How digital leaders can avoid burnout

people in meeting

Written by Zoe Amar, Charity Marketing and Digital Communications Expert and Freelance Consultant

As a digital leader, you’re at the sharp end of many of the modern organisation’s challenges: organisational change, modernising infrastructure, and managing stakeholders. It’s a job which requires huge amounts of skill, resilience, patience and energy.

It’s not surprising that it can lead to burnout. I’ve learned the hard way that managing your energy and health is as vital as the work itself. Not only will this help you achieve great results, but it will also create the headspace to think about new ideas and the key issues that should be driving your strategy. This challenge is on my mind as we’re currently asking leaders to share their views for The Charity Digital Skills Report, in which we ask them how ‘big picture’ issues such as diversity and digital ethics are affecting their work.

I spoke to a group of leaders to ask them how they keep their energy levels up and stay creative.

Be honest with yourself. Most leaders will have felt exhausted, demotivated and run down at some point. If this sounds like you, watch out for the 7 signs of burnout (and see your GP if you need support).  The first step is to own the problem and hold yourself accountable for how you can improve things.

Dan Reynolds, founder of Impactasaurus, worked long hours in tech startupsand experienced burnout, but was motivated to improve his work life balance after having a family. He realised that, ‘Just like your property and money, you need to protect your time. Learning to say no is crucial, it is obviously hard to disappoint others, but with practice it becomes easier. Ruthlessly prioritise your time, identify the tasks which provide the most impact and cut the rest. Schedule time to think strategically, this will ensure the tasks you are prioritising are working towards your goals instead of reacting to external demands.’ He also advises turning off notifications on your phone and avoiding work email at home, when possible.

Know what makes you feel better. When do you feel good? For me it’s after exercise, so I slot several workouts into my week. For Eve Critchley, Head of Digital at MIND, building a range of projects as well as balance into her schedule is important. Critchley says, I know I feel best when I’ve had a varied week, so I try to make sure I maintain a regular working from home day and get out to meet suppliers, partners or another contact for coffee where I can. If I’ve had a week of back to back meetings or longer days, I try to balance it out the following week or block out some quieter time.

Getting out of the office and meeting your peers can be a great way to create headspace. Critchley highlights that MIND offer free Wellness Action plans for individuals and organisations which can be a useful tool in managing mental health.

Build your support network. We all have people in our network who are great sounding boards, but have you thought about the different roles you want people to play? On one day you may need a listening ear and empathy, whilst on another you might need someone who’s going to give you a kick in the right direction.

James Gadsby Peet, Director of Digital at William Joseph, counsels that, ‘We can’t be all things to all people and so a whole cast of folks that play different roles is crucial. From supportive peers to challenging mentors to constructive coaches, you need a bit of everything to help with the now and keep you looking to the future.

Why not write a list of your favourite colleagues outside your organisation, and then define how they’ve helped you, and you them? Then maybe send them an email, thanking them for the difference they’ve made?

Look at what you can control. I recently worked with a digital team in a big, public sector organisation who were close to burnout. We reviewed which parts of their job they could own and change, and what processes they could put in place to be effective. This made them feel in control, despite working in a volatile environment.

For Olivia Smith, Digital Communications Manager at Gingerbread, good systems are essential for avoiding burnout, planning and as a way to help her team recognise what they have accomplished. Smith says, ‘We use Trello boards, and every idea, every plan for innovation is added there and sorted according to ease and organisational need – in some ways this is an info dump of knowledge and ideas we have in our head, but it’s a place that’s constantly ‘live’ and accessible, something we engage with every day. Having a space for ideas and plans to live has helped us see a doable plan of action, rather than just an endless list of tasks you don’t get round to.

As a community, we need to talk about burnout, and how we can manage it. Doing this will help us all be more fulfilled at work.

Share your views on the digital leadership issues affecting charities in The Charity Digital Skills Report. All responses must be received by 24 May.

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