Categories
Community advice Community industry Self care

The truth about burnout and community

The first draft of this blog post opened with ‘we need to talk about burnout’ but from what I’ve seen in my research, the charity sector has been doing little else for several years. Look at this powerful confession piece from 2015.

Burnout seems to be a persistent issue. It’s relevant for community managers who are expected to manage an active online space, and particularly relevant for non-profit community pros who also have a duty of care to support people facing difficult issues.

a row matches that are burned out

Burnout is a persistent issue

There are hundreds of articles giving advice to stressed and overwhelmed charity workers, and much of the advice is excellent. My self care blog series brings together some of this advice and my own ideas to help community managers manage their own wellbeing.

Why is burnout such a persistent issue? Are we getting our self-care strategies wrong? Are community managers and charity workers neglecting good practice? 

Let’s start by understanding the causes of burnout. I’ve summarised three of the main causes of burnout, what can prevent it from happening, and the warning signs to look out for.

orange life saver ring on a wall

Lack of support

It’s important to find and develop your own support networks. This helps you to guard against having insufficient support, which is a key cause of burnout and particularly an issue for specialist roles like community management. 

In a community role you will handle conflict, rule-breaking, complaints and have responsibility for organisational risk and safeguarding. Support networks help community pros seek advice, refine their practice, seek reassurance and feel able to keep going. 

When your support networks break down, this can put you at risk of burnout. It’s important to put alternatives in place. Finding a trusted ‘go-to’ person to debrief can make all the difference.

woman walking along a line in the road

Lack of boundaries

If you’re running a 24/7 online space for an organisation, any issue can arise and you can feel huge pressure in handling everything. If this rings true for you, then you’re at risk of burnout.

Boundaries can help you to determine what your true remit is and identify the tasks that need to be escalated or passed on. If you’re struggling to determine or agree boundaries, or lack the autonomy to do so, you’ll need to get support to put these in place. 

Watch out when those escalation pathways break down. If you feel you have no one to pass up to, your work can start to feel overwhelming and isolating. It’s important to put in place one or two points of contact who are willing to support you or your team. 

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Inability to step away

Are you a sole community manager, or is it difficult for you to step away from your role? In any job, it’s important to be able to step away or switch off and it’s dangerous to expect one person to be the sole point of contact at all times.

Strategies to step away and switch off not only guard against burnout but also retain community managers who may ultimately choose to leave a role or organisation that impacts on their wellbeing.

You’re at increased risk of burnout when it becomes difficult for you to step away from overseeing your community. You need to be able to step away at the weekends or take a few days off in succession on a regular basis.

a collection of stationery

The role of your workplace

If you’re at risk of burnout are you solely to blame? A few days ago Harvard Business Review published a compelling article which argues that burnout (which impacts on productivity, turnover and absenteeism) could be due to your organisational culture. It says:

“…evidence is mounting that applying personal, band-aid solutions to an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon may be harming, not helping, the battle. With “burnout” now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation. Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.”

In the article, experts advise organisations that want to tackle burnout to move away from putting the onus on employees to improve their own wellbeing, and focus on addressing the root organisational causes of burnout. The solutions are simple:

  • ensure people are treated fairly and have autonomy to make decisions
  • provide the right amount of work and work hours 
  • ensure people are supported and feel heard
  • give people clear attainable goals and acknowledge good work
  • provide an environment suitable for work, based on need, not gimmicks

A culture of openness, non-blame and empathy also ensures the sustainability of existing initiatives that are much easier to provide (including wellbeing programmes). This excellent article from Mind explains how having support and agreed boundaries on workload and work time can guard hard-working people from burnout.

book with title damn good advice, some food and a drink on a table

Helpful resources 

If you’re not sure where to start, head to this excellent Wellbeing Guide from Charity Comms, which includes advice on mental health and wellbeing, how to support others, and an article from me explaining how a three step framework can help when handling difficult issues.

This article from the Blurt Foundation shares 15 ways to switch off and is helpful for anyone who is struggling to wind down, or wanting to learn creative ways to make the best use of downtime.

If you’ve been feeling stressed, anxious, low or are experiencing poor sleep, take a look at Good Thinking. This is an initiative aimed to support Londoners but has useful advice for everyone including a self assessment tool, guidance and tips on useful apps.

