive benefits can play a major part in engaging and retaining employees.

For example, consider offering things like unlimited sick days, compensated gym classes, and the ability to work remotely. In-office benefits might include free coffee and tea, special events such as a speaker series or workshops, or weekly breakfasts.

Low-cost options, like designating an in-office meditation space or flexible work schedules, are also creative ways to help reduce burnout and keep staff engaged. Perks like these can be attractive to candidates and current employees because they show the company cares about employee well-being.

But before making any major changes, ask employees what’s important to them: This shows you value their input. When an employee feels that they’re being heard, they’re more likely to feel like they’re a part of the team, maintain enthusiasm for the work, and remain committed to achieving the mission.

For more on keeping employees feeling like a valued part of the team, see these 14 ways to do a better job of thanking your people. Also be sure to check out Work for Good's roundup of resources for supporting your people's mental health.

David Mizne is communications manager at continuous performance management software company 15Five.

This article was fact-checked and updated in March 2024. It originally appeared in a slightly different form on Classy.org.


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