The highs of running an engaged and thriving community are out-of-this-world. But as any experienced Community Manager will tell you, the lows can be just as intense.
Even the happiest and most successful CMs are not immune to stress and burnout — particularly when they're often on the front lines of things like moderation or customer support.
That said, much can be done to help mitigate the stress of community management and Community Manager burnout — both from a CM and a Community team lead's perspective.
Here are some helpful strategies to help you navigate 2022.
With the plethora of responsibilities involved in community management, it can become all-consuming — and Senior Director of Community at Unusual Ventures, Jamie Langskov knows this all too well.
“I believe CMs truly have one of the toughest jobs in the world," she says. "We are often on the front lines of both behavior moderation and helping our members to feel better about situations that are often beyond our control."
As someone who has years of experience in community management, Jamie believes finding a community of people who understand your work is the first step to preventing burnout.
And we couldn’t agree more.
If you're an individual contributor or a one-man band, know that you're not alone.
There are tons of communities out there for community folks (ever heard of a little thing called The Community Club?) where you can speak to others about their experiences.
Sure, you might not be able to talk as openly as you would with teammates, but the value of connecting with like-minded people shouldn't be underestimated.
“Joining a peer group for CMs, where you can sometimes vent about your work, can be so therapeutic,” Jamie says.
“Just try explaining your role to someone outside of tech or community work and you'll likely get a blank stare. There are few people in our lives outside of our line of work who actually understand the work we do."
Many companies are embracing remote work, and all the benefits that come with it.
Of course, with all those perks (lower costs of living, avoiding a time-consuming commute, spending the entire day in your sweatpants...) comes a major downside: the unclear distinction between work and home life.
The boundaries between the two often dissolve, leaving many remote workers — particularly those in ‘always-on’ roles like CMs — unable to disconnect.
A key to preventing burnout is to view disconnecting from your community not as a breakup, but rather as a much-needed break.
“No one is going to die while you're away,” says Jamie. “There aren't any true community emergencies. Take a vacation. Walk away from the computer for a while.
"I know it's easy to feel like without you, the community will wither and die, and, while true maybe in a long-term situation, your community will carry on without you for a brief period while you step away to collect yourself.”
It is important to take steps to make sure that when you're out of office — whether it's PTO or the weekend — you're really out.
This means a bit of planning ahead, but much of this will make your day-to-day easier too. This might involve:
Jamie highly recommends training fellow employees and power users to do some of the work so that you don't feel like you're the only one who can do everything.
“Things like content moderation and connecting people to existing resources can all be delegated with the right training. Remember that community is all about scaling and we are often under-resourced as it is, so don't forget to scale yourself and prevent burnout,” she says.
If you have Community teammates, schedule a chat to talk about any problems (or problem members...) you may be dealing with.
This doesn't need to be a tactical meeting to figure out courses of action or solutions — just a safe space for a frank chat. It's surprisingly cathartic knowing that others are going through the same thing on your direct team.
In addition to this, Jamie also suggests getting a mentor who can provide a different perspective.
“Your mentor should preferably be someone more senior than you and outside of your reporting line. Even better if they're outside of your company,” she says.
“This person can help you put into perspective some of the things you're dealing with and help you differentiate between the things that are outside of your control or so not worth stressing about.
“Perspective is something that can get easily lost when you're in the trenches, as we often are, at any level in community work.”
Fun fact: at The Community Club, we run a Community Mentorship Program to help connect aspiring mentors and mentees. If you're looking for something more casual, there's also the option to join our Meetsy, where you'll be matched with other community pros for one-to-one chats.
“I have had to be a lot better at noticing my triggers and what to look out for,” he says. “In the past, I used to ignore this and just push through. Now when I notice these feelings, I make sure to pause in my day or schedule so I don't overwhelm myself."
Boundary-setting isn't easy, but Max recommends being firm and sticking to your guns. "If you don't want to check Slack after 5 p.m., remove it from your phone, etc.," he explains.
"Once you have a plan in place, it is a lot easier to stick to it and enforce the rules. Also, people tend to respect your boundaries a lot more than you may think once you let them know what they are.”
When employees are passionate about their work, as CMs so often are, it can be difficult to nudge them away from the proverbial desk.
As a manager, it's your job to make sure you're getting the best out of your team, which includes ensuring they're taking enough PTO for a mental break or reset.
If a gentle reminder doesn't do the trick, some tough love might be in order. A little threat to revoke Slack/Discord/email/blog access should do the trick.
All the vacation time in the world won't get your teams anywhere if their workload isn't reasonable — particularly if they know it's piling up in their inbox while they're away.
Good managers make sure it's possible for employees to take time off by ensuring they don't take on too many projects — and will make it clear that's actually more important even if it means something doesn't get done.
Also worth noting here: as a rule of thumb, CMs tend to be 'yes' people. That, plus the fact that they're often working closely with other departments, means they're likely scooping up work that's not technically within their job description. It's their manager's job to empower them to say no to out-of-scope tasks.
As much as it is important for CMs to reach out to therapists, it is also helpful for Community team leaders to have help available should anyone on their team need it.
This is why Jamie also suggests: “Get yourself a real therapist with whom you connect.”
Having access to therapy — whether that's through a partnership with a counseling service, or a monthly allowance to spend on employees' mental health needs (be it therapy or another tool, like Headspace, or Calm) — can go a long way.
As someone who's climbed the community team ranks, it's likely you've been in the trenches at some point too.
Be available for your CMs to swap war stories, to offer advice, or just to let them have a good rant. Knowing they have your ear — and support — can be powerful in lifting some of the weight off a CM's shoulders.
What do you strategies do you use to prevent burnout? Join the conversation on The Community Club.