Otago Polytechnic

You can avoid running on empty due to compassion fatigue by implementing suitable strategies.

Employees with empathy are valuable in any workplace. They have the ability to comprehend another's feelings, and can relate effectively and sensitively to someone else by putting themselves in the other's shoes. But how can we best develop empathy skills in the workplace?

Lecturers Dr Lesley Gill, Marjolein Schaddelee and Dr Steve Atkins, with support from students Sam Turner and Tom Naylor, sought to answer this question by carrying out semi-structured interviews with five managers and five empathy trainers. The five managers were from a hospital, the police, a correctional facility, a social service agency, and a hospice.

The results confirmed that the capacity to show empathy depends on situation and context, and is based partly on people drawing on their own past experiences. Empathy can be depleted, and compassion fatigue is a problem for employees in high stress situations, including dealing with difficult people or people with high needs.

Empathy training is therefore valuable:

  • to help employees recognise when their "tank"of empathy is running low, before that becomes critical
  • to give employees strategies to deal with and avoid empathy burnout by refilling their tank.

Such strategies include a healthy work/life balance, spiritual support and self-care. 

The team hopes their findings will inform workplace empathy training, to help employees maintain their empathy.

 

Links

WORKPLACE & SOCIAL-SPACE

March 2018

Image credit: Sarah Barker, used under Creative Commons licence Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives CC BY-NC-ND 2.0