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What to Do When Your Board Feels Burnt-Out

Dear Mary: 

There’s no denying it: Our board has a bad case of burnout. I know I’m not the only one wondering if I should just quit and leave the stress to someone else. COVID-19 has everyone on edge — us, staff, residents, the managing agent, contractors, delivery people. Even pets are showing the strain! And that’s on top of the normal challenges of keeping up with ever-changing local laws, managing complex projects, dealing with complaints and litigation. Is it too late to get back our energy for board work?

—Burned Out in Brooklyn


Dear Burned Out:

Maybe it helps you to know that you’re hardly alone. But let’s talk about some very concrete steps that are within your control. They fall under three broad strategies for getting re-energized.


Take care of yourself. Sleep, exercise, healthy food, downtime with loved ones. There’s a reason why you’ve already heard this advice a thousand times: it’s foundational. If you don’t attend to these areas, it’s difficult to think clearly or make good decisions, it’s hard to manage your own emotions, and you won’t have the energy to help yourself or others. So this step is essential for getting out of a burnout state. 


Reconnect with your mission. Linking to a higher purpose can reenergize you. Why are you on the board? Think about your contributions and achievements. With apologies to the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” consider the good things that would not have happened without you. Who, specifically, is better off as a result of your being on the board? Remind yourself that you’ve made a difference. Then consider the future. Are you positioned to do more of the kind of work that brings you satisfaction and helps others? Maybe there are things you shouldn’t be doing. Could you be just as effective, but less burned out, if you delegated more? Or got more comfortable saying no? 


Hack your brain. You have a lot more control over your emotional state than you might imagine. Here are three simple “brain hacks” that can help you combat burnout. They all have immediate positive effects on your brain and body chemistry. The good news is that anyone can do them. And they’re free!


  1. Name that feeling: You can reduce the power of a negative emotion just by giving it a label. “I’m feeling discouraged and frustrated that we’re still dealing with COVID protocols in the building.” Say it to yourself (OK), out loud (better), or to a friend (best).
  2. Reappraise: Find a different — and more positive — way to view and describe the stressful situation or event. “By establishing COVID protocols, we’re letting our residents know that we care about their health and well-being. We’re reinforcing trust in the board, which will help the building for years to come.” This kind of reframing helps reduce your stress now — and can have an ongoing positive effect.
  3. Spend time in nature: Scientists continue to find ways in which exposure to nature helps us feel better. They’ve learned that even a few minutes of gazing at trees can bring down blood pressure, reduce anxiety and help us feel more focused. Can you get out of your home or office for a 15-minute visit to a nearby park, your backyard or a tree-lined street? 


Burnout is exhausting. Maybe you do need to get off the board. But maybe some of your stressors are going to end, and you just need to hang in a bit longer. So don’t throw in the towel without trying these DIY strategies, all supported by well-established science. Good luck!


Mary Federico serves on the board of her 240-unit Upper West Side condominium. Through her consultancy, Organizational Behavior Strategies, she helps leaders use behavioral science to improve their organizations.

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