If things are really hard for you at the moment and you’re struggling to cope, please talk to someone. Why not speak with a trusted friend – they don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to listen. 

Look after yourself – your wellbeing is important.

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Categories
Case studies Community advice Community improvement

Percy Pig, and the art of listening to your community

What do you do when you have a customer riot on your hands?
The Percy Pig sweets are a bit of an institution hence the exaggerated media response to a recipe change from M&S… Even the Guardian’s Food section have gotten involved!

Oh Piers, you’re surely running out of things to get outraged about …

M&S have used it as an opportunity to invite their brand community to form a feedback panel. I think this is an interesting move and shows the opportunity of acting on feedback and hoping to turn things around.

Percy Pig Panel

Calling all Percy fanatics! You’ve probably heard that our Percy Pigs are now 100% veggie-friendly. We know some people have their tail in a twist over this so we’re giving you the chance to have your say. Watch the video, tell us why you’re the ultimate Percy super fan and you could be one of the 100 people on our #PercyPigPanel who’ll decide if we should introduce a special edition Percy pack with gelatine back in. T&C's > http://po.st/PercyPigPanelTandCs

Posted by Marks and Spencer on Thursday, May 2, 2019

What can other organisations learn from this? How often do we ask people for their feedback and actively involve them in producing or improving products? How often do organisations reach out when they face criticism?

Listening matters

Actively listening your community is incredibly important for charities for the following reasons:

  1. Charities rely on people power and trust to generate funds to keep operating
  2. Charities rely on people power and trust to get support for their work, to galvanise campaigners, recruit volunteers and attract staff
  3. Charities should be led by and reflecting the voices of the people they are seeking to support
  4. Charities should be willing to listen to their supporters, service users and audiences to ensure they’re heading in the right direction.

Practical examples for charities

Below I’ve included some practical examples of how this can work.

Involving people when you are creating a new product or service via existing service user groups, giving engaged people a voice. Tip: this can be incredibly powerful but needs to be carefully framed and ensure that the ‘asks’ don’t cut into the other activities (what they turned up for).

Creating online feedback discussions via discussion threads, Q&A sessions or setting up a feedback platform. Tip: be careful to ensure that you engage with and facilitate the discussion where possible so people feel heard.

Involving people when making changes via workshops, online surveys, and testing sessions. Tip: again, it is really important to consider how to meaningfully facilitate this work and to frame it correctly.

Framing matters

Why does framing and facilitation matter? Bringing people together and leaving them without guidance can lead to chaos. There is nothing worse than people giving ideas you cannot implement and then feeling that you’re refusing to hear them, or receiving no response after giving feedback and feeling their input isn’t valued.

As for Percy, here’s hoping he will be around for many years to come.

Categories
Community advice Self development

The best way to Help other people – Part two

This is part two of a blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part one]

Looking after yourself is a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people. Here are five more self-care strategies that help motivate and empower you, and keep you safe from burnout.

6. Look at ways to scale support for your community

Consider whether there are options to increase support for you and your community.

Get an agreement not only about your own responsibility for ‘out of hours’ but identify who could offer support so you can take leave. You may want to delegate to others in your team to cover agreed tasks, or to agree an ‘urgent queries only’ cover with another colleague working in a service user support role. Set clear expectations and ensure they’re clear on what’s expected, by sharing your processes, FAQs or letting them shadow you.

Look at other ways where you could agree support. For example you could ask colleagues with subject knowledge to help answer hot topic queries, or even answer questions on your community. You could agree an escalation process or a knowledge sharing agreement with your Helpline on more complex or emotive queries.

If you have a staff team, make sure you can all cover your basic BAU tasks like email enquiries and moderation. If your community is growing and you have an active member base, consider inviting members to support the tasks of welcoming others, being helpful, and flagging problems. You may also want to consider giving experienced members the opportunity to help with moderation. This can radically increase the effectiveness of handling spam and urgent issues, particularly out of office hours.

picture of toy monkeys in a chain of support with the background of a blue sky

7. Take breaks

This is obvious advice but I think people in digital support roles need to hear that they have permission to step away from their community and their day job. Your community is probably open 24/7 but you shouldn’t be.

