311: Understanding and Avoiding Moderator Burnout

Let’s say it’s been just a little over three months since you started moderating a server and things are going really well in your eyes. You’re working diligently on a team with other staff members to help you with the day-to-day moderation tasks that a server demands. You’re feeling really good about your activity levels and direction of the server until today, when two other members of staff have all decided to step down due to not enjoying moderation anymore. You’re confused and frustrated- things seemed to be okay, great even. What’s changed? 

Moderator Burnout: What is it?

Starting a new job or position or activity will always be exciting. Most moderators are eager to help a community that they love and that they are an active part of to grow and prosper. You spend a lot of time there already, so why would you not want to do your part in helping that community be successful? However as time passes, interests can change and initial enthusiasm can wane. As a moderator, you might find yourself spending time in other communities or you realize your real world schooling and work is a priority over moderating, so there is the potential for anxiety to build as you try to juggle all of your responsibilities. Maybe your mental health is being affected by spending many hours a day on the internet, dealing with trolls and people who simply just want to cause trouble. This can mentally drain you, having to deal with negativity and conflict day in and day out. When moderating begins to feel like a chore, as opposed to a hobby, that’s when you might feel like moderator burnout has set in.

Burnout is the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion you feel after a prolonged period of stress brought on by certain activities. Spending too much time in a stressful environment can easily lead to feelings of exhaustion, feeling distant from the activity or task at hand, or simply just having negative feelings when thinking about doing the activity or task. These negative effects on your body and mind eat away at you until you feel like you are at your limit and just do not have enough energy and motivation in you anymore to continue moderating. Sometimes burnout makes it feel like the only thing that can make you happy is to stop being a moderator completely.

Signs of Moderator Burnout

One of the most common signs of moderator burnout is when you have been noticing yourself being less and less active when it comes to moderating, as well as being less active in the server itself. As a moderator, you have begun to feel like it is a chore for you to be moderating the server; something you feel forced to do, knowing it needs to be done with no joy attached to the task at hand. Time seems to move so slowly when you are moderating as you are constantly checking the clock, just hoping that an hour of your time is enough on the server. Your time spent on your server becomes less and less as the days go by until you have either stepped down or completely withdrawn from any activity in the server, moderation or otherwise.

A burgeoning lack of participation is another sign. If you know yourself well enough, you can probably tell when something is bothering you. Perhaps on any normal given day, you are social and engage with your other team members as well as with regular server members, but recently you’re only chatting in public channels, giving out the occasional public warning. You notice that you only really check the staff channels when there is a ping. Your account may be in the server and your name on the member list, but you’re no longer an active community member. At this point burnout has set in. There may be the urge to come in every day and give 100% but then you run the risk of giving too much, too quickly. You start to dread the amount of work necessary to do your part and eventually start to taper off.

You might notice yourself making more mistakes than normal. Frustration is another part of burnout that can affect the mental aspects of moderating. Feeling like you are making too many mistakes or are not doing as much as another moderator is a hard thing to put a reason to. Feelings of inadequacy may lead to reprimanding yourself internally, being your own worst critic, finding yourself in a rut, thinking everyone in the server is being difficult. You know you are making mistakes, others on your team see it, thinking they are helping by giving you constructive criticism. There is a lack of accomplishment that makes you frustrated, especially in moderating. Nothing you do feels like it is being done right, adding that to the difficulties of members of the server, and frustration kicks in. When telling members of the server to do something and they continue to post against the rules, you begin to wonder if you matter or are even making a difference.  

Burnout can easily affect your attitude. Moderating tests your patience as some members of the server will purposefully push the line, seeing what they can get away with. As a new moderator, you might not be as strict, as you are wanting the community to not only respect you but to like you. As time passes, your patience may begin to run thin and you put up with a lot less while you get more irritated. You have a shift in your attitude and can become bitter at what you have to deal with when moderating a server. 

