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Be Connected: Compassion fatigue and burnout


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Human Resources

We put together this post to help you recognize and combat the effects of compassion fatigue and burnout. If you are struggling, the Employee Assistance Program is available to help you and your family members restore and initiate well-being in work and life.

Working in public service requires compassion and empathy for the concerns of others every day, often in stressful situations. Many of our employees engage with members of the public all day long, and/or have parenting or caregiving responsibilities outside of work hours. 

While serving residents and caring for others may be manageable under normal circumstances, the cumulative impact of supporting so many people through a global pandemic can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. 

Compassion fatigue is a type of stress that results from helping or wanting to help those who are traumatized or under significant emotional duress. You may still feel empathy and the desire to help, but you might be too overwhelmed or exhausted to provide the level of care you are used to giving. Compassion fatigue and burnout can both include emotional and physical exhaustion, feelings of negativity and indifference, and feeling like you’re not getting the job done.


The first step in combating compassion fatigue and burnout is to recognize the signs and be aware of what you’re feeling. Signs that you may be struggling with these issues can include:

  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Isolating yourself
  • Loss of pleasure in your work 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Insomnia or increased nightmares
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Frequent complaining about your work or your life
  • Poor self-care, overeating, and/or excessive use of drugs or alcohol 
  • Beginning to receive a lot of complaints about your work or attitude

If the above signs and symptoms ring true in your life, here are some suggestions to help alleviate this type of stress:

  • Use your available PTO and take a personal day or some vacation time. Even if you can only take a few hours or a half-day off, giving yourself a little extra time away from work can help you recharge. 
  • Connect with friends and loved ones. Spending time chatting with friends or family on the phone, sharing a meal or doing an activity over video chat, or taking a walk with a friend (as long as you are both wearing masks and maintaining a 6 foot distance!) are great ways to de-stress and take your mind away from work. 
  • Share your feelings with someone. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope.
  • Replenish your compassion for others through mindfulness. 
  • Seek professional help. The Employee Assistance Program is available to help you and your family members restore and initiate well-being in work and life. 

Those who manage employees— from cabinet chiefs to frontline supervisors—can help to prevent and reverse burnout. Here are some tips for compassionate leaders to support their employees' ability to stay motivated and engaged: 

  • Provide clear expectations for your team and confirm that each employee understands those expectations.
  • Make sure that your employees have the resources to meet expectations.
  • Encourage employees to participate in any available trainings and workshops to strengthen skills required for their role.
  • Help employees understand their value to the organization and their contributions to the City’s goals.
  • Enforce reasonable work hours.    
  • Help your team assess their workload and prioritize tasks. If an employee is consistently overwhelmed with work, work together to develop a plan of action that includes specific solutions to past, current and potential work-related issues. Here’s a guide for developing a workplace plan.
  • Encourage social support and respect within and among work teams.
  • Support physical activity throughout the workday.
  • Strongly encourage the taking of breaks away from the work environment.
  • Look for signs of compassion fatigue or burnout, or both, reach out and show compassion to employees who may be struggling.

By being aware of the warning signs and taking action, you can prevent compassion fatigue and burnout, and continue doing what City of Boston employees do best—change lives for the better, one day at a time.

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