employee burnout, workplace wellness

Solutions for Burnout: It’s Never Too Late to Prevent and Save

Executive Summary

Burnout is a serious global issue and especially affects nonprofits. This report includes invaluable insights gained from nonprofit management and frontline employees and offers six key findings with recommendations that are cost-effective, evidence-based, progressive, and can proactively help manage and prevent work burnout.

Key Findings and Recommendations

  1. Financial Sustainability and Balancing Service Delivery with Employee Wellbeing is Critical: Funding and operational budgets need be at realistic level to be sustaining, while needing to balance a focus on service delivery and on supporting employees to effectively deliver programming.
  2. Stakeholder Collaboration is Necessary: Funders and nonprofits need to openly engage, discuss, and address the systemic funding issues that contribute directly to burnout. Additionally, there is a discrepancy between what employees want and what organizations offer to prevent burnout. Employees are key stakeholders and need to be actively engaged, supported, and empowered to prevent their own burnout.
  3. Workplace Wellness Program is Fundamental: Research has shown that workplace wellness programs average a 6-to-1 return on investment. Supporting employees with access to selfcare practices helps with preventing work burnout, while directly helps with retention and long-term sustainability of an organization.
  4. Communication is Vital: There is a gap between what management is offering versus what employees are needing and wanting to prevent and manage burnout. Providing opportunities for clear communication can effectively help nonprofits implement strategies that will successfully support staff in managing and preventing burnout, while reduce healthcare and organizational costs.
  5. Personal Development is Professional Development: Personal development (i.e., working on selfcare, health, wellness, self-awareness) directly and positively influences professional development, growth, and quality of work. Because burnout affects the individual holistically, the ability to work on personal development is central in preventing and managing burnout.
  6. Holistic Selfcare Practices, Choice and Self-Empowerment are Essential: Burnout requires a holistic approach because it impacts all aspects of a person physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually, and more. Employees are wanting and needing choice, holistic selfcare practices such as Complementary Care approaches, and having the ability to be actively involved in their own wellbeing. Supporting employee self-empowerment and being preventative by offering wellness perks can benefit the organization’s long-term and financial sustainability.

Supporting employee wellness, which includes providing opportunities for selfcare, choice and self-empowerment, is essential and directly impacts the organization in many ways, such as reducing costs in healthcare and insurance expenses, disability claims, and recruitment and replacement. Burnout is the result of chronic stress. Therefore, an effective burnout prevention strategy needs to address chronic stress and  involve a holistic approach. Complementary Care (CAM), which are holistic, cost-effective, and evidence-based, can help with turning off the chronic stress response.


Helthe Connect aims to support, empower and be a resource for nonprofits seeking to develop a holistic wellness program to prevent employee burnout and save on organizational costs.


Impacts of Burnout on Nonprofits and Businesses

Burnout is a serious global problem that in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is not recognized as a medical condition, but as an “occupational phenomenon or syndrome.” Burnout is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, lack of energy, detachment, or cynicism about their work, and reduced professional capacity.

Burnout is a worrying problem for nonprofit organizations and many industries. In 2018, Gallup Survey found that two-thirds of full-time workers reported some level of burnout. For nonprofits and businesses alike, burnout can lead to high turnovers of high-quality workers, high absenteeism and preempteeism, increased sick leaves, increased interpersonal conflicts, and reduced productivity. According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, work burnout is estimated to cost $125 billion to $190 billion per year in additional healthcare spending.

Invaluable insights from local nonprofit organizations representing diverse service areas of charity, youth, social services, addictions, transition house, and mental health contributed to this report. Management and frontline employees provided their perspectives between June 24 and July 23, 2020. This report offers six key findings and its recommendations for preventing work burnout that is holistic, practical, cost-effective, and evidence-based.


