Compassion fatigue : Say yes to empathy at work … in moderation

Far from being simply a virtue, according to professor of management Adam Waytz, being too empathetic at work can be counterproductive. Take compassion fatigue into consideration.

Nobody questions the importance of putting others first. This quality is essential in meeting clients and as much in employee management—without even taking into account that it promotes a healthy work climate.

Imagine, for a moment, what your everyday life would be like if your boss was totally devoid of empathy.

“Client case studies show that empathetic leaders mobilize employees more.” Organizational development adviser, Yarledis Coneo, supports this, “… this also has beneficial effects on employees’ mental health because they feel useful from offering their help.”

But according to Waytz, empathy is a double-edged sword that can bring its own share of personal and organizational problems such as compassion fatigue.

Is the glass overflowing?

In Waytz’s article “The Dark Side of Empathy” published by the Harvard Business Review, he explains that by sacrificing our own needs in favour of others, we exhaust our reserves of compassion… and become insensitive.

Workers labouring in the health, educational, or philanthropic sectors are especially at risk. Compassion fatigue makes them more susceptible to making mistakes, missing work, or even quitting their job.

It is not rare to see people with their hands full offering to unload their colleagues’ workload. “They have superhero syndrome and feel guilty if they can’t support them.” explains Coneo. This guilt adds to work stress and nobody has an endless supply of compassion.

An American study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people who excessively preach empathy have a harder time balancing work and their personal lives.

The organizational development advisor adds, “The more we dedicate our energy to listening to our colleagues’ problems and lending them a hand when they are overwhelmed, the less we rest once home.”

Apart from the interpersonal and psychological issues, an employee who feels other’s pain might compromise their own ethics. As a result, by being loyal to our colleagues, we might end up hiding some reprehensible facts to protect them. Many studies show that people are more susceptible to cheat and lie when it is for the well-being of another.

Strike a balance

Each person is different, how do you know if you are going too far with your compassion?

Coneo clarifies, “Empathy becomes problematic when we surpass our limits.” To find your limits, it is good to know and help yourself in order to better help others. She adds, “Above all, remember when we say no to someone, we say yes to ourselves and other priorities.”

You no longer have to act because others talk about their problems around you. She emphasizes, “We need to ask if they need help, then decide if we want to give it based on our values and personal limits.”

Despite everything mentioned, there are still more advantages to showing empathy in the workplace over the inconveniences.



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