Empathy fatigue used to be something typically experienced by those in the healthcare profession. Now, because the world has been entangled in a pandemic for longer than we all hoped, empathetic people are starting to feel drained by the immense emotions in their day-to-day lives.
As psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD notes in an article with Cleveland Clinic, parents, teachers, and even retail workers who have been at the helm trying to pilot the murky waters of this pandemic are susceptible to what was once only a significant issue for healthcare workers. As employees worldwide work to claw their way out of this grueling series of events, mental health should be a primary concern for employers.
How Does Empathy Fatigue Happen?
Multiple factors cause empathy fatigue to manifest even in those not in caregiving roles. Not being aware of how deeply your emotions are affecting you is a critical element in empathy fatigue. The constant mental load of tremendous emotions might seem manageable for a while, but a sudden tipping point can abruptly upend even the most emotionally stable person.
In a more normal setting, we had some way to shield ourselves from the overpowering sensations that come with empathy. In the pandemic world, however, no area has escaped the far-reaching effects. There is no debrief, no unload, and no escape from the crushing emotions of others at work or home.
Common Symptoms of Empathy Fatigue
Empathy fatigue and compassion fatigue are often used interchangeably. Although there are distinct differences, the effects of both share similar characteristics:
- Chronic exhaustion
- Disconnecting and feeling numb
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Irritability, anger, and sadness
- Feelings of contempt
- Physical manifestations like headaches, upset stomach, and weight changes
How Can Employers Help?
We are all in this pandemic together, so no matter the industry, we are likely in direct contact with a caregiver. This person might be a parent, a child with ailing parents, or just someone with a strong sense of compassion. Much like any mental health issue, addressing compassion or empathy fatigue also requires awareness as the first step. We have to acknowledge the individuals and their struggles.
One might ask, “Why should employers care?” The answer is simple; these kinds of workers are great for a company. In fact, according to Entrepreneur, a keen sense of empathy is a desirable characteristic for individuals in a work setting. Companies have a vested interest in taking care of their employees that prioritize caring about others.
The other question is, “How can we help personnel overcome the physical and mental trauma during a pandemic?” Here’s a start.
Advocate for a healthy work environment.
One primary thing a company can do is ensure a healthy work environment. While no one benefits from a toxic work atmosphere, people suffering from empathy fatigue will be more affected.
Empathetic people are uniquely important to a business, and managers can support all employees by having a few guidelines to prevent mental and emotional strain on anyone. By eliminating toxic spaces, employees can focus on what is essential; so keep these steps in mind to keep toxicity in the workplace to a minimum.
- Credit work where credit is due.
- Respect boundaries.
- Encourage teamwork and outlets for feedback.
- Lead by example and don’t have favorites.
- Have a culture of openness and mutual respect.
Managers should be checking in on employees even during the best of times. Still, during a global pandemic, it becomes much more necessary to ensure everyone is doing as well as can be expected. A company may find it meaningful to provide training for management or employees that involves respecting the mental well-being of others. Knowing what to say and how to say it is a critical skill.
A company also can encourage mental health management by providing information on resources when requested or as it becomes known. Part of the battle in mental health is just learning about resources available since those under extreme empathy fatigue may not have the clarity to seek it out. Making resources publicly available can help bridge this gap.
Part of the individual management of empathy or compassion fatigue means having boundaries to protect mental health. Above all, managers should respect boundaries and allow as much flexibility as feasible. Parents working from home with kids may be particularly exhausted and in need of flexibility. Thus, it’s important to let them know they are valued by the company enough to permit fluctuations in schedules.
A mental health struggle is very personal, but that doesn’t mean people should suffer alone. Empathetic employees are extremely valuable to a business, and we can’t risk losing them when help is available to benefit both the company and the individual. Managers should continue to be mindful of others by providing resources, helping protect individual boundaries, and providing a non-toxic workspace. Eventually, we hope the pandemic will be a memory, but we should not quickly forget the lessons we’re learning about employee well-being.
Looking for more ideas for supporting mental health and wellbeing?
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