Key Findings and Recommendations


“Managing the whole organization and trying to secure funding nonstop [is the biggest challenge regarding work burnout].”(Management)

“Making sure that staff is taken care of while being able to deliver and keep the quality of care and services to clients [is the biggest challenge regarding work burnout].” (Management)

“Focusing exclusively on clients and their needs [is the biggest challenge regarding work burnout]” (Employee)

Nonprofits serve an important role in building healthy, strong, and empowering communities. They help the most vulnerable population, yet it is a common reality that nonprofits operate with bare minimum funding and are expected to do more for less. Whereas it is acceptable for businesses to spend up to 50% on overhead, nonprofits are expected to keep their overhead costs to 10-15%. This unrealistic expectation to keep their administrative costs below actual needs and expenses directly contributes to burnout in the nonprofit sector.

Funding also tends to focus on service delivery, which results in neglecting the wellbeing of the very people who are essential in delivering the services, the employees. This primary funding focus on service delivery is another factor causing work burnout in nonprofits.


  • Balance a focus on service delivery (programming) with a focus on employee wellbeing to prevent burnout and attrition by including a budget for employee wellness. The financial cost of turnover is enormous, ranging from one-half to two times the annual salary of a position to recruit, hire, onboard and train new staff; preventing long-term sustainable work. Therefore, funding and operational budgets need to include a wellness program for employees.

COVID-19 has created the opportunity of recognizing the stressful work of frontline workers and has resulted in funders and organizations recognizing the importance of supporting employee health and wellness. Employee wellness is a must and not including it as a priority will be costly for the organization, will result in employee burnout, low retention, low productivity, low morale, increased health insurance and disability costs, and more.

  • Increase operational funding for nonprofits to real world realistic levels that is sustainable to end the “nonprofit starvation cycle.”
  • Work towards pay parity for nonprofit workers to retain highly skilled employees and to stay competitive with ministries, institutions, and the private sector.

A participant shared that having more involvement in what they want and need instead of being given a solution and not use it because it was not what they want or need. (Employee)

An existing funder reached out to an organization on how they could help because of COVID-19. The organization secured funding to offer each staff $100 to spend at their discretion to ensure their wellness for remote work during the pandemic and to provide their leadership staff with 1-1 external executive coaching to support them in their roles and tech them to better support their staff. (Management)

Deloitte’s burnout survey of 1,000 full-time employees have shown that there is a gap between what management is offering and what employees say they need and want to prevent and manage burnout. While employees are wanting flexible work options, paid time off for mental health/recuperation days, and health and wellness programs, companies are offering paid family leave, flexible work options and  employee assistance programs (EAP). It is not surprising that EAPs and traditional Lunch and Learns are, in general, underutilized with low engagement. Key stakeholders for preventing and managing work burnout are often not engaged or communicating directly with each, which is necessary to collaboratively address burnout successfully.


  • Funders and nonprofits need to collaborate, openly discuss, and realistically address actual needs, including the systemic funding issues affecting nonprofits with employee burnout.
  • Employees are key stakeholders in preventing and managing work burnout. They need to be active participants, supported and empowered to prevent and manage their own burnout.

“It [workplace wellness] has to be integrated. It needs to be mandatory as a part of work. If not mandatory, it won’t work.”(Management)

“More selfcare practices, personal care, including medication and staying grounded” (Employee)

Workplace wellness programs average a 6-to-1 return on investment, according to Harvard researchers. Importantly, wellness programs have shown to reduce sick days and healthcare costs, while increase employee productivity, creativity, workplace satisfaction and retention, and help with long term sustainability. Ensuring the wellbeing of employees affects the whole organization positively. Investing in prevention through selfcare practices and wellness services (complementary care) is more affordable and can reduce healthcare insurance costs.


