Burnout and stress in disaster relief volunteers : recommendations to improve volunteer retention and engagement



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There is an ever-increasing reliance on volunteers to provide frontline services during disaster relief operations. Without volunteers, organizations such as the American Red Cross could not function. Burnout and secondary traumatic stress are issues of concern as disaster relief volunteers work long hours in intense and unpredictable environments. Given their pivotal role, the ability to maintain, manage and support trained and prepared volunteers is essential. This report explores the lived experiences of disaster relief volunteers through semi-structured interviews and a focus group with 17 volunteers of the American Red Cross Central Texas Chapter and the Austin Disaster Relief Network. Secondly, this study determines organizational and individual factors that contribute to volunteers' experience of burnout and secondary traumatic stress. This paper concludes by recommending volunteer support mechanisms to reduce burnout and stress and improve retention.