Combatting Burnout at Your Association with Ashley Baker

Associations // Association teams are exhausted, spread thin, and tired from having to reinvent the ways they communicate and provide value to members. Hear more about how you can combat this burnout.

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For many associations, this is a year of recovery and rebuilding. At the very least, it’s a time to re-examine how to restore energy, both physical and mental, and help staff feel fulfilled and members engaged. Higher Logic’s Beth Arritt spoke with Ashley Baker, Executive Director for NiUG Asia Pacific, on the Member Engagement Show podcast. NiUG is the largest independent, not-for-profit, iMIS user group. Ashley offered some great tips on ways to tackle burnout and get things moving again in new and exciting directions.

Get much more insight by listening to the full conversation.

Beth: Why are people burnt out? How is this manifesting itself in associations?

Ashley: It has a lot to do with uncertainty. People were thinking 2022 might be the year we get back to normal routines, and COVID-19 variants took all those plans associations were making and turned them on their head and forced us to look at things differently.

Beth: How has it been a different experience in APAC vs. the U.S. and North America?

Ashley: In Australia, we’ve been in and out of a couple of lockdowns, and I know the same’s been true for New Zealand. One day you’re in the office planning in-person events and different activities, and the next day you’re back to working from home. That kind of back and forth caused a lot of burnout. You’re planning in one direction then you get yanked in another direction. As an event planner, you always have a plan B, but it’s felt like we’ve been having to keep going to plan B, C, D, etc.

Beth: And then there’s the loss of the social aspect of life, which has traditionally been a release from burnout.

Ashley: The lockdowns were hard here. They were isolating in the sense you couldn’t really do a lot of socially distant outdoor group activities. You were limited to one person. That made things hard for some managers because not all managers are created equal. If you don’t have a strong leader bringing fun and levity to the situation, it’s just day in, day out stuck at your computer. It takes a toll.

Beth: A lot of people don’t fare as well in online meetings. They say it’s more draining and you get burnt out from video calls.

Ashley: It depends on the person. I’ve talked to colleagues who are introverts and loving life. I’m an extreme extrovert, so for me it’s been particularly challenging. It’s been a lot of Zoom calls, but you can still make the effort to really get to know people. People could add to their online dynamics by not always being all-business. There’s definitely more work to be done in the way we’ve run things online to help combat burnout. Online works for some, but not for all.

Beth: What things should associations be doing or adding this year to stay fresh for members?

Ashley: Especially here in Asia Pacific, we were really hoping to get back to in-person this year when it’s safe and possible. For anything virtual, we’re trying to come up with creative, new programming, especially short content. Long webinars are great for deep dives, but short content is something we’ll be exploring in the year ahead. Still engage with members, still get information and programming and learning and development out there, but break it up so no one has to sit in front of their computer for an hour with no breaks.

Beth: So it’s about making the virtual experiences more diverse?

Ashley: Webinars, workshops, etc. can be set up different ways, right? There’s a presenter and an expert on a topic, but then you’ve got breakouts and ways for people to connect with each other. There are a lot of options for breakout rooms on these online meeting platforms. So people get to interact online without having to come prepared with a presentation. Just let people show up and talk about their experiences.

Beth: Is there opportunity to discover new member benefits in that broader way of thinking?

Ashley: You should always be looking at your member benefits and revamping them. What was relevant a couple of years ago isn’t necessarily relevant or the right benefits today. Who can you collaborate with to extend those benefits? Partners can run or co-run learning and development and educational courses. And that’s a way to address burnout because everyone’s tapped out in terms of capacity, so it’s an ideal time to team up so you aren’t heaping extra work on the staff.

Beth: What do associations need to do for their staff to make them want to stick around?

Ashley: Engagement with your staff is as important as engagement with your members. The average employee leaves about every 18 months or so. Open dialogue with your teams and managers will help you keep everybody engaged and happy. Regular check-ins are a tool I’ve always used. And make sure you really hear their goals and ideas. Bottom-up listening helps build a staff that wants to stay, and it’s also most suited to help members.

Beth: What do you do to stay in inspired? What drives you?

Ashley: My members, and the connections with the people I work with, our volunteers and partners. It’s knowing that even when I’m working long hours, there’s the reward of delivering member benefits and seeing how they help improve lives. But then also taking those breaks, getting outside. And I guess the other thing is work can be enjoyable. Just bringing a little bit of fun to everything you do, getting hit with those spontaneous lightning bolts of creativity when you’re talking to somebody.

Listen to the full conversation on the podcast.

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