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"Full of hope, enthusiasm and Pringles" - Guest Blog by Jenny Irvine

Guest Blog by Jenny Irvine, ARC Healthy Living Centre Ltd 

Full of hope, enthusiasm and pringles, I returned to work on Friday 3 January and today – Monday 6 – having played the customary back to work bingo……. Tree down yet? Get anything nice? Shocking dose….. Quiet, you? 

I began preparing for our January audit/risk and board meeting.


As always, I had sent out the papers in advance and today began to review and update the risk register – something I have done for many years. But this year something was different, more risks seemed to be going on and less are coming off. This presents a problem logistically and in a governance sense. The risk register is a repository of risk and mitigations that exists to inform the board. It is a real time reflection of the place we are at as a company, and in the wider sense as a sector.


There was the usual categorisation of risk, however we are increasingly recognising more risks are outside of our control or influence and increasingly we are beginning to accept these truly uncomfortable (nocturnal John Wayne Fever inducing) risks.


I passionately believe in the work the third sector does, and in the commitment and dedication of the people who do that work, be they paid staff or volunteers. I believe however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver safe and effective services with the available resources. We have always experienced financial pressure, being expected to do more for less – that’s not new. Compliance and regulation, not entirely new either – and needed, so if that’s not the problem, what is the problem?


I think it may be that we aren’t talking about the problem. As leaders we need the humility to admit there are problems and have the courage to ask for help, and boy do we need help! More than half of charity leaders (51%) interviewed by insurers Ecclesiastical, said that stress in the voluntary sector had become more of an issue in the past three years. The concerns increased in line with the size of the charity, with 57% of medium-sized charities and 61% of large charities admitting that it was a growing problem. The challenging financial situation facing the voluntary sector is the main contributor to stress with charities citing increasing demands on staff (78%), lack of resources (75%) and reduced funding (74%) as the main drivers of the problem.

Vicarious trauma was also seen as a major contributor to stress with key factors including staff having to regularly deal with people with difficult behaviours (66%) and being exposed to highly emotional and stressful situations (60%).

In May 2019, Unite published figures that four out of five workers in the charity sector had suffered workplace stress in the past 12 months. A third of charity leaders in Ecclesiastical’s survey admitted that stress was an issue in their workplace, with the figure increasing to 51% at large charities. 

Of those charities that admitted stress was an issue, two in five (38%) said that it was affecting their ability to retain and recruit staff.

Angus Roy, charity director at Ecclesiastical, said: “Working in the charity sector has always been a challenging career but austerity measures over the past few years have made it even more difficult as charities have had to manage on tighter budgets. This has had an impact on staff with greater demands being put on them with fewer resources”.

Only by taking responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in, will we be able to develop the behaviours to lead through times of unprecedented change. As leaders we must acknowledging the realities, even if others do not, or worse some may deny the problems, dismiss our concerns and seek competitive advantage. We must confront the brutal facts of austerity, lack of political structures, Brexit fears and global instability, but, and here’s the tough bit…… we can’t lose hope!


A lack of honesty will make it harder to find and retain good people and make it impossible to lead with passion and integrity, but a lack of hope will stop us taking any action to improve our communities, to help make things better.


So back to my risk register……


This New Year take time to look after yourself and your organisation, talk to CO3 and collectively, as a sector, let’s start to talk honestly and without fear. Only by looking after ourselves can we look after others, it’s an inside job.

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