Many nonprofit employers have the power to reduce burnout rates among the Australian social-sector workforce. Changing the patterns stemming from the pandemic is possible, whether it’s by increasing sleep consistency or creating lighter workloads. These efforts could pay off in better outcomes and the ability to retain talent.

In this article, Supporting resilience and preventing burnout in nonprofits McKinsey & Company explores how burnout can be addressed—and often prevented—if organisations set up appropriate support structures and culture.

Building on previous research from the McKinsey Health Institute a survey of nonprofit leaders and follow-up interactive ranking activity highlighted three insights:

  • leaders often did not recognise that stressors were predominantly physical (such as a lack of sleep) rather than environmental;
  • that the stacking of these stresses affects their well-being; and
  • that by reducing their personal burnout risk, they model better behavior for employees.

Overview of McKinsey interactive activity and methodology

For the interactive activity, we adapted a behavior orientation tool (BOT), designed by Dr. Jemma King, research fellow at the University of Queensland School of Psychology, and Tim Laurins, UBH Group chief innovation officer, to help individuals understand how disparate factors impact them overall.1

People are notoriously poor at ranking behaviors when asked to do so2; the BOT used a choice-modeling algorithm to avoid the normal ranking limitations and help individuals identify the competing stressors from different areas of their lives—mind, body, and environment—to understand the greatest drivers of stress. The BOT also helped participants identify the degree of control they hold over different stressors. These included, for example, factors such as procrastination, feelings of inadequacy, financial concerns, poor work culture, family demands, body image, lack of exercise, and poor sleep. Participants could then devise an accurately prioritized action plan to reduce their risk of burnout.

McKinsey surveyed 474 Australian nonprofit leaders during March–April 2022. “Nonprofit leader” was defined as anyone leading a team at a registered Australian nonprofit—from middle management to CEOs. This data was fully anonymized across all demographic factors. The survey provides a helpful window into absolute levels and drivers of burnout among nonprofit leaders at a particular point in time; avenues for future research could include exploring whether this level of burnout is comparable to that of leaders in other sectors—and whether burnout levels are getting better or worse over time.

Alistair Carmichael is an associate partner in McKinsey’s Sydney office; and Roland Dillon is a partner in the Melbourne office, where Erin Ferraris is a consultant. Dr. Jemma King is a research fellow at the University of Queensland School of Psychology.

The authors wish to thank Barbara Jeffery, Elizabeth Newman, and Angela Wu for their contributions to this article.