Community Manager Self Care: Remembering The Importance Of Wellbeing

In this blog post, Darren Gough of Island23 Limited, a community, content and engagement consultancy, discusses how the 24/7 nature of community management calls for creating time for self care and the importance of wellbeing.

Community Management is a relatively new profession, certainly compared to the pillars of industry such as Marketing or Legal.

In the last 10-15 years, Community Management as a term and role has become extremely important to organisations who are starting to understand the company-wide benefits a good community manager running a thriving community can bring.

Yet it’s an industry that is already seeing an alarming number of professionals experiencing the symptoms of anxiety, stress, mental health challenges and ultimately burnout.

Why is this and how do we take positive actions that support better self-care?

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community (WHO, 2014).

Mental well-being is enhanced when an individual has a clear sense of their own purpose and value within their own society. In short, mental well-being can be defined as ‘feeling good and functioning well’. Or a person who ‘works well, loves well and expects well, notwithstanding profound life adversity’.

Dr Richard Graham, Clinical Director at Good Thinking, 2019.

Mental health problems do not have an impact through mental distress alone, but also because they disrupt work, relationships and a capacity to achieve

Below is a useful model of mental health as defined in 2002: Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). “The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43 , 207–222.

This is an important concept when we look to community managers, especially as the boundaries for work can often become blurred by the 24/7 nature of an online space that works across geographic time zones that create an “always on” response.

For many community managers, they are individuals or part of a small team that often struggles to cope with the lack of boundaries set by the expectation of the users, themselves, or their wider organisation.

Am I Alone?

A common theme experienced by community managers is also a feeling of isolation. Often as individuals or as small teams in a much bigger structure, community teams are often seen as the outlier where some peers struggle to understand how community sits within the company, what it can offer other departments and where the value is.

Likewise, training for community managers isn’t always easy to find, can sometimes be expensive for teams that aren’t given vast learning budgets and doesn’t necessarily provide the peer-to-peer support they require to ask questions and build networks.

It is, therefore, easy for community managers to fall down the rabbit hole, fighting to keep their noses above the ever-rising water line and feeling that the reactionary position they find themselves in is insurmountable and certainly unsustainable.

Without the right support and coping mechanisms, self-care takes a back seat and both physical and mental decline set in. Long term, the community manager simply burns out.

First Steps In Self-Care

Commonly, it’s too easy for community managers to fail to make the time to stop and consider basic and effective ways they can take today to make a difference in their lives. The NHS “Good Thinking” programme is working with peer-to-peer networks and its community managers to support their self-care needs. Below are some recommended steps to get started:

  1. Talk about your feelings
  2. Keep active
  3. Eat well
  4. Drink sensibly (alcohol)
  5. Keep in touch
  6. Ask for help
  7. Take a break
  8. Do something you are good at
  9. Accept who you are
  10. Care for others

The Knowledge and Community Network recently polled its members (and additional webinar visitors) on these steps, asking what members had done and what they intended to do more of.

Keeping in touch, asking for help and taking a break were three of the greatest shifts of intent, mirroring the anecdotal feedback from community professionals around isolation and not knowing where to get help.

Boundary setting is also a key challenge. Whilst communities run 24/7, community managers are real people with real lives. Responsible companies (and community professionals) need to be clearer on start and finish times, and how a community is managed out of hours.

Whether it’s using support in other time zones, making it clear on the community what the core working hours of the staff are, utilising super users and ambassadors or implementing some form of A.I (which can also help to lower the workload during working hours), it’s not acceptable for a lack of policy or operational guidelines that deal with such issues.

For community managers, it’s time to be proactive in helping define the future working conditions and evolution of this role. Put the basics of good self-care in place now and speak to peers or experts who can truly help develop policy and procedure.

Community Management, whether hobby or career is a job with boundaries. It has a start, end and must strike a balance with the rest of your life. How we work together to manage our communities will be the key to dealing with mental health in online spaces.

Darren Gough, Island23 Limited, 2019.