This article was first published by Troy Media.
Lucy is a manager who oversees a large team of sales reps. Like many other organizations, hers quickly made the transition to work-from-home. It was a new experience for a team used to working from their downtown office. Lucy used to be able to monitor her team with regular walk-arounds and check-ins. She had a good handle on how people were doing and who was struggling. Now it can take her hours to check in on people. She prefers video so she can see body language and maintain a personal connection. The number of challenges team members are dealing with has sky-rocketed. Many live in small spaces shared with others also working from home. Some struggle with child care. Some live alone and are perpetually lonely. Some have family members they are worried about. Many are bored, distracted, anxious. Lucy genuinely cares about people and has always taken a personal interest, but now she spends a lot of her time listening to and coaching people around both work and personal challenges. On top of that, her company’s management have stressed the importance of employee wellness and support. They are trying to provide resources and training to help managers like her cope with the new demands, but the roll-out has been slow. She feels a lot of pressure to deliver targets, manage and motivate her team, and also monitor and support their wellbeing. In what she would call a moment of weakness, Lucy broke down and admitted she found the “endless how are you doing?” conversations tedious, stressful and exhausting.
Compassion fatigue is a form of burnout - physical or emotional exhaustion - that results in a reduced capacity to empathize or feel compassion for others. Historically, we have talked about compassion fatigue within the context of healthcare professionals or those working with victims of traumatic stress. It is a serious condition and I have to believe many of our healthcare and longterm care workers are suffering from this today. What I have noticed with leaders I coach or interact with is some of them, like Lucy, have also experienced a form of compassion fatigue.
Organizations should be applauded for the outstanding efforts they have made to accommodate and support employees through the pandemic. It really does feel like we are in this together. But responsibility for executing on the goal of responding with care and compassion has fallen largely on managers, many of whom lack the experience, training, skills or even motivation to confidently and competently fulfill this role. In addition to managing performance, morale and engagement, we have charged them with the responsibility for overseeing the mental and emotional well-being of their teams. It is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone in the middle of a crisis when they, too, are dealing with pandemic-induced challenges, stress and their own mental health. We should not be surprised if, when we ask people to step up and demonstrate an extended and elevated level of compassion, sometimes they get tired.
If you are a leader, you may have felt the burden of care for others weigh heavily on your shoulders. You may find your interest and concern for them ebbs and flows. Some days you may even feel like screaming. This is completely normal. Here are a couple of suggestions around what you can do to support yourself when you feel compassion fatigue.