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Charity chairs face ‘burnout’ due to increased Covid-19 pressures, survey finds

15 Apr 2021 News

Charity chairs are concerned about the increased pressures they face, and are worried about potential burnout, according to a survey by the Association of Chairs (AoC).

The study, Chairing Through Covid: Above and Beyond, is based on responses from 710 chairs and vice-chairs and was conducted in November 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

A number of respondents said the pressure was becoming too much and some expressed fears about “burnout”. 

It found that 62% of chairs spent four or more days a month on their chairing role compared with 43% before the pandemic, and almost one in five, 18%, reported spending more than 11 days a month on chairing after the pandemic started. This is compared with 10% previously.

For some, chairing had become a full-time job. One respondent said: “I have always put in many hours...but establishing a Covid-safety plan, staffing problems and recruitment have kept me working over 40 hours a week.”

Another said: “I stepped down from my paid position to leave me more time.”

The most common reason given for the increase was the time spent supporting staff, particularly the chief executive, at 32%. 

Other common reasons cited were additional time spent in meetings, including more frequent board meetings and communicating generally, and Covid-related funding and crisis management.

The report reads: “The pandemic period has been incredibly challenging for many organisations. Our study shows that chairs have overwhelmingly stepped up during this period of crisis, taking on additional responsibilities and making difficult organisational decisions.

“As a result, many chairs found themselves going above and beyond what is usually reasonably expected of their role.”

The study also points to the lack of training and support offered to chairs. Just over half said nothing had been spent on training and support for themselves in the past year.

About two-thirds of respondents had sought advice on their chairing responsibilities.

Increased motivation for the role

Some 44% of respondents said their motivation for the role had increased during the pandemic, compared with 13% whose motivation decreased. 

They cited a variety of reasons for this rise, including the board and staff supporting each other and working more closely together. 

Indeed, 42%  of respondents said board relationships had improved since the pandemic.  Among those chairing organisations that employ a senior leadership team a similar percentage, 41%, reported improved relationships with their chief executive.

Prioritise wellbeing 

The AoC report calls chairs to prioritise their own well-being and seek out support from colleagues and other chairs and support organisations.

It also suggests board members should be more proactive in finding ways to support the chair.

Rosalind Oakley, chief executive of AoC, said: “The survey underlines just how challenging this period has been for chairs. Many are spending considerably more time on their role and are going above and beyond what is ordinarily expected of them.

“It is therefore imperative that we create a more supportive environment or else we risk the burden of the role becoming too much and many chairs simply walking away. They are volunteers after all.”

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