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Attention all fellow Joomla volunteers: we are Joomla’s most precious jewels. Without us, the volunteers, Joomla wouldn’t be what it is now, and without us you wouldn’t even be reading this article. We matter. We are precious.

To stay precious, and valuable, we need to take care of ourselves (and each other). In an environment as committed as Joomla, that may turn out harder than you’d think. So much to do in so little time! How do you keep the fun in that and avoid burning out?

Quite a few teams in Joomla are permanently understaffed and sometimes overworked. We all do what we can, but sometimes it seems like it’s never enough. That can cause stress and lead to exhaustion, negativity and increasing lack of engagement. All symptoms of burnout. And before you ask: yes, volunteer burnout is actually a thing. Exactly the same thing as a regular burnout, only without the salary.

Why is this even an issue?

Burnt-out volunteers become less and less productive, start making mistakes, deliver sloppy work, don’t show up at meetings… and that’s just the internal stuff. On the outside they can make Joomla look bad by sharing negative comments or engaging or invoking heated debates on social media, overreacting to small things, and eventually making a door slamming exit, sometimes with a portion of mud-throwing, gossip, defamation and slander. These are all things we, as Joomla, can do without.

I’m not an expert in burnout symptoms, but there are some general signs we can all see and do something about. Since Joomla means “all together”, I do consider this a shared responsibility. 

Warning sign: Increased negativity

Your ever cheerful team member has started complaining, sneering and making negative statements about Joomla, the team, other teams or other team members – not just once, but on a regular basis.

Why does this happen?

I don’t know about you, but I joined as a volunteer because I love Joomla and I specifically love the idea of all those people in the community who volunteer their time and skills to make Joomla even better.

Of course the reality of this idea means you actually have to work, and the work is not always glamorous, or doesn’t seem to have a link to the bigger picture. Team members turn out to be actual humans with good and bad days instead of the funny, always happy and super smart people you took them for. And if your team is understaffed, there’s probably a lot of work that needs doing.

All these things could lead to disillusion and disappointment, which is a logical base for negativity.

What to do if you’re this team member

Let’s be honest: you know something’s not right and you need to do something about it before it is too late. Check in on yourself: what is it exactly that bothers you most? Communicate with the people in your team. You might be able to do something about it together.

What to do if you see it happen

Negativity, no matter how small, should not be ignored. Small negativities may pile up and eventually result in an unfriendly, stressful and unsafe team culture. So if you see it happen, ask if your team member is OK and if you can help them in any way.

Pressure at work is not the only factor when it comes to burnout. The work environment is another important factor. Your team should be a safe, supportive and secure place for every member.

Make sure everyone in the team feels involved. If they’re working on something large that they don’t see the immediate impact of, remind them that they’re doing a great job for Joomla and for the community. Thank them. Let your fellow team members know you value their work.

If there is simply too much work, try to find a solution together, as a team. Maybe you can distribute the work in a different way, find more people to help, or re-evaluate the deadlines.

Warning sign: Apologies or radio silence

So you have a team meeting planned and everyone is there… except one. No one has heard from him or her in the past weeks, someone seems to recall something about a vacation or family issues, but they’re not sure…

Why does this happen?

Of course the absence of a team member could mean they’ve completely forgotten about the meeting. But if this happens a lot, it could also mean the team member lost interest, or has other priorities at the moment that take up a lot of their time.

What to do if you’re this team member

Again: communicate! If you can’t join a meeting, don’t assume your team will magically know what is going on and why you can’t attend. Just tell them you’re not going to be there.

If you’re not happy with the work, the team or Joomla as a whole and you are more and more reluctant to attend meetings, talk to your Team Leader about it, or put it on the agenda for your next meeting so you can discuss it with the whole team. If you let stuff simmer, it can lead to growing unhappiness and eventually to said door slamming exits. We don’t want that to happen, because you’re precious, remember?

What to do if you see it happen

Find out what’s going on. Is the team member unhappy with the work, the team, the organization? Or is it something else? Maybe they’re just busy at work or with their family at the moment, or another temporary situation needs their attention.

Check in on your team member, and make sure they feel free to speak out about what's on their mind. Ask why they skip the meetings or can’t do the tasks they signed up for. If you know what’s happening, you might be able to help out or find a solution.

Clarity makes sure we make good use of the little time we have as volunteers. So make sure team members know what is expected from them in terms of time commitment, tasks, skills and involvement.

