Categories
Community advice community care Community operation Self care

No man is an island – how to create a culture of community care (and look after yourself)

Community care matters, because no man is an island and communities are about relationships, trust, and mutual value. But how do you start to create and foster a culture of care in your community?

The concept of community care has been gaining traction recently (including a LinkedIn event on community care, expertly facilitated by Rosie Sherry). In this blog I’ll explain what this important work looks like in practice, and how to foster community care in a way that is healthy and effective.

a chain of toy monkeys that are connected by their long arms. monkeys are yellow, blue and red and can be seen in daylight against a blue sky with a few white clouds
Community isn’t about me, it’s about we.

Why community care matters

Why does care involve community? Because even self care shouldn’t take place entirely in isolation. No man is an island*.

People need connection, companionship, and compassion. They need to feel heard, solve problems, and get answers. That’s why people form tribes, join communities, or create social media profiles. Good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life (according to research).

What community care looks like

What does community care mean in practice?

The first step in building communities is to not only bring people together, but create an environment where they want to stay together. Communities aren’t just places we go (like a pub or a shopping mall), but places we return to, around a topic of shared interest. They’re places where we give and receive, ask and answer, or talk and feel heard.

Community care happens when we create spaces where people feel they are in a healthy and supportive environment. This will show up differently depending on context (a professional community of practice versus a personal community of circumstance).

We can identify a healthy and supportive environment by how people feel and how they behave. For example, people feel that they are accepted for who they are, they feel able to express themselves (without toxicity or harm), or they have received helpful advice or practical support from others.

Community care happens in a healthy, supportive culture
Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Navigating the risks of openness

When we build healthy and supportive communities, where people express support and care for one another, we will see more openness, and an increase in self-expression.

But there are risks that come with this culture of openness. People may share difficult things, including painful or personal information. This could include coming to the community for support in times of personal need or crisis.

Community professionals are helpful people and our roles are about bringing people together and supporting them. We’ll want to do what we can to help our communities.

But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely responsible for them, or for fixing every situation they face. There’s a middle ground to navigate where we offer ENOUGH care and support in the right way, AND know when to signpost or step back.

woman walking along a line in the road
The middle ground of enough (not too little or too much) support
feels like walking a fine line...

Being intentional about community care

As we grow our communities, we need to be intentional about how and why we care for others. This means that we take time to think about how the community might show support or care, and what it looks like to provide the appropriate amount of care and support.

Tools like a playbook or manual, and tactics like empowering community members can help to create and reinforce a healthy and supportive culture. We could schedule in time to show care for our communities as part of our routines.

But we must also look after ourselves, so we have the energy and focus to do the work of bringing people together. Self care is a key part of how we consistently show up in our roles, and how we can stay effective for the long term by preventing burnout.

an ipad screen shows a graphic that says 'mental health matters' in white text with a red background and pink wavy lines. The ipad is on a white duvet cover that has yellow and red butterflies
Self care helps us to look after our communities effectively

The skills involved in community care

Caring for other people is a skillset in itself. This can involve learning about empathic communication, managing emotional labour, or setting healthy boundaries.

This work can take years to learn in its entirety (I know from experience!), but there are techniques and strategies that any community professional can learn in just a couple of hours. This can include how to listen to your community, how to handle issues safely, and how to use empathy.

Want to learn more?

Would you be interested in learning more about how to care for your community, and care for yourself at the same time?

Good Community exists to help all community professionals to thrive (not just in my specialist areas of emotional support and health). I’m keen to determine the topics that would best help you to bring people together effectively, ethically and safely.

Let me know what you’d like to learn about community care and self care by leaving a comment below, or contacting me.

*No man is an island is a famous line written by 17th century poet called John Donne, and Hemingway pinched ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ from him too. My English Literature degree comes in useful now and again…

Categories
Community industry Professional development Self development

Women rising – how to succeed in community management

The community profession – the work of bringing people together – is ideal for women who have stronger skills in relationship building, empathy and cooperation according to science. Many talented and passionate women have been successful in the community management profession. 

But there are many challenges that are holding women back in the community profession and I’ve unfortunately seen some of these first hand. On International Women’s Day, I’ve taken some time to reflect and add to a talk I gave a year ago about women and community building.

