Why do vicars burn out? (Part 2)

This post about burn out follows on from yesterday’s post. The three dimensions of burnout are:

  • feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job
  • a sense of ineffectiveness
  • lack of accomplishment

The risk factors that contribute to burn out are:

  • workload
  • control
  • reward
  • community
  • fairness
  • values

Yesterday I looked at the first three of these in the context of parish ministry, here I will consider the remaining three. Quotes that I use are from here:

The area of community has to do with the ongoing relationships that employees have with other people on the job. When these relationships are characterized by a lack of support and trust, and by unresolved conflict, then there is a greater risk of burnout. On the contrary, when these job‐related relationships are working well, there is a great deal of social support, employees have effective means of working out disagreements, and they are more likely to experience job engagement.

Vicars experience a great deal of conflict and bullying. I’ve written about the latter here and here. There are difficulties with resolving conflicts as sometimes dysfunctional people exist in congregations who are toxic and their behaviour would not be tolerated in the workforce or any other organisation.

Fairness is the extent to which decisions at work are perceived as being fair and equitable. Cynicism, anger and hostility are likely to arise when people feel they are not being treated with the appropriate respect.

There are areas, especially around finances where clergy feel badly treated. Realistically, clergy need some form or income other than the stipend to afford a house to live in after they retire, and it is their partners who mostly provide this. At the same time clergy work very long hours and are weary most of the time such that they aren’t as active in the family as they might want to be. Other areas of unfairness are when clergy are trying their best to serve their parishes – living very sacrificial lives as a result of their vocation – and they are met with gossip and slander.

Values are the ideals and motivations that originally attracted people to their job, and thus they are the motivating connection between the worker and the workplace, which goes beyond the utilitarian exchange of time for money or advancement. When there is a values conflict on the job, and thus a gap between individual and organizational values, employees will find themselves making a trade‐off between work they want to do and work they have to do, and this can lead to greater burnout.

In some ways this should be an area that helps clergy and I think it often does – the church is broadly aligned with their values, at least on the surface. But often parishes and vicars are working on different models of what the vicar is and should do. One comment from the clergy survey explains this:

Parish opportunities with those unchurched are enormous but our structures / patterns and traditions of Sunday worship / church expectations of what a vicar does are crippling and demoralising. I trained to show and give the love of God to the people of this parish, not support outdated models of ministry that support church goers.

What can be done about all this? Probably quite a lot if we start talking about it. I will share my ideas on this blog – please share your too.

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