Addressing burnout

19 November 2018

Myriad Canada is supporting and working with the Wellbeing Project in order to develop a knowledge centre to examine how inner wellbeing research can support individuals working for social change organizations. The findings of the research will be open-source. We spoke with the research team.

What causes burnout in the social change field?


“Most social change organizations deliver social missions within extremely complex, politicallycharged environments with very few resources. There is also pressure to continually change to remain relevant – traditional responses to social problems are becoming less effective in these complex environments. People fulfilling these social missions are so focused on solving external challenges, they neglect their internal resources, and burnout. Building awareness on burnout in social change will come through experience and research, which The Wellbeing Project is developing through qualitative research on global changemakers.”


What has your research revealed regarding the wellbeing of people working in social change organizations?

“Burnout has become synonymous with today’s hyper-connected, always responsive and fast-paced working culture across sectors. In the social change context, the Wellbeing Projects research reveals what many people in social change roles often experience. Working in crisis mode they feel a lack of purpose, have difficulty finding a life partner, feel guilty about not giving enough time at home or work, suffer from exhaustion, patterns of addiction, loneliness and a range of health-related issues. These take a toll on their physical, emotional, spiritual, and/or mental health and their relationships.

We have heard that many  change leaders feel intensely overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems they face and guilt at not being able to meet these challenges, and spending too much time away from themselves and from their families whilst trying. Sixty global social change leaders participated in the Wellbeing Project’s 18-month Inner Development Programmes.

Most joined feeling burned out and much less passionate about work because of bureaucratic processes, endless funding rounds, constantly managing people and travel. Changes reported by participants include showing up differently;
listening and connecting deeply; being open and flexible; feeling joyful and calm; being less judgemental of others; as well as having greater feelings of trust and increased openness to being vulnerable.”

How to best promote wellbeing in the workplace?

“Organizational transformation may feel like a huge undertaking, so starting small with initiatives involving everyone will garner trust and curiosity. An example is a “whole person” check-in at the start of meetings, which works towards
a more inclusive and empathetic working culture, essential for deeper relationship building – a critical success factor in social change. Our research will shape an Organizational Exploratory Programme for social change organizations next spring, which will support them in identifying and developing their own path to wellbeing and shaping human-centred
organizations. This is a more meaningful and sustainable approach.”

How can we best address the wellbeing of people working in social change organizations?

“The Wellbeing Project’s research is identifying links between the developed wellbeing of social change makers, and the effectiveness of their work. This highlights the need to prioritise personal exploration; encouraging a more healthy relationship with oneself and others. This creates meaningful collaboration, belonging and enjoyment at work, with less interpersonal conflict. Social change organizations should also work harder at internally reflecting their external values and missions. Creating more opportunities for people to take time for themselves, have check-ins and opportunities to reflect will reinforce that ‘Wellbeing is a necessity, not a luxury’.”