What does it take for women to succeed in community?

Right now, we’re not seeing equity for women in terms of representation, pay, opportunity, or recognition. What changes do we need to see for everyone, especially women? 

I’ll share three not so secret ingredients below…

What are the ingredients to help women succeed and progress?

1. Inclusion matters.

We need to make it easier for people to enter the community profession and to progress their careers. How? Start with the hiring and project pitching process.

Be consistent and clear in the timescales for hiring

If you say a vacancy is open for applications until 12pm on  31 March, keep it open until then. Too many vacancies are closing early. In my 7 years experience of hiring people, the best and most interesting vacancies come in toward the end. Why? People are taking time to thoughtfully write their application. Or they have life commitments. By closing vacancies early, you could exclude people with disabilities, carers, or parents. Not cool. 

Be open in where you’re advertising your opportunities. 

In the UK, the ‘old school tie network’ refers to a privileged private school world (usually men-only) where deals are made and jobs secured behind closed doors. Similar networks sadly exist in community building and they gatekeep everyone else. By sharing your opportunities for jobs and projects in public spaces, you invite a wider pool of people to get in touch. You’ll hear new ideas, reach new people, and tap into new markets for your business.  

Be transparent on pay. 

We could reduce the gender gap by a staggering 40% but the community job boards are STILL full of roles where you have to be a street magician to guess the salary and offer. How do you know if you can get the job if you don’t know if you can pay your bills or take maternity leave? We need this to change, not just for women but for everyone. If you’re a hiring manager, a leader, or run a community job board – sort it out. By being clear with your offer you save time all around.

a mosaic style artwork with triangles in different colours with the words You Belong painted on in a handwriting style
Inclusion matters – women should have equal access to opportunities

2. Representation matters.

We need to see the work and voices of women represented consistently in the community profession. This includes at senior levels. How can women have opportunities to progress? 

They need to be seen.

When a woman is seen, this means they are recognised and accepted for who they are. We need to see workplaces that see women’s lives, their health, and their wellbeing and not just the work that they do. We also need to ensure that women are recognised for their contributions. If a woman has led on a piece of work, give her the platform, or the credit. 

They need to be respected.

We need to see the work of women respected by the leaders in their organisations and their profession. Champion the women who are doing great work. If a woman does great work and an organisation doesn’t reward them appropriately, take note. 

There are red flags to look out for.

Sadly, there is evidence that the work of women community builders has been played down or ignored in the community profession. To stop this cycle continuing, there are things we can do. If you’re part of an organisation that isn’t recognising the work of women you can try and find an opportunity to respectfully challenge this. If this pattern continues, it may be a sign of a toxic culture. In that case, I’d recommend finding the earliest opportunity to leave.

a group of women who are sitting at the same table are working on a project together with one woman leading them through content on a laptop screen
Women need to be represented and recognised for their community building work

3. Integrity matters.

When we’re in the business of fostering trust, we need to keep integrity at the heart of what we do. We need to follow the examples of our leaders, and set examples for others to follow.

Our values matter.

Key to integrity is staying true to our own values. When we build communities we have control over how people are welcomed, how we keep people safe, and how we recognise our communities. When we lead community teams we have control over how we support and challenge our teams. When we represent an organisation we have control over how we respond to change and culture. 

We need to navigate conflicts.

Another side of integrity is considering when work may be conflicting with our own values, or what we expect from our workplaces. How do we respond if we see abuse and harassment? How do we handle dishonesty and harmful decision making?

Boundaries are vital.

We need to draw boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. When those boundaries are crossed or we see things that concern us; we need the confidence to challenge, or the wisdom to step away altogether. We need to lead with our hearts, and with our feet.

woman looking upward and unsure, and is standing against a plain background
We face challenges when staying true to our values at work

What do we do next? The power of ‘we’

I’ve explained the importance of inclusion, representation and integrity for everyone in the community profession, but especially women. So what do we do next? 

We’re in this together.

Our own professional communities matter as much if not more than the ones we build in our jobs. We need to invest time in building a network of peer support: a space to be honest, to ask questions, to share what you’ve learned, and to help each other out. 

