Episode 25: How can nonprofit leaders prevent compassion fatigue

Do your nonprofit programs have high staff turnover? If your organization serves communities who have experienced trauma, secondary traumatic stress disorder or as it’s better known, compassion fatigue, could be an explanation.

Anyone at your nonprofit who has direct contact working with people who have experienced trauma, is at risk of developing compassion fatigue. These symptoms may include feeling emotionally numb, increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, and even panic-like symptoms.

So, if working with people who have experienced trauma is core to your mission, yet compassion fatigue is a byproduct of this work, what can you do?

Here’s what you can expect to take away from this episode…

⦿ An understanding of what compassion fatigue is and why it leads to staff turnover

⦿ Which risk factors nonprofits can control to prevent compassion fatigue

⦿ How leaders can facilitate emotion management and prevent compassion fatigue


⦿ [2:30] An employee experiencing compassion fatigue not only experiences harm, but the symptoms may also result in an inability to perform to the best of their capabilities.
⦿ [5:55] In particular, several studies point to caseload size, workplace setting type, and supervisory relationships as having an effect on compassion fatigue.
⦿ [9:19] Even though not every social worker in this study was found to meet the criteria for compassion fatigue, many respondents experienced symptoms.
⦿ [12:24] So from all of the factors studied here, there are four factors that turn out to be predictive of compassion fatigue- supervisor relationship rating, income level, client caseload, and personal anxiety.
⦿ [15:30] If this staff member does not have the resources or does not feel as if they have the resources to help this person, secondary trauma may result.
⦿ [16:20] But as a leader, if you can intervene in this process and help staff manage their emotions, perhaps this would prevent compassion fatigue from developing.
⦿ [20:20] By attempting to not think about the negative emotion, it’s all you can think about and this rumination leads to negative outcomes.
⦿ [23:41] A leader can help them work through this and remind them of why this work is so important and how they have unique experiences that can help the community served by the nonprofit.
⦿ [25:04] The purpose of steering the conversation in this direction is not necessarily just to find the silver lining, it’s to help secondary trauma affected staff understand that while they are dealing with a situation in which they might feel helpless, they do have agency.
⦿ [28:29] Essentially you want to show your team that you can express negative emotion, so they feel as if you can hold space for them to discuss the negative emotions that emerge from secondary trauma.

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⦿ Article: Administration for Children and Families- Secondary Traumatic Stress
⦿ Article: Interpersonal leader responses to secondary trauma in nonprofit human services organizations
⦿ Article: Predictors of secondary traumatic stress among social workers: Supervision, income, and caseload size
⦿ Download The SIGNALS Framework FREE e-book

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