  • Invest in and offer workplace wellness programs to stay competitive, prevent work burnout, and save on costs (i.e., health insurance, sick and disability leaves, hiring, etc.). Examples of wellness programs include and are not limited to providing a wellness budget to access complementary care/selfcare practices (i.e., nutritional consultations, reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, homeopathy, etc.), coaching, and offering practical and interesting wellness sessions that engage employees, i.e., nutrition, meditation, battling insomnia, drumming, etc.
  • Offer employees wellness benefits that support choice and individual selfcare and wellbeing. Burnout prevention through wellness and maintaining selfcare is foundational.
  • Explore integrating and offering some wellness programming that employees want and are interested in during working hours. Provide incentives for employees and management to attend either together or separately. For example, wellness programming can be a part of a team meeting or it can be a regular daily, weekly, or monthly event that focuses on wellness and reducing stress, i.e., guided meditation, PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), taichi, qigong, drumming, team building, etc.

“Discuss about selfcare but do not know what to do or what it really means.”(Management)

“Do not know what benefits are available or how to access them.”(Employee)

There were both some similarities and discrepancies between what management is offering to prevent work burnout and what employees are needing, wanting, and personally using. Even though management and employees expressed that they did not know how to address and prevent work burnout, they both offered ideal solutions. The key is to openly share communication with each other.


  • Engage in open dialogue (facilitated by a neutral person for a safer experience if necessary) and/or through anonymous online surveys. By communicating openly, management and employees can effectively share and uncover both organizational and employee needs and cost-effective strategies for managing and preventing burnout.
  • Ensure that information on available health and work wellness programs are easily accessible and clearly communicated on a regular basis.
  • Create a representative workplace wellness committee (i.e., consisting of a diversified cross-section of employees and management) to oversee, establish and lead workplace initiatives for the organization. If budget allows, create a position to lead workplace wellness initiatives.
  • Provide opportunities for both managers and employees to openly share and brainstorm ideas/solutions, explore, test, and evaluate strategies together.

“What we can do to support is providing more support and recognizing more signs and triggers, as well as getting to know ourselves better. Focus on more personal development, giving more time for ourselves.”(Management)

“Not knowing how to fix the problem, not knowing how to walk away, not having a life-work balance [is the biggest challenge regarding work burnout].” (Employee)

Burnout not only impacts quality of work, it also negatively impacts all aspects of the person, including personal relationships, health and wellbeing. Personal development is, therefore, intrinsically connected to professional development and growth. Personal development not only helps increase professional skills, but interpersonal skills, self-confidence, leadership, and holistic health (mental, physical, emotional, nutritional, social, spiritual, etc.). Personal development involves working on selfcare, wellbeing and building self-awareness, especially the awareness to recognize when they are stressed, triggered, and the ability to assert boundaries for a work-life balance. This helps with preventing burnout and reducing the stigmas associated with burnout and mental health.


  • Offer employees the option of working on their personal development as an integral part of their professional development and as a strategy to manage and prevent work burnout. When a person is burnt out, they do not have the mental capacity to learn more; instead, what they need is the ability to focus on relaxing and turning off their chronic stress response.
  • Explore accessing some professional development funding and/or include personal development and wellness selfcare practices as options for employee professional development. This potentially helps with using existing funding earmarked for professional development.

“Selfcare that do not focus on using the rational brain.” (Employee)

“Everyone has different ways to selfcare; respecting everyone’s decision that it is individual based.” “Encourage and support self-efficacy.” (Management)

Burnout is a direct result of chronic stress. When the mind and body is chronically stressed, over time it burns out. The body starts to shut down and all aspects of an individual are impacted – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Essential to tackling burnout is the need to first relax the body to recover from chronic stress. Therefore, an exclusive focus on a rational brain approach to reducing burnout is ineffective.

Selfcare and a mental health approach for burnout requires a holistic approach. The value of holistic health and wellness is that it focuses on the wellbeing of the whole person – the physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual health, and more. Holistic health and wellness practices encompass both complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The Fraser Institute reports that 79% of Canadians have used at least one complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in their lives. People choose to use holistic health and wellness/CAM practices to prevent future illnesses and/or to maintain their health and wellness. It is not surprising then, that employees are using and wanting holistic selfcare practices to manage and prevent burnout.

