Mindfulness Strategies for Financial Aid Staff – Proactively Combating Fatigue and Burnout During Difficult Times

Melissa Maichle .

Working in financial aid can be incredibly rewarding, but it also comes with its unique set of challenges, including the stress of shifting goals and changing guidelines, all while managing the expectations of students and families. This constant pressure can lead to fatigue and burnout among financial aid staff, who might already feel like they are handling more and more with fewer resources and support. By incorporating mindfulness techniques into daily routines, however, individuals and teams can effectively manage stress and maintain mental well-being even through the most difficult times. In this article, we share a number of individual and team-based strategies that might help as we continue to respond to the challenges of this unique transition period.

Individual Strategies

  • Practice Mindful Breathing: Every day, make sure you take a few moments to recenter yourself and focus on your breath. Close your eyes for a few minutes, inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a moment, and exhale slowly; repeat this for about a minute or two. This simple practice can help calm the mind and reduce stress-levels, while giving your brain a much-needed pause before transitioning tasks or changing focus. This is different from a longer scheduled break in that it should only take a few minutes of silence in between tasks to make sure you refresh before tackling another function. This is especially true if you are a public-facing staff member or if you work in customer service. In these roles, you’ll know how powerful it can be to take a second between interactions to reset so that you do not carry the energy or concerns from one case into another.
  • Take Consistent Scheduled Breaks: Integrating short breaks into your workday can go a long way to help you prevent burnout. According to research, taking frequent, consistent breaks between periods of intense work (every 45-60 minutes) substantially improves productivity, attention and intention. Additionally, it is often easier to work intensively for a period of time if you can foresee when your next break is going to be; oftentimes people believe their days should be handled as a long marathon where they maintain a consistent pace each day without breaks, however, this can lead to significant exhaustion and a substantial dip in productivity later in the week. Instead, use consistent and predictable breaks to step away from your desk, stretch or engage in a brief mindfulness exercise such as a short walk outdoors or a meditation session, or find some time to connect and collaborate with colleagues.
  • Engage in Gratitude Practices: Cultivate a sense of gratitude by reflecting on the positive aspects of your day at different times throughout the day. Take a moment each morning to acknowledge the impact you’re making in students’ lives through your work in financial aid and use these moments as anchors to help you get through difficult interactions or stressful moments at work. As much as possible, write down a short reflection, or take some time to look back at a thank-you note or some other tangible object, which will make this practice more concrete, expanding its impact. Additionally, if possible, make sure to take some time to remind others within your team or outside of it by telling them how much you appreciate them as well.
  • Set and Keep Clear Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between your work and personal life to prevent overworking and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Avoid checking work emails or taking calls outside of designated work hours and, if possible, try to maintain physical separations between assigned your assigned work space and the places where you relax or engage in mindfulness activities.

Collective Strategies

  • Mindfulness Workshops: Organize workshops or training sessions on mindfulness techniques specifically tailored to the needs of financial aid staff. Invite guest speakers or mindfulness experts to lead sessions on stress reduction and relaxation techniques. If this is not possible, take a few minutes during your staff meetings to pull up a guided meditation on a video-sharing website and collectively engage in this type of practice with some frequency as a team.
  • Encourage Peer Support Groups: Provide the space for staff members to create peer support groups or affinity spaces, where staff members can share their experiences, challenges and coping strategies in a supportive environment. Encourage open communication and collaboration to foster a sense of camaraderie among team members both within and outside of your financial aid office.
  • Offer/Encourage Flexibility in Schedules: Advocate for flexible work schedules that accommodate the individual needs of staff members. This flexibility allows employees to better manage their time and responsibilities, reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction while also ensuring that work is being completed in order to meet the needs of your constituents.
  • Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate milestones and achievements as a team. Whether it’s reaching a personal or professional goal or successfully navigating a challenging task, acknowledging accomplishments boosts morale and reinforces a sense of teamwork. Additionally, connect with your local, state, regional and even national association to submit nominations for peers for the many annual recognitions these organizations offer!
  • Find Time for Fun: Although we all lead busy and engaging lives, sometimes it is good to proactively create positive interactions by embracing silly activities in the office that encourage healthy fun. Setting up an inanimate team mascot, for example, and dressing it up differently to match different occasions or supporting silly competitions, or engaging the different talents of team members (like creating a staff art wall, photo submission contest, organizing office putlocks, or engaging in some office karaoke) can go a long way in boosting morale and giving folks something to be excited about above and beyond the day-to-day operations of the office. This might seem difficult if staff is working in a hybrid or fully remote environment, however, more and more options exist that accommodate these new modalities of team structures, which ensure everyone is included and supported while engaging in these activities.

Incorporating mindfulness practices into both individual and collective routines can significantly alleviate fatigue and general levels of anxiety, which serve to promote the mental well-being among financial aid staff. As a reminder, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and as such, it is incredibly important to center positive practices in a proactive way to battle against all the pressures and general concerns that are an inevitable part of this procession. By prioritizing self-care and fostering a supportive work environment, financial aid managers and staff members collectively ensure that their team remains resilient and effective in their roles. This is one of many effective personnel management practices we encourage at HEAG. If you would like to learn more or discuss other strategies related to the management of your staff, please reach out to info@heag.us and speak with one of our expert consultants.