Everything HR

Everybody Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in Human Resources

November 22, 2018

A human resources professional may have only one job title, but they almost always have more than one role in an organization. Among the most important roles HR plays are resolving disputes, addressing concerns and complaints, liaising between employees and management, and disciplining misconduct. All of these tasks require emotional sensitivity, patience, and understanding, but these tasks also exact a toll.

Empathizing with a person or being compassionate requires sharing that person’s pain or suffering, and that sharing has consequences. Over time, even the most compassionate person can suffer from compassion fatigue, where their capacity for empathizing with others is diminished. This can feel even more prevalent during the holiday season, which can put a lot of pressure on employees across the organization as both personal and professional obligations ramp up at the end of the year.

Compassion fatigue is similar to burnout, in that both states leave people feeling exhausted, disengaged, and sometimes irritable or morose, but compassion fatigue is a kind of burnout that arises specifically from the stress of managing one’s emotions in response to other people’s suffering and needs. Compassion fatigue commonly strikes professionals whose jobs require a lot of public-facing work, especially when those members of the public are in crisis.

Workers in mental health services, emergency services, or community outreach are often at risk of compassion fatigue, but so are retail workers, technical support representatives, and HR personnel. The pressure to always be professional (and even cheerful), regardless of the difficulty or stress of the task, or the rudeness of the person being served, takes a heavy toll on any employee, leading to persistent feelings of being burnt out.

The costs of compassion fatigue are real and can be debilitating. A person suffering from compassion fatigue may find it almost impossible to do their work. They may be curt and dismissive with colleagues or the public. They might make mistakes or become apathetic about their jobs. The most frustrating aspect about compassion fatigue is often that these employees don’t recognize these uncompassionate versions of themselves; they want to be empathetic, and know they should be, but they are physically and mentally too incapacitated to do so.

Does this sound like it could be you? Download our FREE Empathy Overload Guide, which can help you identify when you might be suffering from compassion fatigue, and steps you can take to address this condition.

Note: This article cannot and should not replace the advice of a mental health professional.

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