By Carola Lillie Hartley | From Main Street Story of the Week | Friday, April 8, 2016 |
Most of us have days from time to time when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated. But is it burnout?
Main Street Managers balance a multitude of tasks day to day, including marketing, event planning, organizational management, volunteer motivation, partnership building, economic development, and business recruitment and retention—the list could go on. We are responsible for a number of things that make a real difference in a community. The same things that make the job so interesting, engaging and fulfilling can also lead to stress and—eventually—job burnout. Whether we want to admit it or not, burnout is something all of us Main Streeters must learn to deal with from time to time.
How do you recognize the start of burnout, and how do you deal with it? To find out, I asked Main Street leaders across the US to share their experiences and advice for dealing with burnout.
Managing Multiple and Ongoing Projects
For the last eight years, Melanie Lee-Lebouef has served as the Main Street Manager for Opelousas Main Street, one of Louisiana’s oldest towns.
Besides managing the revitalization of the downtown area, Melanie, who is also the city’s tourism director, directs all of the events in Opelousas. Though she has the support of the city, and help from other organizations, plus a large group of dedicated volunteers, sometimes her work seems overwhelming.
Melanie has a few great tips for managing multiple, stressful projects. She makes sure to get a daily dose of exercise, avoids foods that make her feel tired and sluggish, and started adding easy 5-minute breaks to her workday. “Exercise is a great stress reliever--a simple walk sometimes can do wonders.” She also makes a point of reexamining her efficiency to pay more attention to “being productive as opposed to being busy.”
Lastly, Melanie shares: “Having a support system really helps. Whether it’s a group of friends you work out with, a husband or close friend, talking about things out in the open really does help.”
Taking Time Off and Creating Boundaries
Becky Reich, the manager of Main Street Middletown in Maryland for the last five years, recently experienced burnout first hand when she let Main Street “consume” her.
“It is partially me—my desire to please others drives me to work—so, sure, I could attend that extra evening meeting, and with any nonprofit work, there is always more to do.”
“Main Street is nonstop. Something happens every month. There was no time, so I thought. I was tired, and did not feel like getting up in the morning. It’s not that I felt negative about my community, but I was just too tired to concentrate.”
Becky had planned to take some time off at Christmas, but because of the way she felt, decided to take two weeks off. She did not travel, but just stayed at home. “One week might have relaxed me,” she said. “But the second week allowed me to MISS everything. And I think that was the key.”
Those two weeks allowed her to rest not just her body, but also her mind. “When you are working all the time, your mind is constantly churning. It is hard to turn it off. That time allowed me to ‘turn off, tune out and just relax.’ It wasn’t until I actually took off that I realized I was just drained, physically and emotionally. A few days into the holiday, I called my Board president and we just talked about our families. I realized too, that was the first time I had just talked with her about stuff —not all Main Street—in months.”
Becky is now working on creating healthy boundaries. “I have created at least one new boundary: no reading or responding to emails in the evenings.”
For the last 10 years, Brenda Weatherly has been the Executive Director of the Hollister Downtown Association in Hollister, California. She wrote to say she has experienced burnout multiple times during those years. “I recognized it by my lack of enthusiasm for my work, as being tired all the time.”
“For me, it often just takes going to a Main Street conference or participating in a brain storming session about a particular problem, issue or new project/event to get me re-energized.”
Brenda determined that doing events is usually the cause of her burnout. So, the organization hired a part-time events coordinator to address this issue. “Having a dedicated staff member to manage our events has freed up my time and energy,” Brenda says. “This gives me the extra energy needed to work on other projects and initiatives, and be more involved in our community as a representative of downtown.”
Brenda thinks burnout is “unavoidable” and sees it as part of a natural cycle. “If you are feeling this way, really put some thought in to why it is happening. If it’s just the ebb and flow of a busy calendar, take some time for you to allow yourself to rejuvenate and reinvigorate. Self-care is very important no matter what your job is.”
According to Brenda, “it’s also VERY important to realize that burnout feelings will usually pass and that it is not always a signal that it is time to move on to other employment. If all aspects of your job meet your needs, then discuss your feelings with your president or board chair and/or fellow Main Street managers to get it off your chest. I think the single most detrimental thing to a Main Street program is turn over in the executive position.”
