Half of charity leaders consider quitting amid mental health crisis

10 May 2021

The charity sector is facing a potential leadership crisis after new research* found nearly half of senior leaders are considering walking away due to burnout.

In a survey of charity leaders by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical almost half (44%) admitted they were considering their futures as a result of the increased demands due to COVID-19 - a major cause for concern for a sector under pressure from staff and volunteer burnout.

These stark findings follow on from Ecclesiastical’s Charity Risk Barometer, released earlier this year, which found that two thirds of charities had seen an increase in staff stress levels since the beginning of the pandemic, sparking fears that burnout among charity employees and volunteers may cause them to walk away from the sector.

The latest study also found that two thirds (66%) of charity leaders were concerned about the effect that staff burnout could have on their charity – in particular not being able to provide services to users (36%) who have become dependent on the support they offer.

Four out of five respondents (81%) admitted it had already become more difficult to meet the needs of service users due to the pandemic, a situation that would be worsened by a loss of staff and volunteers to stress or burnout.

At the same time as the risk of burnout, charities have also seen an increase in anxiety and depression among colleagues since January 2021.

According to Ecclesiastical’s research, two in five charities (44%) had experienced an increase in colleague mental health concerns since the start of 2021. Cases of anxiety (71%), stress (70%), depression (66%) all rose in that time – while a quarter said they had seen an increase in both self-harm (25%) and suicidal feelings (27%).

Mental ill health has been one of the unseen issues of the pandemic, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showing that from January to March 2021 nearly one in five (21%) adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression – an increase from one in ten (10%) prior to the pandemic.

Challenges at home such as child care or home schooling (33%), concerns about the health of family or friends (30%) and fatigue of home working (30%) were all cited as the main concerns for colleagues as the effects of the pandemic impacted on their mental wellbeing.

Facing these challenges alone is not an option for charities, with over half (52%) calling on the government to do more to provide mental health support.

* Survey of 450 charity leaders carried out with OnePoll between Thursday 22 April and Friday 7 May 2021