By Magdalena Wronska, corporate nutritionist

On my way home yesterday, I decided to visit a bookstore to look for something relaxing and easy to read for my rapidly approaching trip to Iceland. As I walked in, I got chatting with a very friendly lady who was raising funds for a charity supporting blind people. She mentioned some of the challenges of her job. This left me wondering what qualities charity workers must have in order to do such a difficult job and still keep smiling. So I started digging…

Personality traits

Studies have shown that being part of a charity produces feelings of satisfaction and increases one’s happiness. And there are common personality characteristics for those who choose this path.

According to an Economic Research Paper from the University of Sheffield (‘Charitable Behaviour and the Big Five Personality Traits: Evidence from UK Panel Data’) these include: openness to experiences, conscientiousness and agreeableness. All good news so far.

The same research however, also highlighted a a tendency towards exploitation in the way that charities are managed. Something which negatively affects employees’ motivation, self-esteem and wellbeing at work.

High expectations

Considering these results, it is not a surprise that absenteeism is persistently higher in the public and voluntary sectors than in others. The main problem seems to be work related stress and not being able to meet expectations which are too high. On average, the annual absence from work in the public sector was 9.6 days, 8.3 days in the not-for-profit sector and 6.6 days in the private sector. The median annual cost of public-sector absence is £899 per employee, which is nearly £300 more than other sectors (The Guardian, 2015).

Can more be done to protect the wellbeing and health of employees who devote their careers to making others healthier and happier?

Employee wellbeing

Charities often tend to be less proactive when it comes to employee wellbeing. In a bid to save money, there is a danger that staff can be seen as a cost rather than an asset. Take another look at the numbers in the previous paragraph… and you might come to the conclusion that this is a false economy!

Having to focus heavily on performance targets can be at the expense of employee wellbeing, which can lead to underperformance, high staff turnover, increased absenteeism and low morale. In the Guardian article, Sonia Baker (53), who had been a social worker in three different charities, said, “none of the charities I have worked for have done anything for staff wellbeing. If it wasn’t for the gratitude patients give you I would have quit a long time ago”.

An essential foundation

As open, sensitive and often emotional people who are daily exposed to very challenging and difficult tasks, charity workers need to be well taken care of.  For the success of a charity, their wellbeing is as important as that of the people they help.

Eve Robinson, Fundraising Development Manager of the Epilepsy Society, was asked by Total Jobs why she took her job for a charity after years of a successful career in the commercial sector. She said: “I wanted my job to mean something, to contribute to society in a positive way, no matter how small that contribution might be”. This is a reason for a career choice, which needs to be appreciated and treasured.

Is this problem the preserve of charities? No, it isn’t, but stress and lack of wellness can be even harder for those working in the charity sector. Staff risk burning out or getting ill, because they can feel as though they are not only letting themselves down, but also beneficiaries.

So what can be done?

As a Nutritionist my focus will be on a few basic food adjustments, which can be easily implemented in the workplace and can make a big difference to people’s health. My top three recommendations for those charged with the wellbeing of charity workers would be to:

  • Encourage staff to have a lunch break and get away from their desk.
  • Create a work environment where people can eat together, talk, enjoy each other’s company and feel supported and appreciated.
  • Let them know that their wellbeing is essential to the organisation’s success

Get in touch

Would you like to know more about our nutrition and wellness programmes for nonprofit organisations? Contact us for more information or to arrange a free no-obligation planning consultation with us.

Magdalena Wronska is a nutritionist who specialises in the nonprofit and charity sectors. She has a specific interest in nutrition and lifestyle approaches to mental health, including addressing issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, learning and behavioural problems as well as neurological conditions.

Magdalena holds an MSc in Personalised Nutrition and is a practitioner of NLP (neurolinguistic programming).