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Pre-pandemic sector constraints a major determinant of current burnout, study shows

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With burnout and fatigue increasing among employees and volunteers in the Social Purpose sector, latest research reveals a strong message about pre-existing systemic impacts on the sector’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Data from The Xfactor Collective’s RESET 2020 National Impact+Need Research Study has found 40-45% of the sector are now often or always in high levels of stress, burnout, and exhaustion, with 80% stating that the existing (pre-pandemic) ways of working are partly to blame.  

This compares to pre-pandemic wellbeing indicators that already showed nearly 1 in 5 were not taking good care of themselves, 16% felt their workload was unachievable, and 1 in 10 were overwhelmed, experiencing burnout, and stressed. 

Conducted over September and October, the research overall paints a picture of a workforce who are finishing the year working longer hours (now at 38%, up from 17% in May 2020), with less volunteer support (23% lost volunteers due to illness or caring responsibilities since June 2020), and less income (58% have had a decline in revenue since June 2020). 

Operating reserves continue to be a lifeline, with 44% of organisations already drawing on reserves since June 2020, and 40% having six months or less of reserves. Access to JobKeeper and other grant support has been important, although 37% of respondents were not receiving any form of assistance (including 49% not receiving JobKeeper). 

The RESET 2020 research project is a collective and collaborative effort to capture the impacts of COVID-19, initiated and lead by The Xfactor Collective, supported by Equity Trustees and has included wide outreach from 20+ sector leaders and outreach partners. 

We can’t go back  

The Xfactor Collective CEO Julia Keady, who also lead the RESET 2020 project, said that while the wellbeing findings largely validate what organisation and sector leaders are observing, there is a strong message from the research about sector recovery and rebuilding.  

Keady said it’s imperative that the sector doesn’t go back to pre-COVID working environments, as it exacerbates the impacts on mental health and wellbeing. 

Research participants called for funders of the sector to use the pandemic as a chance to re-think the way they fund and grant, with some citing dreadful grants management practices, and shortterm funding strategies. Many respondents are also asking funders to “move away from program/project-based funding and fund core and capacity instead.  

Jodi Kennedy, General Manager, Trusts and Philanthropy, Equity Trustees said the RESET 2020 data continues to provide valuable insights for the sector, to inform future interventions and support. 

“We are now able to track the ongoing and evolving impacts against a June 2020 baseline, and monitor a broad range of measures that will continue to provide invaluable insights as we all navigate the coming months and years together,” Kennedy said.  

“This study has highlighted that we are at a real tipping point for the sector, and that we have the opportunity to reconsider how we work, how we better support one another so that we can ensure we are there for those who need the sector’s support,” she said.  


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Paulo Rizal is a content producer for Third Sector news. He has working experience in journalism, SEO, and social media marketing.


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