Every job is stressful in its own right-- it is called a job and not recess after all. Community management is no exception. In fact, the nature of community management makes us at risk for occupational burnout.
Occupational burnout is defined as: the emotional fatigue, reduced feeling of accomplishment, and depersonalization incurred from long-term job stress. There is a real danger of burnout when it comes to a role like community manager.
As a community manager, you wear a lot of different hats and work to please both your members and internal stakeholders. It is rare to have a community team, so it is not uncommon to feel siloed from your colleagues. How do you juggle your responsibilities and prevent the seemingly inevitable burnout?
1) Build in time for creativity.
Nothing is more soul-crushing than feeling like you are in a hamster wheel of daily tasks. As rewarding as member communications can be, you can only send an email about how to update your password, change your profile picture, or where to find their account information so many times, before you feel as though you’re acting opposite Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Pair the repetitive nature of some of our most critical tasks with how quickly you can feel like you are becoming purely reactive, and you have the perfect storm for a burnout.
The best way to fight the doldrums is to set aside some time to be creative. Be proactive and allot designated time to work on the fun community projects you have dreamt up but haven’t had time to work on. Just make sure you stick to it. Pretend it’s a meeting with your boss or a community member if you have to – whatever it takes to make sure you stick to your schedule.
Example: I have found Thursday is my quietest day when it comes to internal and external meetings. I will often block off two hours on my calendar in the morning (my best thinking time) and pick a long-term project on which to make some major progress. Sometimes my project will be something I really need to put some solo work into, like a presentation for an upcoming event. Other times, the project is in its infancy and it’s most valuable to invite a colleague out to coffee to help brainstorm and get the creative juices flowing.
2) Create boundaries with your time.
I have yet to find an online community that runs strictly within business hours, Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm. In fact, I have known several communities to be most active outside of traditional business hours, since it’s when your members have time to connect with one another.
It can be so easy to fall into a trap of always feeling like you need to be “on call” for your community – you are the community manager! You must not fall into this line of thinking. Make sure to set boundaries with your members and, most importantly, yourself. Only be “on call” during business hours and make sure you define what an “emergency” is.
If you are constantly checking emails over the weekend and at nights, then you are setting that expectation and burnout is inevitable. If your community is one that could use consistent attention or help, consider leaning on member ambassadors or moderators. It’s a great way to increase member buy-in for the community while taking a load off your shoulders.
Example: Early on in my career as a community manager, I equated time spent in the community with success. I prided myself on always being within a single email’s (or phone call’s) reach of my members and internal stakeholders, even after hours. This worked really well and I felt like a rock star…for about three months. Then, what used to be my passion wasn’t fun anymore.
Community managers bring so much value through relating real-life examples and pulling from experience. When your entire life becomes your job, you no longer have many experiences to share. When I had become almost resentful towards my community, I decided to ease myself off the post-work hours interactions. I realized there were members who were just as invested in the community as I was, and they wanted to be involved during their off-hours! I learned to lean on these members to help answer questions within the community during the nights and weekends. I took the email alerts off push notifications on my phone, so anything in those inboxes could wait until Monday morning. Those small changes made all the difference!
3) Find your tribe.
Do you find yourself struggling to answer the all-too-common question, “So, what do you do?” Congratulations! You’re a true community manager.
Community management can be such a unique job that varies day-to-day. It is difficult to explain to anyone what an online community manager does, so being able to brainstorm or problem solve with colleagues and/or friends is almost out of the question.
So find your tribe of fellow community managers! A great place to start is your software’s user group. Most of the main community software platforms have a place for their clients to connect. These groups can be great not only for technical help and engagement ideas, but for simply chatting with folks that just “get” your day-to-day hurdles.
Another option to explore is one of the wonderful professional development groups for CMs out there! See what fits your needs:
Not only can you get some great ideas, but these places often have fun threads and conversations to let off steam by sharing GIFs, pictures of your pets, or recommendations for podcasts.
Know When You’re at Risk of Burning Out
No matter if you are a full-time community manager or spend part of your job helping a community thrive – I strongly encourage you recognize the signs and risks of burnout.
Community managers have incredible compassion and empathy, which can take a toll on anyone after an extended period of time. You may be tempted to shoulder your stress as a badge of honor-- don’t do it! Lean on your fellow community managers. Our growing field will only continue to expand and strengthen the more we rely on and encourage each other. And besides: making friends on the internet is kind of our thing, isn’t it?