Compassion-Fatigue: An Analysis and Way Forward

Katie Zink
5 min readSep 24, 2020

In my last post, I shared about the concept of intersectional safety.

This means, despite our situational and socially constructed identity, we must all have our foundational needs and a real sense of security in place if we are to extend our abilities to care for the collective.

Let community be the entity that helps us to always feel safe.

Having our safety always in question strains our ability for community care and to extend the necessary compassion required for equity and anti-racism work.

From the ability to stay engaged with what’s happening around us and the critical thinking lens to stay informed of our social and political climate, the perceived threats in our immediate periphery force us into survival mode and apathy.

Ironically, in the healthcare world, compassion-fatigue is categorized as a safety concern.

Systematic resources are in place to keep nurses and other healthcare providers engaged and recharged to deliver quality care to patients. It’s only been on the radar of these institutions since the early 90s, and now with our social uprise on the increase, it’s existence is making its way into the business and professional realms.

Symptoms of compassion-fatigue arise in response to caring for people with trauma. In a prior post, I make the connection to why being trauma-informed at work results in a more inclusive culture and how it is all about acknowledging and honoring that everyone deserves a safe, welcoming, and inclusive work culture.

Companies who take a holistic trauma-informed approach can create more openness, understanding, and increase team trust, idea sharing, and connection, all conditions for compassion to thrive.

Not everyone can be a therapist or certified counselor, but we can all do more to be trauma-informed and thus, mitigating compassion-fatigue.

This article acknowledges the existence of compassion-fatigue in the context of global reckoning. I’ll point out where it may arise through multiple work settings and highlight opportunities to make changes.

From here, my hope is that you’ll understand some ways to metabolize the state of the world in order to guide or show up on your teams with heart.As leaders and managers, it’s important to uphold the conditions for a compassionate workspace to ensure an inclusive and equitable team culture. This best happens when your own needs are met, too. Keep advocating to your executives for the necessary resources and support to ensure this can happen.

Here are a few key tips to strengthen team bonds and uphold a culture of intersectional physical and psychological safety (even in a remote setting).

Create Opportunities for Honest and Open Conversation

Sometimes the simplest advice is the most overlooked. 38.2% of people say their company has not asked them if they are doing okay, and those same people are 38% more likely to say their mental health has declined.

To improve on this, managers and business leaders should work to be active and empathetic listeners, reciprocate when appropriate, communicate available resources, and be consistent with their interest in staff mental health.

By showing up with a genuine interest in your team’s wellbeing, you can help support their mental health and combat feelings of isolation and mental exhaustion.

Set Boundaries and Clear Expectations

Compassion-fatigue can easily settle when there are unclear or inconsistent boundaries. Without clear expectations around work hours, communication norms, and overall team structure — team members can find themselves burned out by not knowing how to conduct themselves. Team respect may also dwindle.

In contrast, staff who feel like they know what is expected of them have shown to be 30% more likely to have been more productive since switching to remote work.

The best thing managers and leaders can do to combat poor expectations is to provide clear and consistent communication, ensure team members have access to the resources they need to do their job effectively, and to set clear expectations and goals for team member’s work.

Include Your Team in Decision-Making

As we continue to work from home, it’s not uncommon for teams to feel like high-level decisions are being made without them. Feeling like a new announcement, change, or update could drop in your inbox at any time often results in feelings of detachment or potential forms of cognitive dissonance. These are difficult conditions for compassion to thrive.

Managers and leaders should work to create a feedback system for team members to provide their thoughts and insights on upcoming decisions. By communicating potential changes and providing opportunities for feedback in advance, leaders can help instill confidence, create buy-in, and improve team trust in their decisions.

Plan Clear and Inclusive Onboarding Practices

The first week of a new job is always a bit stressful and uncertain. And this easily goes double for new ‘quarantine’ hires who need to virtually navigate an entirely new team, work culture, and job expectations.

In a recent workshop I hosted, a participant said that when a new hire couldn’t get a sense of the team culture and dynamics, she eventually chose to resign. Not having clear and consistent onboarding practices can cost your business time, energy, and the ability to attract and retain talent.

As you virtually onboard new hires — make sure to share clear expectations, set ‘welcome meetings’ with team members, and provide helpful resources that communicate team culture to establish an early sense of belonging for new hires.

Overall, having an onboarding process that balances professional expectations with personal needs is the best way to ensure that your newest team member feels empowered and excited to tackle their new role.

Create Structures for Trust

Due to social distancing, managers that relied on ‘water cooler’ check-ins and ‘drop by your desk’ style communication needed to shift to new methods of ensuring that work is progressing.

Without these in-person check-ins, managers may feel like there’s a lack of trust and transparency in workflow and project progress. This can lead to over communication, micromanagement, and other practices that lead to bad boundaries, exhaustion, and team burnout. It’s important for managers and team leaders to create structures and systems that balance their need for updates with the team’s need for feeling trusted. It’s easier to extend compassion when there is trust.

Although there may be a bit of a learning curve, creating reliable systems and processes can help increase trust and transparency in your team’s work.

Regardless if you’re front-line staff or a manager yourself — we’re all at increased risk of compromised feelings of safety and the capacity for compassion.

By creating clear expectations, remote work norms, and open lines of communication, both managers and staff can enjoy a more supportive and inclusive work culture despite the times we’re in.

Originally published at https://katiezink.co on September 24, 2020.

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Katie Zink

DEI Strategist | Facilitator | Writer | Believes we’re all capable of our own revolution. Learn more about my signature consulting program at katiezink.co