Burnout fears for stressed out sector workers and volunteers

Posted on 23 Oct 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Stress contemplate

More than half of Australian not-for-profits and charities said they prioritise the needs of clients and the community over the mental wellbeing of their own staff and volunteers, according to new research.

A poll of 220 organisations from across the sector by the Benefolk Foundation, revealed 58% admitted this was the biggest barrier to addressing stress and anxiety among their own people.

The research findings come as the mental health and wellbeing of the sector was in the spotlight at the official launch of a new online resource designed to support their needs.

Charities Minister Andrew Leigh officially launched at a resilience themed breakfast in Melbourne attended by 170 people from organisations across the sector.

Created by Benefolk Foundation, the free online hub offers access to more than 80 resources ranging from organisational health checks to workplace wellbeing strategy templates designed to prevent burnout among for-purpose workers and volunteers.

Mr Leigh said Australia’s charity and not-for-profit sector represents 8% of the economy, 10% of the national workforce, and mobilises three million volunteers.

Its members are also increasingly suffering from stress and anxiety as demand for services continues to rise.

“Improving the wellbeing of staff and volunteers is vital to building a stronger charity sector that can continue to support vulnerable Australians and build a more connected and caring country,” said Mr Leigh.

“What The Community Well does is provide a set of resources which I’d encourage you to share with others and take this opportunity, to tell others in the sector about the importance of reinvesting in themselves.”

Mr Leigh said the social sector shouldn’t have to run on the smell of an oily rag.

“We understand that Australia will be strengthened if we’ve got charities working together, feeling mentally healthy and ready to tackle life’s challenges.”

Full room Benefolk Breakfast
More than 170 people from organisations across the not-for-profit, charity and philanthropy sector attended the Reimagining Resilience breakfast at the Melbourne Town Hall hosted by the Benefolk Foundation.
“If the people who turn up every day to work and volunteer in our sector are healthy and strong, then it follows that the impact they create will be greater.”
Benefolk Foundation CEO, Julia Keady.

Benefolk Founder and CEO, Julia Keady, said there was an urgent need to address the health and wellbeing in the sector.

“We can’t go into 2024 without a commitment to change how our people’s mental health is safe guarded,” she said.

“We will lose more good people, and they are not an infinite resource.”

Ms Keady took the opportunity at the resilience breakfast to announce new funding support from the Ian Potter Foundation.

She said the three-year grant would be used to expand The Community Well to provide new online courses along with deliver health and wellbeing support online and over the phone.

The cash injection, alongside existing funding support from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Equity Trustees, will also enable Benefolk to host what it claims will be the first sector-wide National Wellbeing Summit in 2024.

Julia Keady Min Leigh Catherine Brown Wendy Scaife
(Left to right): Benefolk CEO Julia Keady, Charities Minister Andrew Leigh, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation CEO, Dr Catherine Brown and Benefolk Foundation director, Associate Professor Wendy Scaife.

Ms Keady said research from Benefolk Foundation conducted this year found there are significant barriers to NFPs and charities accessing the support they need.

“Over the past 12 months we’ve been running regular polls, building up a picture of the barriers that charities and NFPs are facing which are preventing them from taking action on wellbeing,” said Ms Keady.

“From the more than 220 organisations that we’ve polled, it’s clear that the biggest barrier is the ability to prioritise spending time on staff or volunteers (58%) as clients and the community often take priority.”

The research also found:

  • 45% of organisations don’t have enough time to devote to improve staff mental health and wellbeing.
  • More than 37% have no budget for support or training.
  • Almost a third (32%) don’t have access to the right resources or advice.

An estimated 16% of survey respondents said that their board or committee don’t prioritise wellbeing.

“If the people who turn up every day to work and volunteer in our sector are healthy and strong, then it follows that the impact they create will be greater,” said Ms Keady.

Chairman of The Ian Potter Foundation, Charles Goode said Benefolk Foundation had identified poor mental health as an area of high risk for the NFP sector and has developed resources that will make a difference.

“This is a critical issue for the sector, and we look forward to seeing more organisations making use of The Community Well and the new resources this funding will enable."

More news

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!