Is there a space for a network of women in the community profession? 

How can we create spaces to share experiences, foster trust and encouragement, find ways to lift each other up, create networks to champion each other and nudge great women into opportunities we know they’d thrive in?

Women in community – I’d love to hear from you! If you’d be interested in being part of a network like this or know that one already exists, let me know. Together we are stronger, better, safer.    

a group of women dressed in work wear sit around a table having a discussion with friendly expressions and listening to the speaker
Is there space for a network of women in community building?
Categories
Professional development Self development

When is it time to leave your community role?

We need to talk about leaving

Remember the fresh exciting feeling of starting a new job? We hear a lot about the value of onboarding in community circles because it’s vital that our members and the professionals that build communities feel welcomed and supported.

However, we don’t hear a lot about the process of leaving or closing – whether that’s a community member phasing out, having to close a project, or leaving a community role.  

It can be hard to leave something that is familiar. It’s especially difficult to leave a team that you care about, or an organisation that aligns with your personal values. On the other hand it can be equally tough to make a decision if you’re feeling unhappy, stressed, or lack confidence. But sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to leave. 

How do I know this? At the end of January, I left my role as online community lead for a large UK charity. For a while I’d been feeling that it was time to move on, but I wasn’t sure how I could realistically assess if it was the right decision to leave. I started to research the topic, and found the reflection process incredibly helpful. In this blog, I’ll share what I discovered.

man with suitcase walking toward a path with a sunset in front of him
Is it time to head off into the professional sunset?

Five reasons you may be ready to leave your community role

1. There is no room to progress 

It can feel comfortable to be in a job where you are confident in getting most things done, but after a while this comfort zone can start to feel frustrating. You may be ready for more responsibility but have no opportunity to do so. You may want to develop new skills but find that there is no time for you to learn or you can’t get resources to attend events or receive training. 

If you find that you’ve outgrown the job or that you’ve delivered above and beyond its requirements, it may be time for a new role. The benefits? You’ll gain new skills, stretch your professional experience, and hopefully receive better pay to reflect your skillset.

Building with painted graffiti of a sunflower with white writing saying 'always room to grow'
Sometimes we need to leave in order to grow

2. There are too many demands

We live in a fast-paced and busy world, but that doesn’t mean we can handle 100 things at once or work endless hours for long periods of time. If you’re unable to keep up with the regular tasks and know that you have the right skills, it may be a sign that your team needs more capacity. 

If you are being asked to meet targets that aren’t possible and too quickly, it could be a sign that the leadership doesn’t understand or respect the benefits of longer-term relationship building. 

If you realise that you’re skipping breaks and routinely working a lot of extra hours, the job may already be negatively impacting your work-life balance. If you’re not able to put boundaries back in place or get additional resources or support, it may be time to leave. 

Hand outstretched from the waves in the sea, as if crying out for help
If the job is overwhelming, it may be time to go

3. The job is hurting you

Sometimes a job can become harmful to your health and safety. If you’re handling a lot of conflict, complaints or supporting vulnerable people, the job can become emotionally heavy. You may find yourself on the receiving end of harassment or find you are constantly fire-fighting. In some cases, this can be sustainable if you are given the right levels of support and resources. 

However, take caution if you’re noticing the job is impacting on your mood, your sleep, or your ability to relax. If you’re becoming unwell or experiencing burnout due to the demands of the role, I’d urge you to seek medical support. But if this continues, it may be safer to leave. 

Man in hoody is sat down with hands across his face as if he is exhausted or upset
When the role starts to impact on your wellbeing, it could be a warning sign

4. It’s not for you 

Sometimes we discover that a job isn’t for us. Perhaps you’re not happy in your role, or you don’t feel your skills are the right fit. This can happen if you’ve taken a job that sounded like community building but is actually much more about marketing or sales. 

On the other hand, you may realise that your experience is best suited to other communications disciplines like marketing, media relations or social media management where the focus is more on audience, campaign, or brand management.

