A woman reading a book on a beach

The summer holiday season is starting here in Europe, if you’re a community manager you might feel it’s time for a break to recharge your batteries. Especially as it’s likely you’re burning out. That’s at least according to the Community Roundtable state of Community Management report:

“A full 50% of community professionals experienced a high degree of burnout over the past 12 months.”

Rachel Happe and the team at the Community Roundtable put the high amount of burn-out for Community Management down to some inconsistencies within the field, where communities managers are often a team of one, being asked to fulfil a broad range of tasks from operational to strategic activities. In what can be seen as a relatively new industry there remains a lack of clarity around roles and expectations, and some lacking clear job descriptions.

“Only 19% of organizations have a clear career path for community professionals and only 25% have community roles that are formally defined and approved by their HR departments.”

The Australian Community Managers Career Survey also support this view that burn-out is an issue:

“The leading challenges facing community managers are tools to measure their practice, overwork and burnout, content support and communicating ROI.”

Though here we see a regional difference, with only 28% of respondents stating overwork and burnout as key challenges. 

So Community Managers might need more than a vacation to tackle burn-out.

Why is burn-out likely for Community Managers?

I’d argue there are several challenges community managers face which make them more susceptible to burn-out.

  1. The nature of the work we do: Community managers might be managing a support community, where they find themselves dealing with angry customers to resolve issues. They might be working in a community with a strong social element for vulnerable members of society. We’re seeing the best or worst of people, riding the emotions of the human stories these communities all too often deliver. 
  2. Managing change: Communities are changing the way people and organisations work. Not everyone adapts well to change. Stakeholders and traditional organisational structures might react to this change in ways which negatively impact the work of the community.  
  3. Community Managers care: The community managers I’ve met care about people, they are often strong empaths always willing to help. They are driven to make things better, to help others. This perhaps makes community managers more likely to carry a heavy burden on their shoulders.
  4. Being pulled in different directions: They may find themselves in the middle of various teams or even between the business and customers. This can see an individual stretching to meet the demands of various stakeholders. In highly bureaucratic organisations, the daily politics is likely to be challenging for some people more focused on people than politics. 
  5. Disconnected: The Community Roundtable report highlights the team of one many community managers find themselves in. This, coupled with working mainly online may change how they connect with colleagues, leaving to feelings of isolation. This may also lead to a lack of critical feedback, reducing a community managers belief in their own competencies. 
  6. Taking on too much: Community managers are often driven to make things better, to help others. This perhaps makes community managers more likely to carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. Seeing issues which need tackling, but perhaps not being able to affect change. This in turn may lead to them becoming negative or even cynical about their role. 

What do we mean when we talk about burn-out?

Wikipedia states that:

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), occupational burnout is a syndrome[1] (group of symptoms that co-occur) linked to long-term, unresolved, work-related stress. Since May 2019, the WHO stipulated that burnout must be understood as being specifically work-related.[1]According to the current WHO classification (ICD-11), burnout can arise from unsuccessful management of chronic work-related stress, resulting in an occupational syndrome characterised such symptoms as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” While burnout influences health and may be a reason for people contacting health services, it is not itself classified by the WHO as a medical condition.[1]

The term burn-out is often used to describe to a lesser extent the “energy depletion or exhaustion” of the job. “I need a break, I’m burnt-out”. Burn-out is also described as the “millennial condition”. Some point to social media and wider social disconnection as being behind the rise in physical and psychological issues facing millenials. Some data also shows a rise in suicide rates among this demographic.

I don’t intend to tackle such a wide range of complex medical issues here. However, it is interesting that the role of community manager is one where, if not tackled, several factors are more likely to be found which could lead to burn-out. 

Is burn-out only a Community Management issue?

Clearly not in the US, as research by Gallup in 2018 reported that of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found:

“23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.” 

Indeed, the lack of clarity around roles is common, according to Gallups  State of the American Workplace report

“only 60% of workers can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When accountability and expectations are moving targets, employees can become exhausted just trying to figure out what people want from them.”

So whilst burn-out is all too common, it would seem that community managers might be more likely to suffer. 

The reports cited here relate mainly to the US, and some cultural difference is likely to be seen. For example, most countries do not see burn-out as a medical condition and an employee is more likely to be treated for depression, whereas in the Netherlands and Sweden burn-out is recognised as work-related exhaustion and treatment (often via Cognitive behavioural training) is offered.  

Dealing with burn-out

All this suggest (potential) burn-out is a problem and might be an issue for community managers. So it would seem a vacation would help, right? Get some distance and recharge their batteries. 

However, the research shows dealing with burn-out requires some significant changes for individuals, which temporary solutions, such a vacation won’t help in the long term. 

Solutions such as Cognitive behavioural training (CBT) may help those dealing with burn-out. CBT sees an individual or group work with a psychologist to amend and develop behaviours and ways of thinking.

“CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.” Psychology Today

What comes up from the research suggests that CBT helps people improve their sleep and gives a sense of competence. Providing healthy habits and behaviours to help individuals to get the focus and energy they need to perform. Such techniques, which avoid short term, temporary solutions can help, according to Raphael Rose, associate director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at UCLA: 

“You can start to see how CBT skills all sort of help your body refocus, recenter, regroup, re-energize… It’s a physiological way of saying, ‘Let’s take a break from stressors and get back to a point where we’re better able to think about solutions.’”

What can community managers do?

If you find yourself feeling depleted, disconnected or negative about work, it might be time to check yourself. Speak to someone, such as your manager, if you can. If it’s really affecting you, then a health care profession may be able to help. Not sure, use this online test to check.

If you’re isolated and looking for more support as a community manager, then help yourself and your fellow community managers. Join a community management community. If you’re in the Netherlands then join the Community Management Netherlands group. If you know of similar groups, feel free to comment below.

Of course, in the short term, take a vacation, relax and enjoy. The you can come back with the energy to develop a clear plan to set your community and yourself up for success. 

The key is to look after yourself long term. Develop the behaviours to deal with challenges you face as a community manager. Take the time to step away from daily tasks to develop:

  • A clear role definition and perhaps an elevator pitch to share with stakeholders.
  • A personal development plan, including non technical skills and business skills to boost competence in your work. 
  • A community strategy, if you don’t have one.
  • A strong network of supporters and perhaps even find a mentor.

Got any thoughts or tips for community managers to avoid burn-out? Please share them in the comments.



Photo by chen zo on Unsplash


Dan Leonard