Compassion Fatigue – A Concern in the Public Sector
by Lorrie Ray
Compassion fatigue is real and growing, given what our teachers, social workers, firefighters, police officers, and especially medical facility workers have been through in the last 12 months. It can extend to other professions such as judges and lawyers. Compassion fatigue has been defined as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for those in significant emotional pain and physical distress. An article in the online publication called The Conversation has a list of symptoms including:
- decreased concentration
- withdrawal and apathy
- mental and physical tiredness
It is said to affect those with less experience over those with more experience because those with more experience have developed the skills to face the trauma that is a part of their jobs and roles.
Help for Employees
Making employees in caregiving or trauma-laden professions aware of the issue is vital if those employees are to recognize the symptoms and get the help they need. This is especially important in those professions where being tough is viewed as an attribute. There are groups that can provide services directly to employees suffering from compassion fatigue, including:
- The American Institute of Stress
- Caregiver Action Network
- The Caregiver Space: an online community of caregivers
- Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
- Compassion Fatigue + Resiliency in Professionals Facebook group
- Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
Employers can do even more. Train supervisors and managers on the symptoms to be aware of who may need help, and then train them on how to help. Sometimes being that leader who can listen to the employee talk about what they are experiencing can make all the difference.
Being able to turn off all the stress is key to resilience among all caring professionals. They may have difficulty doing this independently, and employers are in a perfect position to assist. Schedule downtime for employees and work to make it enjoyable. Those in the first responder professions often develop strong bonds; leverage this in building in short breaks during the workday to allow these professionals time to spend with colleagues. Create schedules so that these employees can spend time with their families. Fire departments and health care facilities often have schedules allowing employees to work in short bursts and then take more time off. How could you as an employer do this for other caring professionals?
Make sure that you have trauma professionals standing by to help. Talk to your insurance carrier about how to provide these services in an easily obtainable way. Some make sure there are health care professionals immediately available after a traumatic event. Work with groups to help the entire department; The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance is a group that helps fire departments.
Finally, if you have an employee suffering from this syndrome and need to intervene for performance reasons, call us; we can help.