Black box mounted to a wall with a red exit sign inside
Sometimes a job isn’t right for us, and it’s time to find something that is…

5. You want something new 

What if the other reasons don’t apply and you still feel ready to leave? Sometimes you can simply feel like your role is no longer fresh. You may feel it’s time for a change of focus, to move into a different type of job, or to specialise in another area of community management. 

You may feel inspired to try out a new vertical, for example a move from software support to developer relations. You might want to try a different type of community building, moving from event based communities to online communities of practice. Or you may have developed a lot of experience and have become a ‘go-to’ person in your niche, inspiring you to go freelance!

Alarm clock with a gold case and gold bells at the top, a white face, and black numbers and clock hands
Sometimes, it is simply time for something new

What if you’re not sure?

You’re conflicted – unsure if you’re unhappy or ready to leave 

Speak to some trusted friends or peers, or reflect with a coach or counsellor. Or get out of your own way! Head to a neutral location, take time to relax and start to think through each reason as if you were observing the role at a distance.

These tactics can help you to remove your immediate personal feelings from the problem and get some additional feedback to help you make an informed decision.

You’re unhappy about some aspects of the role, but not ready to leave 

It may be time to negotiate with your manager. The best way to prepare for the discussion is to consider the impact and likely solutions for the key issues. You could also benchmark what other community teams have in place (as evidence for your proposed changes). Going into the discussion with a constructive set of options will give you the best chance of success. 

If you find that your ideas aren’t taken on board and there’s no good reason for that, it could be a sign that you’re ready to join an organisation where your ideas will be heard.

A path heading in multiple directions
We can feel conflicted when we need to make a big decision

You’re ready to leave but…

Concerned about how to leave a toxic or stressful role? 

Firstly, it’s okay for you to step away from a role that is impacting on your mental or physical health – in fact I’d urge you to do so. Even if the job may pay well or provide status, you can keep the status you’ve earned and most likely find a similar salary elsewhere.

Secondly, reflect on what was stressful and unhealthy about the role or the organisation. This will help you to identify and avoid ‘red flags’ in the future. Thirdly, whatever you may feel about the role, if you leave well and remain professional throughout, you will depart with no regrets. 

Worried about leaving a great team and an inspiring organisation? 

Firstly, reflect on what was so great about this role and identify what matters to you at work. Secondly, use what you have experienced and learned to help you to spot the ‘green flags’ in new opportunities.

Thirdly, know that other great teams and organisations are out there. Take time to network and research opportunities, and speak to your contacts to find out more. 

Brick wall with neon sign that says 'this is the sign you've been looking for'
When you know, you know…

You’ve got this. 

If you’re considering whether the time is right to leave your role, I hope this helps. You have every right to be safe and respected at work, to have opportunities to grow, and to be able to learn new skills.

If you’re raising a cynical brow at my reassurances, remember where you were a couple of years ago and how much you’ve learned since then. You can do it again. 

Further reading:

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-know-when-it-is-time-to-leave-a-job

https://www.tbd.community/en/a/self-test-it-time-leave-your-job

Categories
Motivation Productivity Self development

Getting out of your own way

When it comes to getting things done, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. As community managers, we want to do the best possible job for our communities and our organisations, but it can be difficult to make time for ourselves. It can be even more difficult in a profession that brings people together to push ourselves forward. 

I’ve decided to tackle my own self-imposed obstacle course and get out of my own way. Are you feeling the same way?

In this blog post I’ll reveal the challenges we face, identify some realistic ways forward and share useful resources to help you get things done and make time for self-development and self-care.

A man with bare feet is making his way across a rope bridge in a forest with trees surrounding him and golden sunlight peeping through. Deceptively relaxing in my opinion.
This obstacle course looks deceptively relaxing…

Photo by Stephanie Ecate on Unsplash

Five challenges we face

1. Perfectionism

This is the biggest obstacle for many. Wanting to be the best that you can be seems so positive, but it has a dark side. 

When we fall into the trap of needing our work to be perfect, we can stop trying or give up at the first hurdle.

We give up learning. We avoid anything that’s challenging. We take forever to complete a task by constantly tinkering with our work.

Or we procrastinate by trying to master ‘the secret of doing it 100% right’ and never even start. I’ve been there. 

