How to Recognize Compassion Fatigue in the Workplace

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Are your employees running on empty? While your employees spend most of their life at work, their home life plays a major part in their focus, productivity and overall work performance. Caring for their children and aging parents can take a toll on your employees’ morale and mental health. This condition, known as compassion fatigue, is important to recognize in your workplace.

Compassion fatigue is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and profound decrease in the ability to empathize. It is a form of secondary traumatic stress, as the stress occurs as a result of helping or wanting to help those who are in need. It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. While it is not uncommon to hear compassion fatigue referred to as “burnout,” the conditions are not the same. Compassion fatigue is more treatable than burnout, but can be less predictable and may come on suddenly or without much warning (whereas burnout usually develops over time).

Compassion fatigue is also extremely prevalent in the medical and mental health field. Physicians, nurses, therapists and emergency workers who help traumatized patients may develop their own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms as an indirect response to their patient’s suffering. A survey showed that 86.9% of emergency response personnel reported symptoms after exposure to highly distressing events with traumatized people, and 90% of new physicians, between 30 to 39 years old, say that their family life has suffered as a result of their work.

Compassion fatigue has a rapid onset, so recognizing symptoms in your employees can lead to faster recovery. Here are some core symptoms of compassion fatigue:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Increase in emotional intensity
  • Decrease in cognitive ability
  • Impaired judgment and behavior
  • Isolation and loss of morale
  • Depression and PTSD
  • Loss of self-worth and emotional modulation
  • Identity, worldview and spirituality impacted
  • Loss of hope and meaning, existential despair
  • Anger towards perpetrators or causal events


Many individuals with compassion fatigue see it as the cost of caring for others. Let them know that this isn’t the case. Your company’s EAP benefit can aid employees in practicing beneficial self-care. EFR’s EAP provides free counseling sessions to eligible employees who may self-refer or be encouraged to seek help for a personal issue that is affecting job performance. By continually bringing awareness to the program and marketing it within your organization, you can help connect your employees with the help they need.

For more information on compassion fatigue and how the EAP benefit can help, contact your EFR account manager today!