Why Aged Care is Suffering from Compassion Fatigue - and how to Employers combat it?

It’s a turbulent time for Aged Care Providers in Australia. With the introduction of the new accreditation standards, the wrap up of a Royal Commission and the beast that still is COVID-19, it should be no surprise that providers and employees are fatigued physically and emotionally. Fatigue can take many forms, but one of the most common forms that we see in client matters is compassion fatigue. In this blog, we will be touching on the signs of compassion fatigue and how organisations can reduce and combat compassion fatigue within their workforce.


What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is the decreased ability to empathise due to physical and emotional exhaustion. We know that the Aged Care industry is understaffed, with the Royal Commission noting that 58% of providers had inadequate staffing levels. Outcomes of inadequate staffing include higher stress levels, decreased quality of care due to time constraints and increased likeness of burn out. Many people confuse burnout and compassion fatigue but they are quite different in how they occur. Burn out generally develops over time, whereas the onset of compassion fatigue can be unpredictable and occur suddenly.


The Royal Commission report described the quality of care within the sector, in particular the ‘dehumanisation’ of residents and how the sector is failing its recipients on meeting their emotional and social needs due to the task-driven nature of Aged Care. Interestingly, the report fails to address compassion fatigue in the sector.


What are the signs of Compassion Fatigue?

In order to address compassion fatigue within the workplace, employers need to be aware of the sign of compassion fatigue. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Chronic exhaustion

  • Reduced feelings of sympathy or empathy

  • Dreading working for or taking care of another and feeling guilty as a result

  • Depersonalisation

  • Hypersensitivity or complete insensitivity to emotional material

  • Headaches

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Impaired decision making

  • Diminished sense of career fulfilment


It is worth noting that what happens in someone’s personal life can also increase their chance of suffering from compassion fatigue. If someone has caring responsibilities within the home, and works in a caring role, they may be at higher risk to suffer from compassion fatigue.


As an Employer, how do I prevent and combat Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue needs to be addressed at all levels in order for it to be effective. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Implementing an employee-led wellbeing program, which includes strategies to prevent and combat compassion fatigue

  • Delivering proactive training on compassion fatigue and associated topics such as mindfulness, relaxation and breathing techniques

  • Implementing a team nursing approach to care, with training to complement the importance of team within Aged Care.

  • Upskilling Managers on people management, with a focus on the signs of compassion fatigue and how to support employees suffering from compassion fatigue

  • Creating and supporting open forums to discuss issues within the workplace such as support groups

  • Providing self care offerings such as chill out zones, meditation or yoga classes, or gym discounts.

  • Implementing an Employee Assistance Program, which provides holistic support to employees from counselling to financial management.

  • Implementing a wellbeing calendar which focuses on mental health


Karen Ansen Consulting are Aged Care industry specialists and experts in Standard 7 under the Aged Care Quality Standards. We develop, design and implement HR frameworks for organisation’s who require guidance and support around their obligations. We also provide legal advice regarding workforce and other employment related issues. Please do not hesitate to give us a call on 0407 863 017 or send us an email at enquiries@karenansen.com.