According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the voluntary turnover rate for nonprofit organizations is almost twice as high as the overall labor force. Many employees are overworked and under-resourced.

This problem is especially acute in the environmental sector, where the issues can feel intractable and overwhelming, and grassroots leaders are often going without fair compensation, benefits, and healthy working conditions.

What can we do to support the leaders of our movement who are so vital to its success? That’s a question posed in a new report on climate burnout from Climate Critical, founded by Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award Finalist Tamara Toles O’Laughlin.

In the report, Tamara brought together diverse staff from 108 environmental organizations to share their experiences and recommendations. Those conversations revealed that while employees are deeply devoted to their work, burnout is widespread at all levels. This burnout can take many forms including exhaustion, apathy and mental distancing, shame, loneliness, cognitive and emotional impairment, depression, and physical pain.

The report also shows that burnout is more intense for BIPOC as they are often working in spaces that center white people and in places where their communities are threatened by environmental hazards.

“For myriad reasons, there has not been a lot of safe places to do environmental work in a person of color’s body,” Tamara said in a recent interview with Gen Dred. “… you end up going into a historically white-led organization, and even though every part of it is very painful, you might have formed a relationship or funded a community or built a project with people you’re now invested in.”

In addition to metrics, several movement leaders contributed first-person essays to the report. Collectively, the participants identified many potential resources that could help environmental leaders thrive, including:

  • Access to peer and affinity groups
  • Opportunities to recharge, such as paid sabbaticals or retreats
  • Mental health support including trainings, and space for accountability and grief about the state of the world
  • Higher, adequate, and/or equitable pay
  • Workloads that accurately reflect employee bandwidth
  • Staff unionization
  • Manager training in DEI practices and trauma-informed care
  • Spending time in nature

“We need to fundamentally shift our culture and values, recognizing that self-care is not a luxury, but a critical component of building a movement that can sustain itself over the long term,” said Green Leadership Trust Managing Director Dany Sigwalt in one of the report’s essays.

Ultimately, we need workplaces “where people make the work of the planet a safe practice for what it might be like if we win,” Tamara concludes in the report’s closing essay.

For more on the Climate Burnout Report, watch this talk and listen to this podcast interview with Tamara.

To support climate movement leadership, donate to Climate Critical here and to the Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award, which is supporting women of color environmental leaders with annual grants, wraparound leadership services, and public recognition.

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