Nearly a third of charities reporting an increase in staff burnout, survey finds

26 Oct 2023 News

By foto_tech / Adobe

Three in 10 charities have seen an increase in staff burnout or exhaustion related to their work in the past year, a survey has revealed. 

The study by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) and Nottingham Trent University also found that 26% of charities reported a rise in reports of low wellbeing among staff, while 25% had seen an increase in sickness absence. 

At the same time, almost six in 10 (57%) charities reported an increase in staff struggling with the cost of living in the last 12 months. 

Staff at large charities were most affected, according to the study, with 75% of charities reporting an increase in workers struggling with rising costs. 

The researchers surveyed 523 registered charities and voluntary groups to gather the findings. Responses were collected between 13 and 27 September, with only organisations that responded to 90% or more of the survey being included. 

Charity finances deteriorate while demand rises

More than four in 10 (44%) large charities said their finances had deteriorated in the past three months, a slight improvement from 49% in November 2022. Three in 10 (29%) large charities said their finances had improved. 

Some 31% of medium-sized charities reported an improvement in their finances in the last three months, up from 20% in November last year. 

Despite these small improvements, the report warns that charities are still more likely to expect their finances to worsen in the future, than expect them to improve. 

Three in four large charities reported a rise in demand for their services in the last three months. 

Over half (53%) of large charities expect to meet this demand, an increase from 44% in November 2022. 

Volunteer recruitment remains difficult

Six out of 10 small charities reported volunteer recruitment as their main concern, compared with 26% of medium-sized charities and 15% of large charities.

Meanwhile, the proportion of all charities saying staff recruitment is harder than usual fell to 61% from 88% last year. 

At the same time, 31% of charities surveyed said there had been an increase in staff working outside of their normal hours or during annual leave over the last year. 

Almost two-thirds (64%) of large charities and just under half (49%) of medium-sized charities reported staff working additional hours as a result of recruitment difficulties. 

Some 86% of charities reported offering flexible working opportunities in the last year, while six in 10 offered access to mental health support and 27% provided financial wellbeing awareness. 

Position for the sector ‘remains extremely challenging’

Matt Whittaker, chief executive of PBE, said: “The UK’s voluntary sector has supported millions in need through the pandemic and the subsequent squeeze on living standards, sitting at the heart of the country’s efforts to navigate the multiple crises of recent years.

“Vital though this stepping up has been, this survey demonstrates the extent to which it has taken its toll on organisations’ finances, their capacity and the wellbeing of their workforce. 

“While there is some good news, with a slight pick-up in optimism and some early signs of sectoral recovery, the overall position remains extremely challenging. And the pressure is being especially felt among small charities, with widespread concerns of dwindling volunteer numbers and precarious finances.

“With small charities forming the backbone of the UK’s social sector, it is important that policymakers, funders and firms recognise both the challenges at play and the benefits of stepping in to provide support and partnership for this crucial part of the country’s civil society.”

‘Promote the wellbeing of staff and volunteers’

Daniel King, director of the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, said: “At the heart of charitable organisations are the people, and their wellbeing is of utmost importance. However, our research has brought to light the ongoing challenges faced by charities. 

“It is clear that there is a pressing need to provide charities with information and guidance on how to promote the wellbeing of both their staff and volunteers.

“For the sector to not only survive but also thrive, it is imperative to make the wellbeing of staff and volunteers a fundamental pillar of the sector's sustainability.”

In the survey, small organisations are classified as those with an income of less than £100,000 a year; medium-sized organisations are those with an income of between £100,000 and £1m a year; and large organisations are those with an income over £1m a year. 

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