Hospital using wellbeing to challenge 'compassion fatigue'

Apr 28, 2017

A new study following more than 250,000 Canadian workers in over 40 organisations as they implement national mental health reforms has found many are starting to see surprising flow-on benefits. Though an overwhelming majority of the organisations had begun implementing wellbeing changes because they felt it was the ‘right thing to do’, many are now starting to see unexpected positive effects, including improved organisational reputation, increased employee engagement, and improved employee health and wellbeing.

In 2014, the Mental Health Commission of Canada began a three-year case study project to try to understand how workplaces across Canada were implementing its voluntary National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

One organisation seeing enormous benefits already is Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital.

The hospital has changed the focus of its wellbeing program from focusing on physical health to a more holistic approach, now encompassing mental health, wellbeing, and spiritual health.

As a result, it’s found its employee engagement levels, where employees feel satisfied and engaged with their work, have risen from 53% to 72%, and patient satisfaction levels have increased from 85% to 92% over a five-year period.

Long-term disability claims related to psychological conditions have halved within the first three years of the program, and medications aimed at treating mental health conditions are no longer in the hospital’s top five prescription drug consumption costs.

Some of the hospital’s initiatives include a peer support system for staff following exposure to traumatic situations at work, de-escalation training to help support staff with difficult-to-manage patients, and a program aimed at challenging the idea that burnout, or compassion fatigue, is just ‘part of the job’ for hospital staff.

According to Christine Devine, Michael Garron Hospital’s Wellness Specialist, challenging burnout requires a shift in mindset from seeing it as a necessary part of working in a hospital setting to seeing it as an occupational hazard, and providing practical tools to staff.

“It’s very important for us to normalise it, to validate it, to say we understand what you’re experiencing. And to also provide them with some methods of dealing with the risk and perhaps mitigating it.

“So we work on resilience, we work on mindfulness, we focus a lot on self-care.

“We need institutions to go beyond saying, ‘We have a gym. That’s enough,’ and focus on more solutions.”

The study has found leaders who actively champion the standard, demonstrating that mental health is consistent with the organisation’s goals, have an easier time implementing the standards.

In fact, here in Australia, Heads Up has found buy-in and ongoing commitment from managers is one of the critical success factors in successfully improving mental health outcomes in the workplace.

Business leaders can positively influence workplace mental health and wellbeing by:

  • demonstrating a visible, active commitment to mental health in the workplace
  • speaking out about mental health in the workplace (including any personal experiences)
  • making mental health an objective of the organisation or business, incorporating it into organisational values and KPIs
  • integrating good health and safety management into all business decisions
  • rewarding managers for maintaining a mentally healthy workplace
  • developing their leadership and people management skills
  • allocating necessary resources for change, and establishing performance measures
  • promoting a zero-tolerance approach to stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions
  • providing flexible working conditions that promote employee mental health
  • identifying and supporting internal ‘champions’ with the skills and influence to lead workplace mental health initiatives.

It’s important to remember every business is different, and how you approach implementing workplace change will be different from workplace to workplace. 

To find out what role you can play in making positive change in the mental health and wellbeing of your workplace, read our guide to the roles of different individuals.

Find out more
Read who can influence workplace change, and how you can play your part
Find out how to get started on taking action today


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