How To Avoid Compassion Fatigue: Care For Your Staff So They Can Care For The World – Forbes

Posted: January 25, 2020 at 8:45 pm


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They call it "compassion fatigue," the burnout that people in our line of work experience. In the nonprofit sector, we work for more than a paycheck, opening our hearts and minds to the needs of others. And sooner or later, that takes a toll.

Mental health has become a huge challenge in all sectors. An estimated 83% of U.S. workers report significant work-related stress, costing businesses as much as $300 billion per year in absenteeism and treatment-related expenses.

Its worse for professional do-gooders. Driven by passion, nonprofit workers put in long hours for significantly less than they would earn in the private sector because they believe in the cause. Those who work closely with vulnerable and at-risk populations can experience "vicarious trauma," the emotional residue that comes with witnessing trauma and taking your work personally. In Calgary, Canada, one study observed people who worked with the homeless and found that 25% were suffering from burnout, while 36% showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The risks of compassion fatigue are never far from mind in our household. I have spent 25 years working in the charitable sector. My partner, Leysa, works with nonprofits and healthcare professionals, teaching them how to cope with stress and vicarious trauma as a mindfulness coach. Weve both learned how to be more mindful at home and at work, and we strive to share those practices.

When it comes to employee wellness, nonprofits dont usually have the resources to install full-time yoga studios and smoothie bars in our offices like big tech companies do. Nevertheless, there are cost-effective measures nonprofit employers can implement to avoid compassion fatigue and promote employee well-being. Here are a few steps you can take:

Create a mindful team

Stress management and self-care are learned techniques. Offer your team a basic level of mental health literacy to help them spot the signals that their well-being, or that of a co-worker, is at risk. Like all skills, these things must be taught.

If you have the resources, enroll your team in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, such as the one developed by the University of Massachusetts. There are also cost-free resources (and it doesnt hurt to ask for a charitable discount). Our staff at WE used "Teach" mental health literacy and care resources developed by the University of British Columbia, a free program.

To ensure that self-care is more than a one-time thing, ask two or three people to volunteer for training as instructors, and have them conduct mindfulness sessions throughout the year as an ongoing resource for their co-workers.

Build connections

Loneliness and isolation contribute to mental health issues. You can combat them by boosting interpersonal connectedness in your work environment. But that takes more than awkward holiday office parties once a year.

Go out for lunch as a team. Host mini-events like Taco Tuesday or Waffle Wednesday to bring a little low-pressure fun and interaction to the office. At WE, our teams celebrate "workaversaries" and made it part of our culture to give shout-outs or notes of gratitude when someone meets a milestone with the organization. Instituting these practices interdepartmentally or in larger meetings can help different teams better understand what the others do, further improving overall organizational cohesion.

Create safe spaces

WE created an anonymous online reporting system and conducts annual staff surveys (also anonymous) with comprehensive questions about job satisfaction and workplace challenges. Its a safe space to share concerns. Survey responses help the organization identify areas for improvement so we can create a better -- and less stressful -- work experience.

When possible, give everyone a chance to speak up and share whats on their minds during team and organizational meetings.

Remember: Time is well-being

Mental health breaks and me time arent just expressions; theyre wellness tools. After a particularly intensive or stressful project or activity, give your staff some paid time off. Our WE Day staff spends weeks on the road every year, working long days around each of our 18 youth empowerment events in stadiums across North America and the U.K.. We give them all a day off after every event to rest and reenergize.

Wellness time is also essential when front-line staff works with vulnerable individuals or traumatic situations. If a staff member handles a bad case of domestic violence or experiences the death of a homeless client theyve worked with, they need healing time. Keep a list of local counselors and other support services if they need it, and update the list regularly.

In general, a flexible workplace enables your team to work around time challenges in their personal lives. Parents who are not on leave should be welcome to bring their babies to work from time to time. If schools close for inclement weather and parents cant find childcare at the last minute, WE invite our staff to bring school-aged children to the office should they choose.

Integrate wellness from Day 1

Include mental health and well-being in your onboarding process for new staff members. Walk them through all of the policies, programs and other mental health-related initiatives at your organization. Let them know that wellness is part of your culture.

They say that giving starts at home. Well, so does well-being. As nonprofits, we care about the well-being of the world we live in. That begins with ensuring the well-being of those passionate individuals who work with us.

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How To Avoid Compassion Fatigue: Care For Your Staff So They Can Care For The World - Forbes

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January 25th, 2020 at 8:45 pm