Since early 2020—with the many changes to work life and the personal, social, economic challenges beyond it—our collective mental well-being is at the forefront. Employees and leaders have encountered the same messages:
- “Make space for mental health.”
- “Embrace vulnerability.”
- “Lead with empathy.”
These are admirable principles. And when we’re feeling stretched to capacity, they’re also hard to practice consistently. According to a 2021 study, 70% of CEOs and over 50% of HR professionals said it’s hard for them to demonstrate empathy at work. That’s a 29-point increase for CEOs and a 13-point increase for HR pros compared to 2020.
And the challenges aren’t just affecting leaders. Summoning empathy and patience during this time of great change can be draining for everyone. It’s a natural condition, and it’s called compassion fatigue.
Empathy is important, but it also takes energy
According to the chief of psychology for the University of Vermont Health Network, compassion fatigue is “a biological and physiological response where you are so exhausted—physically, emotionally, psychologically—that you no longer have the personal reserve to feel for other people.” It can lead to detrimental health effects like headaches and chest pain. It can also lower job performance, productivity, and morale.
Compassion fatigue originally described the experience of professionals in high-stress, emotionally demanding jobs, such as healthcare. Now, record-high resignations and employee burnout indicate that compassion fatigue is weighing heavily across all industries.
People in every role expected to provide care and support are especially susceptible, including customer service agents, HR teams, and managers. Thankfully, there are strategies to help overcome compassion fatigue at both a personal and organizational level.
If your team is checking out, time to check in
With over half of employees planning to look for new jobs in 2021, finding ways to nurture empathy in the workplace may be essential. You can help unburden your team with tools, systems, and policies that help foster empathy with less effort and more ease. Here are ways you can support yourself and your teams when compassion fatigue sets in.
During stressful times, it’s worth taking time to celebrate wins, especially since 74% of employees wish they received more recognition. Start meetings by sharing glowing customer reviews or impressive business outcomes. One study showed that if a leader reads positive news before completing a task with a team, they work faster and more effectively than teams whose leader starts with negative information.
If you use Grammarly Business, you can find success stories in your analytics dashboard. By viewing your team’s aggregate progress, you’ll likely discover improvements in writing quality over time. Your team’s success stories can boost confidence in their writing skills and reveal which communication habits make a positive impact.
80% of users report that using Grammarly reduces their anxiety before sharing their writing with others.
Beware of toxic positivity
Sharing emotions can bring teams closer together, while forcing positivity can have negative effects. As Fast Company reports in a study of 227 working groups in a Japanese company, leaders who discouraged emotional expression were more likely to inhibit performance and burn out their teams.
It’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect employees to be happy all the time. Make space for your teams to share feelings of all kinds, including sadness and disappointment. This goes for managers, too: Demonstrating your vulnerability is a core component of leading with empathy.
Make it easier to communicate with empathy
Communication is both a source of compassion fatigue and one of its solutions. Again, according to Fast Company, teams that communicate well outperform teams that don’t. High-performing teams also report feeling more satisfied with their work.
Strike the right tone
Distractions or difficulties outside of work can impact how team members communicate. They may become impatient and pay less attention to the impact of their words, and those communications could cause tension on teams. Luckily, there are ways to support more empathy in writing.
For instance, Grammarly Business features brand tones, an extension of our tone detector that helps identify the mood of messages before teammates hit send. Flagging words and phrases that deviate from your company’s brand style or give off unintended negativity allows team members to rephrase their writing with ease. Over time, your team can learn to develop consistent, compassionate communication skills.
Increase confidence and reduce stress
It’s important to remember that team members are juggling more than just their work. Look for ways to lighten the load.
Distribute empathetic work
Empathy isn’t the sole responsibility of HR or team leaders. Harvard Business Review recommends spreading work that requires empathy—mentoring, coaching, leading employee resource groups—across the team so it doesn’t land on only a few people.
Give people self-focused breaks
Allowing your team to take time to focus on their own needs can help replenish their reserves. Encourage your team to take self-focused breaks, whether that’s muting notifications during lunchtime or reminding them to take the paid time off they need and deserve. At Grammarly, we recently implemented dedicated Recharge days to give all team members time off to participate in activities that fuel their creativity and recharge their batteries.
Automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks
Find opportunities to automate repetitive tasks and lighten the emotional lifting in communication workflows. For example, Grammarly Business users can communicate with less effort using time-saving snippets, perfect for scripting difficult or frequently used messages like customer support’s return policies or HR’s notes on benefits.
Ultimately, even the best workplace policies and technology can’t eliminate compassion fatigue altogether. However, there are ways to limit compassion fatigue when you understand it and its impact on yourself and your colleagues. Through understanding, you can find ways to protect your team’s emotional reserves and help your organization reduce burnout and turnover while supporting an empathetic workplace culture.