What Management Needs to Know about Compassion Fatigue – Part 2


Imagine waking up in the morning with a sick feeling in your stomach dreading the day ahead. You really want to hide under the covers and call in sick but you don’t want to let your co-workers down. You drag yourself out of bed wondering how it got so bad. You used to love your work. It was your passion. It’s what you were born to do. You stayed back willingly and went the extra mile to find homes for the older dogs and cats. You spent your lunchbreaks with the 2 year old staffy-cross to train him so that he might be more likely to be adopted. Now, you feel tired, get frequent colds and just feel damn angry. If you see one more box of kittens at the front gate you’re not quite sure how you will cope. You’ve contemplated changing careers but this is all you know. Besides, who will look after the animals when you’re no longer there?

This is what can go through the minds of animal care professionals suffering from compassion fatigue. The condition can have significant and negative impacts on carer’s physical and psychological wellbeing. Because of this, awareness of the condition and knowledge of self-care and stress management strategies is crucial. It is equally important that management take steps to address the condition in the workplace. Compassion fatigue at an organisational level can lead to an increase in staff turnover, absenteeism and poor morale.

There’s a lot that management can do to take care of their staff, manage compassion fatigue and promote resilience.

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed two steps that management can take to address compassion fatigue in the workplace. Step 1 involved acknowledging compassion fatigue as a workplace hazard and making a commitment to address it in the workplace. Step 2 involved taking stock and measuring levels of compassion fatigue in the workplace. These two simple steps of making a commitment and raising awareness can have enormous benefits to staff morale. Here, I will discuss some additional management strategies for dealing with compassion fatigue.

What can management do if compassion fatigue levels are high?

Compassion fatigue, as a form of occupational stress, can be understood to be more likely to occur when demands of the job are high and the available resources are low. These resources can include job resources like supervisor coaching and autonomy as well as personal resources like self-esteem and optimism. Thinking about compassion fatigue in this way is consistent with a model known as the Job Demands Resources (JDR) model. This model has been used to understand burnout and workplace well-being in a number of professionals including the veterinary profession. Consistent with this model, it is expected that decreasing demands and increasing resources can ameliorate the symptoms of compassion fatigue.

Step 3. Reduce demands

According to the Shelter Employee Engagement and Development Survey (SEEDS), a consultation service developed by University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), management should address ways to decrease the frequency and duration of emotionally demanding tasks for staff. Some suggestions offered by SEEDS include the following:

  • Job rotations: Rotate staff so that one staff member is not charged with the responsibility of doing an emotionally demanding task, like euthanasia, all day.
  • Breaks: Ensure staff take breaks during their shift and take their annual leave. This ensures staff have time to rest and recover from stressful situations.
  • Autonomy: A sense of control is essential to managing all forms of stress. Autonomy can be achieved a number of ways including listening to and implementing suggestions from staff, seeking regular feedback and offering flexible work hours.

Step 4. Increase resources

SEEDS also offers the following suggestions on how to increase resources.

Person-related resources

  • Employee wellness programs: Offer staff the opportunity to learn ways to recharge their batteries and relax through programs like yoga and mindfulness meditation.
  • Provide coaching: Encourage supervisors to support and encourage their staff. Positive feedback from management can be a powerful motivator for staff. It shows them that their efforts are recognised and appreciated. Make sure it’s personal and genuine.
  • Peer support: Encourage staff to support each other. This can be done informally through briefings over lunch or formally via peer support groups.

Job-related resources

  • Volunteers: Utilise volunteers to reduce the demands on staff. It’s important to note here that volunteers will also need support and positive feedback so that they feel valued and part of the workplace community.
  • Set clear goals and rewards: Goals can be set in partnership with employees as a means of fostering a sense of accomplishment.
  • Upskilling staff: Train staff in other areas of the workplace so they can relieve areas that have become bottlenecked.

Management of compassion fatigue at the organisational level takes time, so patience is required. The key to successful management is communication with staff. Although it may take some time finding a solution that fits everyone, doing so is well worth the effort.

Most importantly, look after yourself. Managers are not immune to compassion fatigue. Remember, you need to take care of yourself before you can take of others. So lead by example and look after yourself.


Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (2013). Recognising compassion fatigue. Retrieved from http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/symptoms.html

Mastenbroek NJ, Jaarsma AD, Demerouti E, Muijtjens AM, Scherpbier AJ, van Beukelen P. (2013). Burnout and engagement, and its predictors in young veterinary professionals: the influence of gender. Veterinary Record, 174(6):144. doi: 10.1136/vr.101762.

Mastenbroek, N. J., van Beukelen, P., Demerouti, E., Scherpbier A. J. & Jaarsma, A. D. (2015). Effects of a 1 year development programme for recently graduated veterinary professionals on personal and job resources: combined quantitative and qualitative approach. BMC Veterinary Research, 11, 311. doi: 10.1186/s12917-015-0627-y.

Shelter Employee Engagement and Development Survey (SEEDS). (nd.). What if … Stress and burnout scores are high? Retrieved from https://seeds.uncc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2016/05/Stress-Burnout-Best-Practices-SeeDS.pdf