Tips to prevent the risk of compassion fatigue
There is ongoing work around the world when it comes to emotional loading, compassion fatigue and culture of care within animal research. An increasing amount of knowledge, tools and other support is available. We have compiled a list.
Employers and management can use the list to work on their organization’s culture of care and to prevent the risk of compassion fatigue in their personnel.
Workshop on emotional loading
During the FELASA meeting in 2022 the Swedish 3Rs Center attended a workshop on emotional loading for animal technicians. Participants were given tools to understand and regulate themselves and got to discuss scenarios put together by the organizers, describing events that may arise at an animal facilities. The workshop released thoughts and feelings animal technicians often suppress, but with the insight that this is normal, and also that there is help to get.
The intentions in creating this workshop was quite clear. In the organizers' own words:
“Technicians need to be cared for too, to reduce the risk of compassion fatigue and burn out. I am keen to help ensure that all aspects of the Culture of Care, including care for staff, are fully implemented.”
“Breaking the barrier of stigma, normalising discussion on the emotional challenges and hopefully giving people the tools, effectively empowering them, to create empathetic support channels within their respective workplaces is where I hope a workshop or presentation will conclude.”
“We have run a number of previous workshops, and have seen that discussing provocative examples gives rise to excellent discussions and allows animal technologists to think about their own experiences of emotionally challenging work in a supported way.”
If you want to attend this type of workshop, or is an employer that wish to organize it for your employees, please contact us at the Swedish 3Rs Center for more information and references.
Talk to someone
As a person with high emotional load or suffering from compassion fatigue, you often turn silent – but it is important for people to talk about it. Find someone that you feel comfortable with and that understands your work and talk to them. One tip from the workshop on emotional loading is to find someone at your job and trade thoughts. As an employer you can make it easier for your staff to find someone to talk to, perhaps through your occupational health care. This is especially important after bigger events such as euthanizing animals that animal technicians have grown attached to for a longer period of time.
Find your calm
There are several ways to self-regulate, one example is to find something that calms you. It can be some form of exercise, stretching, finding your purpose in the work you are doing, taking care of your pets or reading a book. Take some time for yourself and find what works for you. As an employer you can make sure that your employees have time for this, perhaps through a personal health care hour (Swedish friskvårdstimme), an extra coffee break or offer a yoga class.
When you feel physically unwell, whether it comes from just a bad night’s sleep or an illness you don’t take to the doctor, you will mentally feel worse. Remember that no one gains from you feeling poorly, least of all yourself. Make sure you keep yourself happy and prioritize your health wherever you can. As an employer you can make sure that the animal technicians have the knowledge they need, for example by having lectures on the importance of sleep. Also keep an eye on your employees and encourage them to get help if they need to. Make sure they know it is okay to take the time to seek medical help.
Get rid of the blame
As one animal technician has expressed it to us: we are all humans and mistakes will happen. When mistakes happen, try to use it as a learning experience within your team or unit. No one will feel better from casting blame and it will not solve anything. As humans we know this, but trying to put blame on someone or something is a natural response to make sense of the situation. Try instead to objectively find what went wrong and look into if you can learn something from the experience as a group and what can be done to keep it from happening again. As an employer it is your responsibility to foster such a culture through leading by example.
Appreciate the role of research animals
It has often been said that research animals are heroes. Without them we would not have many of our medicines, our knowledge and our treatments of today. Technicians know this, but still it can be hard to see the use when you are so close and know that the animals are not doing it voluntarily. But what we can do is to celebrate them. Remember them, put up pictures and honour them. As an employer you can make this possible. Perhaps offer a wall or a whiteboard in a visible place where the technicians can put up pictures and poems about the animals. You can also create a safe and calm space for the animal technicians just to sit, relax, grief and remember in their own time.
Our final tip is to actively work with the 3Rs. One risk factor for compassion fatigue is wanting to give the animals more enrichment, but not being able to do so. As an animal technician you can investigate ways of enriching the animals without risking the research, and present it to your employer. As an employer it is your job to encourage these efforts and say yes whenever possible. More enrichment will provide both the employees and the animals with a better welfare.