Wooden scrabble letters read 'done is better than perfect'
Perfectionism is the enemy of good. Done is better than perfect.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

2. Indecision

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I remember the first time I saw cable TV and opened the channel list. Hundreds of channels beyond the five we usually had in the UK. I remember spending about an hour flicking through before heading back to 90s Top of the Pops. 

When you’re facing indecision, it’s difficult to know where to start. Perhaps you’re unsure of the right decision to make or which direction to take. You may have too many ideas and too many choices. 

That last one definitely resonates with me – I have a folder full of content ideas! 

A dark corridor with graffiti and at the end a question mark lit in red and orange neon lights
Decisions, decisions…

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

3. Fear

We don’t like to talk about fear, which is just what it wants us to do. 

Many people feel that fear is the reason that we procrastinate, sink into indecision or avoid trying new things. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. 

Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of consequences. Fear of the unknown. 

I’ve caught myself in a fear spiral of worrying about what would happen if I did something new or different. What if it all went wrong? What if I had the wrong take? It’s such a slippery slope.

A black and white image showing two hands holding up a cardboard banner which says 'what now?'
What now? Such a loaded question!

Photo by Jeff Stapleton from Pexels

4. Uncertainty

If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone mention ‘these uncertain times’ I’d be paying for a copywriter for my blog (kidding!)

The reason why people talk about uncertainty so often is because it is true – we have experienced a lot of unpredictable change.

I’m sure we all know that COVID19 has made the world an uncertain place in our own lives; with a rapid shift to remote working and sudden changes to our plans for 2020. And 2021 …

In society, we’ve experienced several changes to the law regarding what we can do, confusion about government guidance, and a wave of ‘fake news’ about the pandemic.

No wonder we’re feeling uncertain. This extended period of changeability helps some people to thrive but for most of us, it magnifies uncertainty and makes decision making more difficult. 

Photo taken from above and shows two black shoes standing in front of two white arrows - one pointing left and the other pointing right
Uncertain to take any direction, we stand still…

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Overwhelm

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed? I don’t think it’s just me. 

There has been so much to contend with. Our way of working and living may have changed permanently. We may have experienced ill health or loss. We may be concerned about what the next few months will bring. For many people, that is a lot to carry at one time. That might lead us to retreat our energies for now.

The opposite temptation is to want to do it all and to take back control. We may be keen to catch up on lost time – the books we haven’t read, the projects we couldn’t start, or the trips we couldn’t take. We push ourselves to do more. For some people this is a great way to get started. For others, if we aren’t able to sustain our energy, this takes us back to overwhelm.

Image shows what looks like a wall with bushes and vines across it. In the middle a neon sign reads 'breathe'
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s important to breathe. Breathe…

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Five realistic ways forward

When it comes to getting things done, it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ve found five realistic ways that have helped me to move forward with work projects and life admin. If you’re stuck at the moment, why not try one or two of the ideas below …

1. Begin!

It took me a long time to write this post. The idea was in my head weeks ago. I kept returning to my plan – researching the best way to structure content and make my points. If my resistant and uncertain self had its way, I’d still be in draft mode, with nothing done.   

When we move into action mode, we come out of a comfortable place and start testing our ideas. After a while, I really enjoy this flow state of getting things done but it takes that first kickstart to get going. 

If I get stuck, I take myself back to the original idea and try another angle. The maxim ‘learn as you go’ is really helpful here as it helps to be in a mindset that is open to new ideas.

Those people who say ‘just do it’ used to annoy me profoundly. But they’re right.

Board games board with a start square with a blue playing token and two dice
The only way to finish is to first begin

2. Good is good enough

Earlier, I talked about the danger of perfectionism because it stops us trying by trapping us in a never-ending desire to get everything 100% right. We have to resist this urge.

If you struggle with knowing when to stop, consider what the end result could look like. When you reach that end result, you can take a break and then review. Chances are, you’re done!

If you struggle with wanting everything to be perfect, knowing what ‘good’ looks like will help. When you complete a piece of work and it’s good, then you’re done. Good is good enough.

Dark background and a white lightbox with black letters that say 'You are enough'
You are good enough. Your work is good enough.

