KuelLife Logo home 1000

Women, Burn Out, & The NonProfit World

Liza Baker January Article 2020 Feature

How are you?
Quick! What’s the most common answer to the question, “How are you?” these days?

If you said, “Busy,” you’re right. Acceptable variations on this are “extremely busy, crazy busy, insanely busy, [fill in the hyperbolic adverb] busy.”

Okay, next question. What’s the second most common answer to the same question?

If you said, “Tired,” or “wiped out, exhausted, fried, stressed, burned out” or any variation thereof, you’re right again.

This is not something I found by doing in-depth research, but as a health coach, I know this from experience.

It’s why I never start my sessions by asking that question; instead, I ask, “What’s new and good?” (in a terribly perky, positive voice, of course).

What’s going on here? Why are we a) so busy and b) so exhausted?


Kinda funny … and not.

My favorite synonym for “tired” is my BFF’s word “shezausted,” which I interpret as “exhausted in a way only a woman would understand.”

When I was a member of a networking group that was—as is often the case—predominantly made up of men, we each got 1 minute to introduce ourselves, our businesses, and our “ask” of the group.

“I’m Liza Baker of Simply: Health Coaching, and I support women 40+ who think that their only way out of the overwhelm involves a plane ticket, a wad of cash, and a change of identity. You know, the ones who are gripping the minivan steering wheel and wondering, ‘What would happen if I just took the grocery money and just. kept. driving?’ I help them to reclaim the starring role in their lives after spending too many years playing best supporting actress in everyone else’s.”

For a few seconds, you could have heard a pin drop. Then all the women in the room cheered. The men just looked confused.

Perfect. It’s the segue I needed to say, “If you’re confused, here’s my ask: don’t go home and ask your partner what she did today; instead, ask how she feels about what she did today.”


Stressors in the lives of women include bearing a disproportionate amount of the mental load of running households—which more and more frequently include not only younger children but boomerang adult children and members of the older generation.

And another astounding (or maybe not so much) factoid: ‘the more hours a woman works outside the home, the more mental load she bears at home.’

Let that sink in for a moment: the more hours we work outside the home, the more mental tasks of running a household/family we take on.

Not to potentially shame the guys, but I’m curious to know how many of them can list: 1) the kids’ school and bus schedule, 2) the kids’ teachers’ names and subjects, 3) the kids’ friends names, 4) the kids’ friends’ parents’ names, 5) the kids’ afterschool schedules, 6) everyone’s various doctor and dentist appointment schedules, 7) who wears what size clothing and shoes, 8) who gets what in their lunchbox, 9) well, you get the idea….

Now let’s imagine a woman over 40 bearing this mental load and working full time (probably overtime). The average age of menopause in this country is 52, and our bodies begin to prepare for that turning point approximately 10 years before our cycles cease. That’s right—long before your periods stop, your body is getting ready for “the change.”

Stress is known to affect our hormone levels: as our stress hormones increase, our bodies compensate by reducing production of other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. And the more our hormones are out of balance, the more likely we are to experience the more unpleasant symptoms of this age and the more intense they will be: weight gain, hot flashes, panic attacks/anxiety, adult acne, insomnia—and these are just the most common ones.

That’s all bad enough, right? But wait—there’s more.

What if this woman works in a nonprofit?

Women and nonprofits

Did you know that women make up 75% of the nonprofit workforce? Probably not a surprise—as women, we are the chronic caregivers, nurturers to the world.

If you like data points, here are some more for you:

  • As Baby Boomers age, the population of individuals over the age of 65 is projected to increase by 73 percent between 2010 and 2030, taxing the capacity of healthcare, eldercare, and social service organizations, many of which are nonprofits.
  • Between 2014–24, the labor force growth rate of older employees is expected to be 55% for those over 55 and 86% for those 75+, compared with a 5% increase for the labor force as a whole.
  • As nonprofits increasingly step into providing services that used to be the province of local governments, particularly in the wake of crises such as super storms and tragedies such as the Flint water crisis, it follows that the nonprofit sector will continue to grow, and the older—predominantly female—staffing of them will grow proportionately.

And consider this: if we fail in the for-profit sector, we don’t turn a profit, and we might not get that raise or bonus; if we fail in the nonprofit sector, a child goes hungry, a teenager commits suicide, an elderly adult dies alone, a school falls apart, a community fails to thrive…

Burnout: it’s a thing

Now we’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Or is it the Instapot? Either way, we are probably in burnout.

Burnout was first officially described in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who saw it as “an utterly diminished capacity to perform.” Significantly, while the term has been coopted by the for-profit world, it originally referred to “the helping professions:” those in health care, social work, etc.

More recently, burnout has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a full-being (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) response to chronic stress in the workplace, resulting in exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. And importantly, WHO has listed burnout as a diagnosable syndrome in its International Classification of Diseases, 11th edition.

Why is that good news?

Tune in to the April post for the answer….

Liza Baker
About the Author:

Liza Baker is a full-time health coach and nonprofit consultant, self-published author, blogger, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Her favorite women to support are the under-appreciated, under-listened to, under-taken-care-of, under-valued, overwhelmed, overworked, over-scheduled, overtired, and OVER. IT. ALL. women 40+ who work in the mission-driven/nonprofit sector. Put more simply: she helps these women be well while doing good.

2 thoughts on “Women, Burn Out, & The NonProfit World

Comments are closed.