She concluded by saying, “Having a positive attitude and looking at the bright side of things can also combat some of what may be weighing you down and causing feelings of burnout. Look to respected peers for insight and “pats on the back” for the great job you are doing if you are lacking that kind of feedback from your board and your community.”
Donnie Rogers, Jr. is a new executive director for Downtown Lee’s Summit in Missouri. Although he’s worked as a volunteer with other Main Street programs since 2007, he finds that his new role can be challenging at times. “I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is keeping a separation between work life and personal life to avoid burnout.”
Donnie says one of the best tips he ever received from a former Executive Director was to keep work email off his cell phone.
“It sounds a little crazy, he continues, “but in this digital age, the first and last thing we look at is our phone. There were times at my previous job that I would check email on the weekend and absolutely have my weekend ruined by an email that I couldn’t do anything about until I got back to the office on Monday. Not having work email on my phone means that when I’m home I can truly disconnect. In cases of emergencies, those that need to reach me can via a call or text. As vital as the work we do is to our communities, we all need time to disconnect and spend with family and friends. Email should stay in the office. I am doing this now and have passed that advice on to my staff.”
Steven Paul is the newly hired Executive Director of Bridgeton Main Street in southern New Jersey. In the first quarter, Steven found the financial side of the job to be most stressful.
“Although I had some experience working with finances for another non-profit on a smaller scale, dealing with the financial situation of our organization has cause me some stress at times. Fighting for funds to keep our organization effective has caused me to feel that burnout.”
Steven has identified some small, but powerful ways, to combat stress, including a change of scenery and making time for hobbies.
“I find relief by doing some of my paperwork at home sometime during the day, instead of at my office. And pursuing a hobby is a good stress reliever as well. I coach wrestling at the local high school and this gives me three house a day to think about another task and not just my Main Street work. Another thing that helps me is reading. I try to take about two hours out of every day to read, and that helps to relieve some of the burnout I have been feeling.”
Job burnout is something experienced in all professions. However, the demanding, multifaceted, and often emotional nature of downtown revitalization work can lead to burnout if you’re not aware of the pitfalls.
I say to all of you who do that hard work for your communities—keep it up. Take care of yourself first, follow the advice of others who have your best interest at heart, and laugh a lot. (Humor has helped me “survive” over twenty-five years of this work.) It will make your job easier and relieve some of the stress. That is when you will revitalize yourself, and your work will get done!
Stress-reducing tips from the Main Street Pros:
• Take breaks during the day—even a 5 minute walk can make a difference
• Eat healthy and exercise regularly
• Talk issues out with your support network
• Ask for additional help
• Say “no” from time to time
• Take time off to recharge
• Create healthy boundaries—i.e. turn off email in the evenings
• Reenergize with a Main Street conference, brainstorming session, new project, ect.
• Maintain a positive attitude
• Look to respected peers for positive reinforcement
• Maintain a separation between work life and personal life
• Consider keeping work emails off your cell phone
• Seek a change of scenery when possible
• Pursue hobbies outside of work
• Focus on being productive as opposed to being busy
• Get enough rest
• Practice self-care
• Maintain a sense of humor
Main Causes of Burnout
According to experts on job performance, there could be multiple components that play into burnout. Some of the reasons include:
• Exhaustion—more demands and fewer resources
• Lack of Motivation
• Skepticism and other negative emotions
• Cognitive problems
• Slipping job performance
• Interpersonal problems at home and at work
• Health problems—not taking care of yourself
• Being preoccupied with work when you’re not at work
• Decreased satisfaction
What to do about Burnout
To overcome burnout, some experts recommend the following:
• Relax—take relaxing seriously
• Cultivate a rich non-work life—keep your work life and personal life separate as much as possible
• Get enough sleep
• Get organized
• Get attuned
• Don’t take everything and everyone so serious—find some humor in your work and laugh a lot
• Know where the stress is coming from—ask yourself, “it is from me, or is it from them?”
• Exercise more
• Enjoy what you do
• See the value of the work you do
Carola Lillie Hartley is a downtown revitalization and rural tourism professional, with a career spanning over twenty-five years. She has served five Main Street communities during that time, working in three different states. With a passion for history, and especially Louisiana history, she has authored several books focusing on her hometown and other areas.