Avoiding Moderator Burnout

After taking time to look at the signs of moderator burnout, it is important to know how to avoid it so you and your team can find your groove again and remember what it feels like to enjoy being not only a moderator but a community member.

Everything is healthy with moderation, including, well, moderation. Knowing when you need breaks and encouraging yourself, as well as other moderators, to take these breaks can really help with mounting stress levels. Moderating takes a toll on your mental health, so being able to step away and catch your breath can really help reset your focus. Reach out to other members on your team that can help with moderator duties and shoulder the workload so those that are experiencing burnout can feel that it is okay to step away. A big part of working on a team is being honest with each other when things are good and when things are not so good. You may be surprised at how eager your team members are to help prop you up when you’re feeling low. Remember- you're not alone in this, so feel free to take those breaks and be assured that the server is not on fire and that there are eyes other than yours that are there to share the workload. Offline life and your overall health should always come before any aspect of online life.

Make sure you are not taking on too much, but also have enough to do. This can be a tricky balance. Depending on your moderation experience and skills, it can be hard to determine what your work load capabilities are, especially as offline life changes. Be upfront and honest with what your team expects from you, but also let them know that if you are feeling overwhelmed, that they can talk to you. Always have an open line of communication so you can find ways to help yourself, as well as the others you moderate with. Something that has worked on larger servers that you might be able to incorporate to your server is having a summary of the channels. With the summary, you can have moderators on your team sign up for which channels they enjoy moderating, as well as the others, and not feel like you have to be in too many channels at one time. Delegating work makes it seem more manageable and less daunting. Encourage yourself and your fellow moderators to try new channels after a couple weeks to change everyone’s scenery, as well allowing various team members the chance to interact with certain server members that might only hang out in channels that they don’t normally moderate. As a moderator, you might feel yourself wanting to do more and seek to add to your responsibilities. Suggesting community events and helping out organizing and running these events makes for a great change of pace to contrast the normal moderating duties of watching chat. Events are great for bringing regular members together with moderators. It is a fun task that can bring activity levels up and spread some excitement.

Create an environment that is fun to moderate in. Having or suggesting a staff channel where you and your fellow moderators can be yourselves or vent is a great way to relieve some stress and have your team get to know one another. Ask them questions every day to encourage discussion and communication between your entire team. Building a team that works well with one another helps with the communication between fellow moderators, so they can express how everyone is feeling, and seek advice on stresses in the community.  You can get to know each other’s personal lives and what other things in life might be causing outside stress. Getting to know each other’s personalities can help determine if someone might easily burn out or if they are just more introverted than other moderators on your team. Holding events, such as game nights, where you all play a game online together can really help you and other moderators feel at ease, bring enjoyment to everyone, and help everyone reset for the next day of moderating.

One of the biggest, and perhaps simplest, things you can do to help with moderator burnout is just being thankful. Typing the two little words of “thank you” can go a long way. As a moderator, you spend your free time helping the server, so let your fellow moderators know you appreciate that they chose this as their hobby. 

To that end, positive specific feedback is one of the best ways to let someone know that they did a good job and what exactly it was that they did well. By being specific about what you’re thanking your moderator for, you’re letting them know that their hard work is recognized and valued and seen. Recognize when they put in a lot of hours on the server and are here on a day-to-day basis. Finding ways to reward them, whether through gifting Nitro or a special recognition in the server, can be really fulfilling to them. It reassures them that they are an important part of the server and are making a difference when helping. Be gracious with your words and remind them that they are here with you. It starts a chain reaction and you will see moderators thanking other moderators for their hard work.

Summary

Moderator burnout can happen to anyone at any time. It is important to understand what it is and how you can help. Whether you are an owner, administrator, or another moderator, it is important to support your team and look for the signs of burnout so you can suggest ways that might help them in how they are feeling. Always have an open line of communication with your team that fosters honesty. Encourage them or yourself to step away when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and thank each other for helping in the server. Servers are a lot harder to run when doing it alone; moderators that are excited to be there are an important part of making sure things operate smoothly.



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