Home Blog & Media Compassion Fatigue: What Is It and What You Can Do About It

Compassion Fatigue: What Is It and What You Can Do About It

February 23, 2021

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Marissa Germain


In case you missed it, Marissa Germain recently facilitated a Solution Session at OpEx365, highlighting how to manage compassion fatigue as an organization. Today she shares some insights with our Humentum community.

When it is your job to serve your local, national, or global community, it is all too easy for you or your colleagues to slip into compassion fatigue, the mental and emotional exhaustion from the prolonged exposure to traumatic events or materials. What may feel like temporary irritability or permanent acceptance that you are in your job because it pays the bills and nothing more; are feelings often caused by neglecting your self-care and can negatively impact your community or work. The GreenLeaf Institute released a study in 2015 outlining how prolonged stress was impacting USAID’s workforce and their work outputs.

The nature of our work will likely never change, but how we deal with the associated stress can. Below are nine ways you and your colleagues can mitigate the impact of stress issues.

If you are in a leadership position or a supervisor:

  • Become well-versed in the benefits your organization offers and make an effort to share what tools are available to manage stress. Ensure those benefits go beyond yoga classes or free coffee if your organization operates in high conflict areas and includes where to find licensed providers, coaches, and other stress mitigation professionals. Encourage your staff to become familiar with which services are covered or partially covered by your organization’s insurance – HR can be a resource for this as well.
  • Encourage and help staff plan on taking time off. As discussed in Humentum’s USAID Rules & Regulations training – little or no time off is a bad sign and an indicator that something is amiss in your office management. While this is often about internal controls, this applies to all staff at all levels. So, work with your relevant supervisees to help them find pockets of time to recover after intense work periods.
  • Set the example.  If you are in a leadership position and are overworking and indulging in behaviors that you would hate to see in your staff, then change it. No amount of benefits and coaching will change your organization’s culture if you aren’t willing to be the example.

If a colleague or close colleague is exhibiting these signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Have a friendly conversation about what is going on with their work life. In opening up that conversation channel, you signify that you are a safe person to talk to as the work issue continues to evolve.
  • Make yourself available for restorative activities with your colleague. Often, the way to help a colleague is to become their lunch, commute, meeting, or walking buddy. Spending time with friends, getting outside, and being a safe person to chat with are positive coping mechanisms during intense work seasons.
  • Share how you manage stress. Our community prides itself on working hard and sacrificing personal time to get the job done. Rarely do we share stories of how we recovered from a tough week or how we have changed our work habits to avoid burnout. Sharing your story with colleagues helps normalize self-care.

If you feel that you are struggling with compassion fatigue:

  • Talk to a colleague who seems to have it figured out. Sometimes we just need to see paths that have worked for others and learn that it takes time to find the right strategies to manage work stress.
  • Note how long your apathy and jaded nature has existed. It is completely normal to go through seasons of emotions, but it is not normal to experience these emotions for almost a year or years at a time.
  • Get professional help. There are so many free or reduced tools available to work through your compassion fatigue, all the way up to dedicated one on one support. Start here to learn about what services are available, and then speak with your insurance provider.

Remember, no matter where you sit in an organization, there is a way to manage compassion fatigue. While the list above is not exhaustive, it should help inspire you, your colleagues, and your organization to build a healthier, and ultimately, more productive community.

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