Why Being Unproductive Saves a Career

From the New York Times:

Debra Suh had been a leader in domestic violence prevention for 16 years when she hit a breaking point about a decade ago. Balancing her emotionally charged work and her family had become untenable. She was considering leaving her beloved job as the executive director of the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, which she had held for seven years.

Her father had been the survivor of domestic abuse growing up and yet never hurt her — an experience that gave her a deep conviction that, with the right support, people can break the cycle of violence. But the toll the work took made her question whether she was the right person to keep providing that support. There were never enough hours in a day. She felt as if she couldn’t think clearly. In her head, she repeatedly wrote resignation letters.

Suh is not an anomaly in the nonprofit sector. According to the journal Nonprofit Quarterly, burnout rates in nonprofits have increased in the last few years from 16 percent to 19 percent of their staffs, and the rise is most pronounced among those who do direct service work.

Burnout, in the sense we use it today, is a term that was introduced by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. He defined it as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” He was particularly struck by the ways in which burnout showed up in those who help others professionally like doctors, teachers and social workers.

But others too sometimes feel the burn. One recent study found that 34 percent of the executive directors and half of the development directors at nonprofits questioned anticipated leaving their current jobs in two years or less. Worse, the 2017 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, published last month by GuideStar and Nonprofit HR, found that 81 percent of nonprofits have no retention strategy whatsoever, though such strategies are common at corporations.

Read the complete article here.