Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout: 5 tips for Management & Prevention
Healthcare professions and other caregiving careers can be extremely rewarding, offering a chance to improve and change lives. However, workers involved in direct care-taking roles experience patients' suffering on a daily basis which can take a toll in a variety of ways. Two common conditions caregivers are uniquely vulnerable to are burnout and compassion fatigue.
Burnout results from the stresses of daily life in the work environment (2). Symptoms of burnout begin with absenteeism, moodiness, and a lower sense of accomplishment. If left untreated, symptoms intensify into cynicism, exhaustion, somatic complaints, irritability, and increased interpersonal conflict (1). It is easy to see how employee burnout affects the company as a whole, with reduced productivity, lower staff morale, neglectful patient care, and increased employee turnover.
Compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatic stress, is a type of employee burnout with intensified symptoms when an individual becomes so overwhelmed by another’s trauma that they cannot continue effectively do their job (3). When a caregiver is surrounded by others suffering, they can potentially begin to experience the same suffering, eventually reaching the point of apathy, anxiety, and substance abuse. Due to the nature of these professions, it's hard not to get attached to people in need, and the more empathy-driven an individual’s role is, the more at risk they are for compassion fatigue and burnout (4).
Burnout and compassion fatigue are alike in that they can produce feelings of helplessness, isolation, anxiety, and depression, which can have detrimental effects on employee wellness. However, they are importantly different. Burnout is a process in which a previously dedicated person disengages from their work in response to prolonged stress on the job. Compassion fatigue, on the other hand can occur suddenly, or even arise as a result of a singular incident.
Here are some tips to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue in the workplace:
· Create a work environment with preventative resources and early intervention when symptoms begin to occur.
· Cultivate an open environment and a safe space to discuss how employees are affected by their work.
· Share the caseload of patients or clients, ensuring isolation will not occur.
· Encourage a work-life balance by prioritizing self-care through healthy eating, exercise, stress management, and mindfulness techniques (1).
· Ultimately, having meaningful relationships with ourselves, with others in and outside of work, and with something that brings meaning in our lives will help increase our resilience to burnout and compassion fatigue which in turn creates an environment that is positive for employees, management, and patients (3).
Investing in the welfare and mental health of your employees is an investment in the productivity and efficiency of your business overall. Contact OMH Solutions to learn more.
By Rachel Beebe
1. Jones, T. T. (2011). Burnout and Compassion Fatigue. Health Progress. (1)
2. Potter, P., Deshields, T., Divanbeigi, J., Berger, J., Cipriano, D., Norris, L., & Olsen, S. (2010). Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Clinical journal of oncology nursing, 14 (2).
3. Cave, D., & Psych, R. (2015). Resilience in Healthcare. BC PSYCHOLOGIST, 10. (3)
4. Cunningham, Amy. Drowning in Empathy: The Cost of Vicarious Trauma. TEDxSanAntonio, 15 Apr. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsaorjIo1Yc (4).