Stress, depression and anxiety account for around 54% of all working days lost due to ill health, according to Office for National Statistics data.
Jayne Ellis, Chief Executive of EF training and expert on compassion fatigue explains how a unique, proactive emotional health and safety training course addressing the issue has proved to be so effective.
Every employer depends on having healthy and productive employees – and valued and supported staff are far more likely to deliver the best outcomes for your business.
In an industry where the caring and compassionate qualities of staff are so vital to success, caring for your team’s mental health must be a top priority.
However, the ability of staff to cope with the stress of the work has been largely taken for granted or ignored.
The perception of stress is very individual. A situation one person views as stressful another may see as pressure or a challenge. But the stress response to witnessed trauma is universal.
When faced with the suffering of others, the individual will be affected by this trauma as if it were happening directly to them and the fight or flight response will be initiated.
This process is called vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress and can be viewed as an occupational hazard for all of those working in a caring role. This response will occur whether the witnessed trauma is a one-off event or a slow absorption of trauma over a period of time.
Care staff are so profoundly affected because this natural response must be suppressed as they cannot react in the way their nervous system demands.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself into the shoes of another and feel what they are feeling. Theresa Wiseman summarised the defining attributes of empathy as the ability to see the world as others see it, be non-judgemental, understand another’s feelings and then communicate that understanding.
Working in a caring role demands a very well-developed empathetic response and care staff – who are usually naturally empathetic – are able to quickly form therapeutic relationships with those they care for.
This empathetic connection means that the client feels valued and understood and the care worker gains great satisfaction from knowing that they are helping the person and making a difference to them.
The more empathy the care worker feels for those in their care, the better they probably are at their job, but this also puts them at greater risk of being absorbed into the person’s suffering.
What is compassion fatigue?
The term compassion fatigue was first attributed to an American traumatologist called Charles Figley in the late 1980s. He studied many different caring professions and realised that the combination of witnessing trauma together with natural empathy puts care workers at great risk from being emotionally affected. Repressing the impact of this causes staff to suffer very similar symptoms as their nervous system reacts to the stress. He organised these symptoms into ‘phases’:
Anxiety Phase: Feeling ‘on edge’ all the time and stressed and finding it hard to switch off and relax or sleep. But on the outside appearing to be totally in control and the ‘perfect’ employee.
Irritability Phase: Becoming unreasonably upset or angry over ‘little things’ and feeling irritated with clients, colleagues, friends and loved ones.
Withdrawal Phase: Finding it hard to talk about work and feeling tired all the time but also feeling guilty as you begin to lose compassion and enthusiasm for your work.
Robot Phase: Feeling numb, unemotional, and detached like you are ‘just doing the job’.
You may not be familiar with the term ‘compassion fatigue’ and in fact as many as 90% of managers I have spoken to have not heard of it, however I guarantee that you and your staff will recognise some or all of the feelings and symptoms. This is totally normal, and the good news is that once you understand the causes, risk factors, signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue, reacting to and reversing them is simple.
With a proactive approach, support from employers, and helping staff to prioritise self-care, the emotional resilience of the whole organisation can be fostered, strengthened, and maintained.
EF training has been working with organisations for several years to support the emotional health and wellbeing of their teams. We work right across the health and social care sector with NHS trusts, including the Royal Marsden Hospital, charities and care organisations such as the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI).
Our training is CPD accredited and endorsed by Skills for Care and is designed to help all care staff and managers recognise the causes and impact of compassion fatigue and build strategies to strengthen emotional resilience.
The training is delivered either in person for up to 20 participants or virtually via live webinar for up to 10 people. The virtual training can be delivered in one day or split into three two-hour parts to fit in with organisational demands. We have separate courses for managers and frontline staff.
Prior to the training, all attendees are sent an anonymous pre-course questionnaire which is designed to evaluate if participants are exhibiting signs of compassion fatigue. This gives us valuable information about specific issues that the team might be experiencing and allow us to further tailor the training to their needs.
Following the training, the results of this anonymous questionnaire, together with feedback from the day, are shared with the organiser and further support and resources supplied. This information gives organisations the opportunity to gain a unique insight into how they can better support their team and just how simple some of these measures can be.
12 weeks after the training, all attendees are surveyed again to monitor the impact and effectiveness of the training and this data is also shared with the organisation. At this point, we can also offer ongoing support, monitoring and training if required.
The feedback we have had from both the attendees and the organisations has demonstrated that the impact of the training has been amazing. They have reported significant and sustained reductions in staff turnover and absenteeism, and it has helped managers implement changes to create a more supportive and compassionate work environment.
Feedback from managers:
- ‘Words cannot describe how much my team has benefitted from this training. Staff emotional resilience has increased, dramatically reducing sickness rates and no-one has left the team since the training!’
- ‘This training has transformed the way we work. Staff are able to speak about their feelings and managers have the skills to support their emotional needs.’
- ‘We are now properly looking after the emotional health of our employees!’
Feedback from attendees:
- ‘A really positive and worthwhile day’s training. Got the chance to reflect on the issues that we face as carers and how to deal with them.’
- ‘It was probably the best course I have ever been on.’
- ‘Very thought provoking. I am now aware of the symptoms of compassion fatigue and will be able to recognise them in myself and my colleagues.’
A lasting solution to compassion fatigue
Every year, organisations spend time and money on statutory and mandatory training courses.
It is time for emotional health and safety to be given equal value to physical health and safety.
Providing training for staff to enable them to understand the emotional impact of their work is vital so that they can build and maintain emotional resilience and recognise when they are feeling the symptoms of compassion fatigue.
Staff who have been on our training demonstrate clearly that being given the tools and strategies to react and put self-care strategies in place helps them cope better and remain compassionate and empathetic towards those in their care and their colleagues.
The organisations we have worked with have also shared with us simple but effective measures they have put in place following feedback from the training that has made a real and lasting difference to the emotional wellbeing of their teams.
I know that your staff will really appreciate the investment you make in them and your organisation will benefit in terms of quality, morale, staff retention and client satisfaction.
If you are still not sure how compassion fatigue affects you and your teams, please complete our free online test https://form.jotformeu.com/71012586975361
For further information and to book training for you and your team, please contact us.