3. Respond to change

A reluctant convert to mindfulness, I’ve been surprised that it’s helped me to manage change better than anything else. This is because I learned about impermanence

Basically, impermanence is the concept that things are always changing. Nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end. Change is a part of life and our best strategy is to learn how to respond to it.

When we work, it’s important to have a flexible mindset and be open to change taking place. We can can iterate – taking small decisions, or making small changes along the way.

When we face a large project, breaking it into smaller milestones or steps can help it to feel less daunting. When we repeat a task, having a basic outline to follow can keep us on track. 

Everything changes. Learning to respond to change is a vital skill.

4. Focus on priorities

When you have multiple tasks, ideas or projects, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

  • Find your most important things – the top three things you need to get done that day, week, or month. 
  • Consider any deadlines you have or milestones you need to meet.
  • Prioritise anything where you need to make a decision or move a task forward.  This is particularly important if you lead a team.

I’ll repeat another annoying maxim – a good way forward is to start with what needs to be done. 

Pieces of paper scattered in a pile including some pieces that are screwed up. One piece of paper says 'I can do anything not everything'
We can’t do everything, but we can start with what is needed

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

5. Rest 

For many of us, we can feel so much pressure to do everything that we can end up falling at the first hurdle. 

If we put unrealistic pressure on ourselves, this can lead to burnout. In fact one of the key things I’ve learned is this:

“Whenever we treat energy as infinite, burnout is the result.”

I heard this on one of Bruce Daisley’s excellent podcasts on work culture.

A good way forward is to begin, to be happy with good, to respond to change, prioritise what matters, and to accept when we need to rest.

Rest! Enjoy rest! Prioritise rest! Protect rest!

We’re not robots, and hustle culture is for fools.

Picture of a sunset on a beach
Whenever I think of rest, I often imagine a gorgeous beach. Bliss.

Helpful resources

That’s all very well, but how do we actually start this process? Here are some helpful resources to help you to put this into practice.

1. Finding motivation

Find some resources that help you to kick-start and help get you out of the headspace of inactivity. I’d recommend ‘Do the work’ by Stephen Pressfield (read reviews and where to buy), plus this excellent article on how to start the task you’ve been avoiding, and this post on overcoming fear of failure.

2. Planning and using your ideas

There are three parts to this: resources that help you plan out your work like content planners, finding a way to capture good practice and good ideas, and putting time aside to develop, test and use ideas.

In order to get things done, it’s important to make time for focussed work. Taking steps to manage your diary can help. 2-3 weeks ahead, book in time for screen breaks, planning, and focused work. You may have to move a few things for urgent issues from time to time, but it’s helpful to set the intention to plan, focus, and rest.

3. Finding your own system

Everyone will have different ways that work for them when planning, prioritising and managing time. As I have multiple priorities and people/teams to manage, I’ve found that a Kanban style system works best for me. This is because it helps me to organise multiple pieces of work in terms of progress and priority.

I use an adapted version of this excellent mise en place Trello board, created by the person who co-designed the Trello product. Mise-en-place roughly means “everything in its place.” 

4. Blocking distractions 

Once you’ve made time to focus on projects and tasks, it’s important to block out distractions. I’d recommend exiting noisy instant communication apps like Slack or Teams and turning off the email notification in Outlook. Our phones are filled with noisy notifications too so I’d recommend turning as many of those off as possible or using an app like Freedom.

If music helps you, put together playlists that help you to focus and concentrate (I love Chillhop and Radio Lento). It’s also worth finding good quality noise cancelling earbuds or headphones. Earfun Air Pro 2 and Sony Wireless Headphones work really well for me.

5. Getting support

To stay motivated and inspired, it’s important to get support from others. Talk about your roadblocks and challenges with a colleague or peer. If you can, find someone who will hold you accountable in a friendly and supportive way. Speaking of which…

I’m getting out of my own way – but I need your support

Having broken the barriers down, I want to commit to blogging and sharing insights more regularly. I would love to hear from the people who read my blog, particularly those working for non-profits and charities, and those in the community management profession.

I’d love to know what you think and what you’d like to hear more about. My intention is to be helpful!

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. 

breathe image

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.

breathe image
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.”**

breathe image

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.