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Combating Compassion Fatigue by Encouraging Wellness at Work

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Nothing can fuel the flames of compassion fatigue and lead to burnout faster than having a toxic work environment. If you are a director, manager, owner, or supervisor, this article may be especially helpful for you!

These days, more than 50 percent of workplaces in the US offer some type of wellness program – and for good reason! More than 80 percent of employees who engage in personal wellness report being happy with their work and plan to stay at their jobs. Workplace wellness programs have resulted in fewer sick days and even healthcare costs. Today, more and more people view workplace wellness programs not just as a perk, but as a necessity. In fact, 87 percent of jobseekers say they consider health and wellness benefits when considering whether or not to work for an organization.

I have even received anecdotal evidence myself. After years of traveling around the country presenting workshops and lectures on compassion fatigue, the feedback I received was along the lines of, “This is great, but we need more!” Staff and volunteers wanted more access to me, and more ongoing education regarding wellness and compassion fatigue management. That led me to create year-round, custom wellness programs for animal welfare organizations and individuals. If you’re interested, learn more here. If you prefer a DIY approach, here are some helpful tips to get you started:

· Bring awareness to the concept of compassion fatigue. Many employees may feel alone in their struggles. Being educated about compassion fatigue and normalizing the accompanying feelings can help staff members feel less isolated and better equipped to handle the stress that comes with animal welfare work.

· Team up with a specialist or mental health professional to offer workshops on compassion fatigue, grief, stress reduction, anger management, or other pertinent topics.

· Encourage professional development by offering free trainings, paid time off for conferences, and/or financial assistance with continuing education classes.

· Consider cross-training your staff so that, for example, the same person isn’t stuck performing euthanasia all the time.

· Create a wellness-friendly atmosphere by allowing – and insisting – employees take breaks, including lunch. Suggest they get outside the building and take walks or practice relaxation exercises.

· Offer workplace benefits that foster self-care, such as gym memberships or massage gift certificates.

· Install a vending machine or stock the company fridge with healthy snacks and plenty of water. Be sure to include vegan and gluten-free options.

· Have policies in place – and enforce them – that prevent workplace gossip, bullying, blame, and harassment. We’re all in this together!

· If euthanasia is part of the job, help out your staff by creating a room that reflects calm and comfort rather than a prison cell. Use soft lighting, calming paint colors, and relaxing music. Always have staff members work in pairs and place all techs on a rotating schedule. Never euthanize animals in front of other animals.

· Have a suggestion/idea box for employees and/or volunteers to contribute to. Consider having a contest, such as suggestion of the month, and give prizes that encourage self-care – such as an extra day off.

· Give staff members a say. Allow for flexibility in their work schedules and accommodate for sick days and vacations.

· Create opportunities for team members to discuss stressful, challenging, or traumatic situations by holding regular debriefing sessions, where they have a safe, supportive, and confidential space to express themselves. You don’t have to be a trained expert to facilitate these meetings – just listen and validate.

· Create a wellness room or space. Even if you only have an extra closet to spare, you can create a space where employees can go and find a bit of respite during their busy day. For small spaces, you might include a yoga mat or meditation cushion, noise-cancelling headphones, a sleep mask, candles or essential oil diffuser, foot or back massager, soft lighting, and some uplifting, inspirational, nature-themed, or animal-themed artwork. Perhaps you have an extra corner where you can place a treadmill or even a punching bag for a little anger management! Larger rooms could accommodate a soft recliner chair with a blanket, a massage chair, or a small desk or table with some adult coloring books or jigsaw puzzles. (Check out my coloring book here specifically made for compassion fatigue!)

· Implement wellness challenges that focus on developing healthy behaviors such as step, hydration, and sleep challenges. Be sure to offer small incentives such as gift cards, extra PTO, self-care journals, or company swag.

· Create a book club. If your budget allows, consider subsidizing books or audio book memberships for those interested in participating.

· Consider having a few copies of my book To Save a Starfish: A Compassion Fatigue Workbook for the Animal Welfare Warrior or other books focused on metal health on hand for staff and volunteers.

· Encourage physical activity, socialization, and taking breaks by having an organized walking club.

· Recognize and celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries.

· When in doubt, ask for staff input to create a well-rounded, inclusive program that everyone feels invested in.

· Leadership must “buy in” and set a positive example. Whatever wellness activities or policies you put in place, be sure to participate yourself so that employees will follow your lead!


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