Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Real Truth about Burnout

What is job burnout? The Mayo Clinic defines it as "a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress." This can be experienced everywhere within the workplace, and that includes the church setting, with both volunteers and paid staff members.

We saw this happen in many areas of our former church, and, unfortunately, experienced it personally. Burnout is bad enough on its own, but in many church situations there is a lack of sympathy and support when it occurs. One remark that came from the pulpit was, "If you are dissatisfied, then you are disqualified." That, combined with eye rolling and sarcastic comments basically summed up the leadership's position on the subject of burnout. It was interesting that the leadership seemed to be an authority on many issues about which they were actually quite clueless, but, somehow they were still able to impose their selfish philosophy onto everyone in the church.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as possible reasons for job burnout:

  • Lack of control. Perhaps you're unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you'll work or which assignments you get. Perhaps you're unable to control the amount of work that comes in.
  • Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having the necessary resources to do your work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Examples are working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.
  • Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.
  • Poor job fit. Working in a job that poorly aligns with your interests and skills is certain to become more and more stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you'll need constant energy to remain focused. Over time this energy drain can lead to burnout.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It certainly does to us. We experienced frustration over a lack of control, were often unclear about job expectations because of very poor communication, and were mistrusting of co-workers because the leadership would pit one against the other for "information." We often saw situations handled poorly, but were unable to voice that without seeming to be trouble makers. Many people were placed in jobs that they were not qualified for. And, most importantly, the extremes of activity. Oh My Lord, the extremes. No one's energy levels, stress levels, families, or outside activities were ever considered. You just did what you were told to do without questioning it. You were required to work extra hours, sometimes way into the night. One time it got back to the pastor that people were feeling overworked and stressed out. At a staff meeting, he said, "If you have too much on your plate, then EAT SOME." Why we didn't all get up and scrape our proverbial plates off onto his lap, I do not know. I wish I had.

What is even more of a travesty is to treat volunteers that way. We experienced that first hand, and saw many others experience it as well. Somehow it was thought that it was such an honor to attend this church, and be a part of the helps ministry, that it was worth it, and actually beneficial to you to be harshly corrected on a fairly regular basis. I was hurt so many times that I often literally felt like I had been stabbed in the chest with a knife. And this is at CHURCH, of all places. The truly sad part about this was that the staff members and helps people were what made the ministry look so good, at least until they were run off. The more of a creative and "out of the box" thinker you were, the more of a threat you presented. "Yes men" were much preferred. And, ironically, while everyone else was working themselves into a frenzy, the leadership was very self-pampering, often talking about how they needed rest, going on frequent vacations, and coming in to work whenever they pleased.

Burnout is real, it is created by stress, and stress is very unhealthy. Establish your priorities and don't put your church duties ahead of yourself and your family. It will get you absolutely nowhere, and, unfortunately, I speak that from experience.

- V


Anonymous said...

Amen, very good.

Anonymous said...

I took note that you were made to mistrust co-workers because the leadership would pit one against the other. In hindsight, this is now very plain to see. These same people often spoke about the importance of staying out of strife with other people would actually sow discord amongst employees. Is this that atmosphere of faith and love I heard so much about? Perhaps it's one of those leadership qualities that were supposed to model. I guess it's a leadership style that will make you a voice and not an echo.

Janet said...

I remember being told by a staff member there was no such thing as burnout! And if I thought I had burnout, I had a spiritual problem. I came to realize that my "spiritual problem" was not me but where I went to church!

Charismania said...

One thing that was weird about our Charismaniac church was that all requests for service were introduced (by the person making the request) with, "Pastor wanted me to ask you..."

Now, our church was not small. It was not the megachurch that our pastor wanted people to think it was, either. (We had to snicker when we saw it listed on some site of "megachurches" as having 5,000 members. Maybe it has accumulated 5,000 names on its mailing list, but regular attenders? No way! I think it probably averaged around 850 to 1,000 people on any Sunday.)

Anyway, it wasn't that small of a church, to where the pastor would have been able to micromanage every volunteer task like that. And yet for whatever reason, I suspended critical thinking skills and believed the people when they said that "Pastor had asked" for me to do whatever.

Eventually, though, I had a funny experience, where I was approached under the guise that the "First Lady" had asked for me specifically to participate as a candlelighter (a "big honor") for a special communion service. We were in the earlier stages of our love affair with the church, so this invitation made me feel so happy! I spent the day all excited that "Pastor Mary" had noticed me and thought of me enough to ask for me to be one of the helpers.

Later that day, though, when we gathered to practice our candlelighting, Pastor Mary showed up and gave us the once-over to check our appearances. And she made the statement of, "It's always so fun to see who Lisa chooses for this task."

That's when I finally acknowledged to myself that Pastor and Mary knew nothing about the details.

Yet people wanted us to think that they did. I always puzzled over this. I still don't fully understand it, except I think it was a way for them to seem to maintain absolute control over even the tiniest details. The people who got the "privilege" of lining up the volunteers (and passing on this false impression about, "Pastor wanted me to call you") were only the most loyal slaves who had been around forever.

It was very strange. I still don't get it, and we've been gone (and trying to figure things out) for over a year.

Vickie said...

That is really funny about your former church being presented as a "megachurch." And to say it had 5,000 members when it was really 1,000 at the most! About 2 years ago, it was said in a staff meeting that we were almost a megachurch because we were running almost 1,000 (which was probably actually more like pushing 800). When I came home and told my husband, he laughed and said that you had to run 2,000 to be a considered a megachurch. And just for the record, Wikipedia's definition of a mega church is "a large church, having around 2,000 or more worshippers for a typical weekly service." Oops. My husband was right. Also, about a year before that, I was in the same room with someone who was planning a Ladies' Meeting and she told a large ministry's secretary that we were running 1200-1500 on Sunday mornings, which has never, ever been the case. I guess that was "evangelistically" speaking.

That is also funny about your thinking you were personally chosen by the pastor's wife. Well, funny and sad, too. That's like thinking you received a personal thank you note from an "important" church leader, but it was actually written by a secretary. Even though Ronald Reagan, the leader of the free world, had time to hand write most of his own thank you notes, I suppose they were too busy to do that, being almost a megachurch and all.

Anonymous said...

The problem with your former church was way too much "law" and definitely not enough "love". Although the pastor professed that he loved us he clearly needs to learn what love really is.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. Love and MORALITY!

Anonymous said...

Brother Hagin often said that no pastor could care for more than 200 people. I agree. A pastor is supposed to be a shepherd that knows his sheep by name. When I was preaching in Africa, I was able to observe several shepherds with their flocks. Most of the flocks looked like 30 or 40 sheep or cattle. The shepherd would walk with them leading them to the grass and water while keeping them out of the street. He was very protective. His sole purpose was to feed and protect the sheep. I think a lot of pastors feel their sole purpose is to build up their own kingdom and vision. I don't know many pastors from the faith camp that care much about soul winning or feeding the poor. I think that if Jesus were to start a church here that you find him and his congregation spending most of their time in the streets and night clubs developing relationships with lost people. Jesus went to a lot of parties where the sinners were. Made the religious folks mad! Jesus even made the wine! Can you see a pastor making wine at at party these days? He would probably lose his RHEMA credentials. LOL John Edwards