Blog: Why are we losing our people? Overcoming burnout in the community services sector

The biggest concern for any organisation should be when their most passionate people become quiet. Tim McClure

Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. If you are experiencing burnout, you will have all three of the below symptoms:

  • Physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and a complete lack of motivation
  • Increased feelings of disengagement from your work and work relationships
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout is a result of workplace stressors. The six highest contributors to workplace stress are:

  1. Unmanageable workloads – excessive and unmanageably long hours, high job demands and time pressures
  2. Lack of control and autonomy – feeling like you don’t have any control over what decisions are made or what work is being performed
  3. No recognition and no rewards – feeling as if your work goes unnoticed and unappreciated
  4. Lack of organisational support – feeling that your organisation won’t back you in a decision, and if you speak up about a problem, you will be blamed
  5. Unfair and inequitable treatment
  6. Values misalignment – feeling as if your values are not aligned with what you are working on.

While an individual may have traits that can contribute to burnout including poor work habits, processes and systems, it is much more likely that when an organisation has high rates of burnout, it’s the organisation—not individual staff members—that needs to undergo meaningful change.

When leaders foster organisational support by creating and nurturing a climate of psychological safety, engagement and belonging, this significantly reduces the likelihood of burnout.

According to research, people who are not burnt out are 22% more engaged, feel 28% more psychologically safe, feel 18% more as if they belong, and 166% more supported by their organisation.

How does burnout impact the community services sector?

For the past three years, Infinite Potential, a think tank dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing problems found in the workplace, have been conducting global longtitudinal research into burnout. Their research has thus far spanned 40 countries with more than 8000 participants.

Last year, the report measured rates of burnout in Australia’s social service sector and found it was particularly acute. It made the following key findings:

  1. Rates of burnout continue to grow while wellbeing continues to fall with women experiencing higher levels of burnout across the board.

In the Australian community services sector, burnout is at 34.7% compared to the Australian average of 27.1%. The areas of service that have the highest levels of burnout are disability support, followed by home and community care and child safety and support.

  1. Lack of organisational support is a really strong predictor of burnout.

Year after year, research has found a significant drop in how much people feel supported by their organisation. In 2023, 55% of Australian community service sector workers felt supported by their organisations compared to 54% of Australian workers overall.

  1. Burnout significantly effects productivity and quality of work.

38% of workers who are not burnt out reported being more productive in the past 12 months, while 46% reported that they produced higher quality work. By contrast, 53 % of workers experiencing burnout reported being less productive in the past 12 months while 46% reported producing a lower quality of work.

  1. Burnout needs to be part of the hybrid work conversation.

Full-time workers working from home two to three days reported the highest level of wellbeing and organisational support and the lowest level of burnout, while full-time workers working from home over 80% of time had the highest level of burnout. The study did not uncover if working from home more days was causing burnout or if people who are burnt out prefer to work from home most of the time.

  1. Leaders can create a competitive advantage by adopting people first policies.

People are more likely to stay in an organisation that has flexible work arrangements, fair and equitable pay and benefits, alignment with your personal values, supportive colleagues and fulfilling work.

Help researchers understand and combat burnout in the community services sector

This year, Infinite Potential will again focus on burnout in the community services sector to generate specific insights and actions into what it looks like and how to combat it.

You are invited to complete an anonymous 7-10 minute survey about burnout. Your input will not only enable a better understanding of burnout, it will also contribute to insights into how organisations can become healthier and support more sustainable careers.

The results from the study will be published in February 2024. There is also an option for organisations to receive a tailored report.

For more information on this research, please contact please contact Dr. John Chan directly at [email protected].