Because burn-out happens after doing a difficult job for a long time, volunteers slip and slide instead of fall into a state of burn-out. The gradual change from energized and enthusiastic service to burdened, anxious, detached and joyless service happens over an extended time.
Therefore, be on the look out for volunteer burn-out in those who…
- Stay in a leadership position much longer than initially intended. Why that happens is another blog entirely. Regardless of why it happens, the individual may agree to serve until a replacement is found but ends up feeling like they have to serve "until Jesus comes".
- Temporarily take on a staff role in a volunteer capacity and serve an extended time waiting for the new hire. The intention is always to replace the staff member quickly, but when the search drags on and on, temporarily "helping out" becomes an imposition and burden.
- Take on a volunteer leadership role and fail to delegate or utilize team support. Leadership roles requires followers. Without teammates to follow the leader, it is a one-man band. One man bands are burn-outs in the making.
- Experience extended personal or family stress during their term of volunteer service. No one can anticipate these seasons and the additional time and energy they take. It just happens.
Church leadership and/or staff persons can recognize volunteer burn-out by checking in with volunteers on a regular basis. It is imperative to observe the volunteer in action, during leadership meeting and in one on one conversations to get a true picture of volunteer health. Look for :
- Negative or fatalistic talk: Expressions of extreme frustration and cynicism such as "I can't… they won't…." and "It will never…"
- Detachment and/or waning interest - such as unusual tardiness, continual absences, arriving unprepared, rush or distracted for service or leadership meetings.
- Agitation with others or the tasks at hand - display tension and irritation over normal challenges or interruptions.
- Emotional outbursts in inappropriate situations - express anger or frustration with emotional outbursts. May loose their temper, unload or cry while serving.
- A marked change in personality - usually upbeat and now pessimistic or usually quiet and now totally withdrawn and/or non-communicative.
- Gossip - others are talking about or asking others what's wrong with the volunteer and/or the volunteer is talking "about" instead of "to" people, this unhealthy breakdown in communication can signal the beginnings of dissatisfaction and eventual burn-out. I know gossip is sinful, but it signals an unhealthy situation is brewing. Where there is smoke there just might be burn-out smoldering.
Blessed are the volunteers who recognize a problem on their own for they will seek guidance and a healthy intervention. I don't worry about them, but I have stolen many of my strategies from them!
As for those who never see it coming, proactive ministry is recommended and highly effective.
Waiting until burn-out is full blown is the alternative and is destructive to both the individual and the church body. I'll talk more about prevention in Part 3
When bathed in prayer and done in love, proactive ministry can stop burn-out in its tracks.
- Prayer - It should be happening already, but taking extra time to pray with the hurting volunteer is the best place to start. Bathe the entire process in prayer; for and with the volunteer.
- Listen- Meet for coffee, lunch or another activity. Resist "fixing" things for them by being a supportive listener. Reflect back what you hear them saying and let the Spirit lead them to discover and problem-solve for themselves. I'm amazed how often self-discovery of a solution happens when someone simply listens.
- Suggest and support setting new boundaries. If self-discovery doesn't illuminate a solution and even if it does, help them set new boundaries between ministry and personal time for worship, adult Bible study, leisure and family without the worry of ministry responsibilities.
- Protect and reinforce the new boundaries by respecting their time away and encouraging others to do the same. Also, check-in with them to be sure it's working for them.
- Invite the volunteer the opportunity for a short sabbatical. Gifting the volunteer with a week or two of time to get away and refresh is a great start to restoration. Sometimes being away from church and the related responsibilities all together is helpful. A short absence from ministry responsibilities can make the heart grow fonder for it.
- Reassess the position and responsibilities. The job might be unrealistic in scope and time required. Reassess, and if possible, split the role into two positions or create a new support position. Added support and a lighter load will go a long way to restoration and will strengthen both the individual and the ministry.
- Offer them "an out". Sometimes life's responsibilities and challenges just get in the way of ministry. Offering the individual the option to step down to dedicate time and energy to season of personal stress or family needs is a God-send. Affirm their good works by telling them they are welcome to return at anytime and will be eligible for the position if still available, or the next time it becomes available. In Children's Ministry, there is ALWAYS a position waiting to be filled!
Usually with helps, intervention, support, encouragement and prayer offered in love, the volunteer can return to service in the same or modified position with a renewed joy.
If Restoration doesn't happen, remember "failure" is not an option, it's just a tool.
- Do NOT "fire" them. They've already felt the heat, crashed and burned-out. Why fuel the burn-out by adding shame and blame? Remember, failure is not an option, it's just a tool.
- If you must let them go, blame the position not the individual. If the volunteer and the position were a bad fit, be truthful. Acknowledge it as a miss and encourage them to use what they learned to improve their aim as they choose another position of service.
- Thank them for their service! Invite others to join you. Express your appreciation in emails and notes of encouragement. It means more than words in passing to put your thoughts in writing.
- Affirm, Assess and Retool - Meet again to intentionally retool for future ministry. Together, assess and celebrate what was discovered about their gifts and talents while in the position.
- Follow-up and Reaffirm - A few weeks later, make a follow-up call to thank them again for their service with them about how God will use the experience to help them find a good ministry fit.