Complementary Care is holistic approaches that relax the body by activating the relaxation response (which turns off the chronic fight/flight/freeze/faun response). Whereas alternative medicine is treatment-based and can be used in place of conventional medicine, Complementary Care is relaxation-based, focused on wellbeing, and is used in addition to conventional medicine. Evidence-based Complementary Care practices include and are not limited to reiki, therapeutic touch, bioenergy, reflexology, guided meditation, nutrition, coaching (life, wellness, executive, etc.), counselling (somatic, emotion-based, EMDR, etc.), aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbology, drumming, yoga, qigong and tai chi.

A holistic wellness program that allows flexibility, offers selfcare practices/complementary care choice, and supports self-empowerment will be more effective in preventing and managing burnout.


  • Support and empower employees with accessing Complementary Care, which offers a diversity of holistic approaches that focus on relaxing and releasing chronic stress. Addressing burnout requires a holistic approach. While alternative medicine is covered by MSP supplemental health insurance, Complementary Care is not, which becomes an access issue for many, especially employees from nonprofits and small businesses.
  • Allow for more individual choice. Employees expressed wanting and needing more choice. It is essential to provide employees with choice and the ability to choose their own counsellors and the modalities that would be more effective for them individually. For example, creative counselling modalities that do not focus on the rational brain include and are not limited to art therapy, EMDR, trauma-focused, somatic, emotion-based, music, and movement.

Employees may not be initially using counselling services for a couple of reasons:

  • As mentioned, when the rational brain is burnt out, processing is only effective once the body has relaxed and have recovered from chronic stress. The mind cannot function to its full potential when it is chronically stressed. Talk therapy is more effective once chronic stress is addressed.
  • Staff clinical counselling supervision is essential for debriefing and extremely helpful however, a staff clinical counsellor is different and separate from a private counsellor. Employees may not feel comfortable to share their private life issues with a staff clinical counsellor. Separation between work counselling supervision and individual/private counselling supports healthy work-life boundaries. Additionally, there may be issues of perception of confidentiality and independence, privacy, limited choice, and limits of modalities based on training of a staff clinical counsellor.

Each person has unique selfcare needs and priorities, therefore offering choice to support self-efficacy and self-empowerment in preventing work burnout is essential. A universal approach is ineffective.

  • Provide opportunities for Complementary Care (CAM), which are cost-effective approaches people use to maintain their health and wellness, and to also prevent potential illnesses. Research in Washington State have shown that CAM is more cost-effective than using conventional medicine alone, saving an average of $1,420 annually per patient in health insurance expenses. In another research, the annual out-of-pocket cost of CAM was only 5% the cost of conventional health insurance expenses. Due to its out-of-pocket costs, Complementary Care becomes an access issue, especially for those working in nonprofits. Being preventative and supporting employees’ access to Complementary Care is beneficial for organizations, especially with reducing costs in health insurance, sick leaves, disability insurance, retention, and more.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to gain full clarity on current costs, what is working, what is not working, what employees actually need and want to alleviate burnout, and explore all possible cost-effective opportunities – including the possibility of redirecting funds to more effectively and proactively prevent and manage burnout (i.e., include selfcare practices and personal development as a part of professional development or separately, offer access to complementary care, provide a wellness program within the organization’s means, etc.).

About Helthe Connect

Helthe Connect is a BC startup – a web app with the intention to link people and organizations struggling with stress and burnout directly with holistic wellness services, products, and resources. It’s free to use.

If your nonprofit organization is interested in developing a wellness program using Helthe Connect and receiving onboarding support, please contact Tu Van Trieu, Founder & CEO, at [email protected]

Download Executive Summary only: Burnout Report – Executive Summary_April_2021

Download Burnout Report: Burnout Report_April_2021


Solutions for Burnout: It’s Never Too Late to Prevent and Save

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