This can be as simple as setting screen breaks, or checking in with other colleagues during the day to switch perspective. There are notable benefits of stepping away from your screen, particularly in the evenings.

If you can (and it works for you) agree at least one day out of office on a regular basis particularly for planning or development tasks when you may need to get your head down and focus. Set expectations with your team or with colleagues.

Most importantly, ensure you use annual leave – you’re entitled to it! Spend that time doing the things that matter to you.

8. Learn reflective practice

Reflective practice is so important for community managers as so much of your job is about handling issues, resolving conflicts and balancing the expectations of your organisation and also your community members.

You may be faced with emotionally charged conflicts, waves of resistance or abusive responses to moderation. An avalanche of issues can lead you to question your decision making and affect your confidence.

Reflect on how you respond to issues – not only what you say but how you say it. Catch yourself doing it right, as well as assessing responses that could have gone better. Consider your own emotional response.

Look on feedback as an opportunity to improve, or a way to recognise what is already working well.

I’d recommend spending time coming up with a list of ‘review’ questions that you can use to support yourself or others on your team. See the reflective practice model below for an idea of what to include.

When a challenging issue comes along (particularly an upsetting one), you can reassure yourself and your team by working through those questions and checking in on what you did well and could do differently.

9. Build your support network

Community management can be tough, and it can be an isolating role.

Build a network of support for multiple reasons – for buy-in, peer support, debriefing, advice and constructive challenge.

Start with people in your team, or people who also have user-facing roles in your organisation to offload, share perspectives and build a mutually helpful approach. This will prove especially helpful when you need to take a united approach to handling a major reputational issue.

Find people in similar organisations and build connections and trust. Ask questions, seek support, share war wounds (yes, this!) and explore ideas.

There are a number of comms-focused communities of practice in the UK charity sector, including Digital Charities on Slack, Third Sector PR and Comms Network on Facebook. For those running peer support communities there’s Modbods on Facebook.

Outside of the charity sector, the CMX Hub and CR Table groups on Facebook are worth a look to connect with others working in community management.

Try to find someone who has similar – ideally greater – knowledge and experience. No one knows everything. Find a mentor if you can, and make use of their experience to grow. Finding someone who will respectfully challenge you will help you to improve.

10. Redress the balance

Finally, one of the best ways to look after yourself is to take a balanced approach.

In this job you may handle difficult issues, support people in distress and take responsibility for resolving conflict. This comes with an emotional ‘cost’.

Redress the balance of handling heavy things by spending time doing things that make you feel energised.

What is meaningful and uplifting for you?

I support people who are distressed, bereaved and feel isolated. In my spare time I gravitate towards food movies, comedy and exploring London’s history. I offload with good friends in oak timbered pubs and walk the family dog.

To finish, I’ll share a video that inspired me to think about my own HappyList:

What’s on your HappyList? by zefrank. A part of me will always love this guy.
Categories
Community advice Self development

The best way to help other people

The answer: looking after yourself.

Really? How is looking after yourself a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people?

If you work for a charity that might sound counter-productive. Surely your focus should be on the cause, the people in need, the people you support. Putting time into focusing on your own needs can feel distinctly uncomfortable, wrong somehow.

You’re probably under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed and trying to meet an increasingly endless wave of need. The challenges could include service users in distress, complex moderation issues, last-minute requests for case studies, problems that apparently only you can solve, and that regular ‘ping’ of emails on the work mobile phone.

Self care? 5 minutes of yoga, a smoothie and a smug self-help quote won’t cut it.

smoothie being poured away. image from unsplash

Ten self-care strategies 

Even with a low budget and limited resources, here are ten effective and helpful self-care strategies that work well for me. They can help motivate you, empower you, and keep you safe if you’re an online community manager at a charity.

1.Be clear about your remit

Doing this will help you to know what you should focus on, and what you should say no to. This can prevent feeling like you have to be all things to all people at all times, which leads to burnout.

Define remits around time by agreeing expected work hours and the type of issue that justifies attention out of hours.

Define remits around requests by agreeing the types of requests that people can make, and how you handle them. Don’t give any external (or internal) person a carte blanche to post requests without your involvement – that way lies chaos!