For the meetings: you could try to find a way to keep the team member engaged, even if they can’t attend. They could report beforehand, for example: tell how they’re doing with their assigned tasks or let the team know where help is needed.

Warning sign: Overreacting on simple things

We have all been there. You make a joke during a chat and before you know it, you’re up to your ears in a heated discussion with loads of finger pointing, accusations and assumptions. Or the other way around: somebody else makes a remark that you take very personally and boy, do you want to make clear they overstepped big time.

Why does this happen?

Let’s face it people: communication is hard, even without the cultural differences we have within an international organization like ours. So what may very well be a language thing, or just badly phrased, can suddenly become a huge issue. Especially if you’re in a dark place emotionally or just distracted because you have a lot on your mind, you might have a stronger tendency to assume something is personal when in reality it isn’t.

What to do if you’re this team member

Keep breathing. Take a few steps back and take time to realize what happens: you’re overreacting. Allow yourself a break from the conversation. Take a walk or do something relaxing to calm down. After that, check in on yourself: are you OK? Then ask yourself: does something need fixing here? If so: contact the person you have overreacted to. Have a talk with them (or just say sorry if you feel the whole thing derailed because of you).

What to do if you see it happen

If you’re in a discussion and you see someone overreacting, you could try to calm them down or, when in chat or the social media, ask them in private if something’s wrong. You could let them blow off steam with you instead of in public. And if you’ve seen them overreact multiple times, ask them if they’re still happy with what they’re doing.

If you’re the “victim” of the overreacting: breathe. Count to ten (or ten thousand). Consider asking them in private if something’s wrong and, if you feel up to that, if you can help them in any way. Try to take the sting out of it so you both can communicate in a calm and maybe even friendly way.

Warning sign: Changes in performance and productivity

For the third, fourth, fifth time your favorite team member missed a deadline. Or promised to do something and then failed to do so. Their work has changed from flawless to straight out sloppy and messy, it takes them so much more time, and they are not able to do as much as they used to.

Why does this happen?

All the what’s and why’s above could apply here. But there could also be a mismatch in tasks and skillset. Maybe the team member has been too long in the same role, or only gets tasks that feel boring.

Or the opposite: tasks that are too hard or need more explanation. If I don’t know how to do a task, I usually postpone it until the last minute, and I think I’m no exception. Since our time as volunteers is limited, we should make sure everyone knows not only what to do, but also have a rough idea on how to do it. That will have a significant increase in the amount of jobs that get done.

What to do if you’re this team member

Do not say yes to a job right away. Make sure you know what’s expected, and don’t be afraid to ask for more detail if you think that’s necessary.

If you feel bored with your work, talk about it in the team. Maybe this surprises you, but people who like to do boring stuff actually exist. See if you can distribute the less interesting stuff evenly and take on something more challenging.

What to do if you see it happen

Bored people will often add a lot of “been there, done that, tried it, didn’t work” to conversations. That kills every new idea, so something must be done. This is the moment for a nice little chat: does the team member still feel happy with their role, their position, their assignments? Is there something else they’d like to do? Maybe you could shuffle tasks, or create role rotation to break the cycle and routines.

On the other side: if the tasks of your team member are out of reach, see if you can cook up a way to get them done. For example: break larger jobs into smaller pieces. Describe what should be done and how to do it. Clarity is one of the key factors to make a team thrive.

General tips

Anyone can get it

A burnout is not, I repeat, not a sign of weakness. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough or not suitable for the job. It can happen to everyone, and if it happens to our volunteers, we need to support them and be there for them.

Say no

To avoid burnout, you really should listen to your body. It usually tells you something’s off. If it whispers to you, don’t wait until it starts shouting, because then it might be too late.

So if everything in you says “no”, maybe you should do so as well. Say no for once. Say it out loud. Be clear in what you can or can’t do. Don’t do the job at all, or just do a part and have someone else help out.

If someone in your team says no to a job, trying to convince them to do it is not always the right way to get something done. Offering help or trying to find a solution together could work a whole lot better.

Symptoms already?

But what if you’re tired already? Fatigued, maybe? Exhausted, even? Take some rest and take time for self-examination. Why does this happen? What could you do to change it? If nothing helps and your symptoms don’t go away, go see your doctor. 

Do you experience sleeping problems, or other stress-related issues? Please go see your doctor. If you start to feel you’re burning out, put yourself first and take care of yourself. You matter.

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