Define remits around moderation by being clear what you allow, what you don’t and why. This will set your culture and ensure everyone knows what is expected (more on that another time).

2. Talk to your Helpline team

If you’re regularly in contact with people who are emotionally distressed or experiencing really difficult times, this can quickly have a big impact on your own emotional wellbeing. If you have a Helpline team, speak to them about how they handle these feelings and the tools they have in place to help them support their callers.

In my experience, online community professionals for charities should learn empathic communication techniques used by Helplines, and apply them to their processes for handling moderation, complaints and other enquiries. Empathy and community go hand in hand.

3. Set a clear debrief and escalation process

Make sure you plan ahead and know how you will handle issues. This is a great way to retain control when unexpected and urgent things happen. You’ll feel calmer and reassured when you follow your own agreed process.

This should cover:

How you respond to reputational issues – from identifying a complaint to effectively resolving or escalating.

Getting the right skills and process for safeguarding users who may be at risk of harm or abuse. This is particularly important for charities and will help you to know you’ve done all you can to help users in the greatest need.

Agreeing a consistent moderation process that will help you to be confident in handling a wide range of issues.

The other important part of this is the debrief. Do you have someone to check in with after handling a difficult situation? Find someone to support you and help you to talk things through.

4. Look out for triggers

We all have things that upset us, make us angry or unsettled.

Trauma triggers can happen at any time. This could be a series of threads about losing a parent, a news story about sexual harassment, or a user being sexually abused.

Learning to recognise your own emotional response is important. Watch out for things that keep returning to your mind, or make you lose your calm.

It’s helpful to develop your own techniques for keeping one step removed from these issues. Empathic communication and reflective practice can help you to develop good techniques that enable you to offer support and keep you at a safe distance.

This will help to guard against burnout, or vicarious trauma.

5. Log and track positive feedback – why you do what you do

Appreciation matters (see previous blog). On a tough day when you’re facing budget cuts, crazy deadlines, and a wave of issues it can be easy to wonder why you bother.

Put a little time aside each week to log positive feedback – from simple thank yous to the detailed stories that help show the tangible impact your community has.

Invite others in your team or in your organisation to keep watch for feedback.

If you have more time, share this feedback in your newsletters (anonymising details) or share with your internal contacts.

In community we spend so much time doing the job we don’t shout enough about the great value of our work!

Thank you note and a cup of coffee. Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

To be continued…

This is part one of a two part blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part two]

Categories
Community advice Community industry

Appreciation matters

You never forget the important milestones in life like graduating from University, getting married, or being called a despot for removing a racist joke.

You nostalgically nod when recalling the first time someone told you “I wish I got paid for sitting on the internet all day.”* Or that time the charity CEO said “What’s the point of Facebook.”**

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Not a lot of people know this, but today is Community Manager Appreciation Day. If you manage an online space where people come together, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed at times, and misunderstood by many.

If you work for a charity, you’ll be absorbed in the real-life experiences of your supporters and on the receiving end of anger, complaints or disrespect. You’ll know the importance of ‘smiling from the wrists down’ when responding!

You’ll never forget the first person whose distress brought tears to your eyes, the first threat to leave your community due to a misunderstanding, or the first time a much-loved member passes away. You’ll know how important it is to find someone to offload with.

toy monkey chain showing support

You’ll also remember the first time someone told you why the community matters to them and what they’ve learned as a result. You’ll know the great feeling of reading through positive feedback, or being able to direct someone to the support they need.

If you’re new to community management, some of those things may be new to you. In time, you’ll find your own highs and lows, and your own tips and tricks to manage through tough times, learn from mistakes and share the great moments.

If you’re a lone community manager, you may not know who to connect with or how to go about this. The best way to do this is to find people in similar roles at similar organisations.

If you’re a community manager and you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. That there are others who understand.

Keep on learning, keep on sharing, keep on doing. You’ve got this.

graffiti message says you got this

Happy Community Manager’s Appreciation Day! More about CMAD:

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/category/cmad

*Yes that happened to me.

**That too. In three months they knew they were wrong. In 3 years, I built the brand community from 0 to 14,000 people across multiple platforms.