Feb 26, 2019 11:00 AM


three nurses at huntsman cancer institute stand arm in arm

Burnout and compassion fatigue are normal reactions to the abnormally stressful job of caring for patients. To support Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) hospital and clinic staff, HCI leaders created the Compassionate Workplace program, which promotes resiliency and well-being. We talked to Susan Childress, RN, MN, OCN, director of nursing services at HCI, about the program.  

What is the Compassionate Workplace program? 

The work we do at HCI is meaningful and challenging, but it can lead to compassion fatigue and possibly burnout. Supporting employees with education and evidence-based services has been shown to decrease the negative aspects of this difficult work. As an organization, we are committed to supporting all employees on the front lines of patient care and those who provide support to the front lines. 

Why is there a need for something like this?

Research tells us that staff who display signs of burnout do not perform well and don’t stay with the organization as long. They aren’t as engaged, are physically and emotionally exhausted, and have poor relations with patients and co-workers. All this leads to increased costs and legal risks along with decreased productivity and quality.

What specifically does the Compassionate Workplace program provide for staff?

These are just some of the things we’ve implemented:

  • More offerings for staff through HCI’s Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center, such as yoga, exercise classes, mindfulness sessions, art, music, and writing
  • A significant increase in full-time employees to support the workload
  • Remodeled lunch rooms to encourage staff to take their lunch breaks
  • Schwartz Rounds, a program that provides a safe space for staff to talk about the difficult aspects of providing care
  • Free chair massages
  • Resiliency retreats
  • An exercise room
  • A wellness coordinator

Is the program making a difference?

We measure success in a variety of ways:

  • Employee engagement surveys. The most significant change was in responses to the statement “My organization helps me deal with stress and burnout.” The positive responses went from 42.3% in 2015 to 50.8% in 2017.
  • Tracking turnover. Our staff turnover rate isn’t high but it’s certainly something we track. Right now our turnover rate is around 3%, compared to the regional turnover rate of 15–18%.
  • Reporting problem behavior. Although problem behavior among staff is rare, it has a huge impact on an employee’s work environment. A significant number of people, including senior leaders, view our reports about problem behavior. HCI managers have completed extensive training and work closely with our human resources department to address behavior issues.

What do employees say about the program?

Here are a few positive comments we’ve received: 

  • “Glad there’s a committee for this. It shows administration is supportive to staff and that they are willing to receive feedback and input from staff.”
  • “This [resiliency retreat] was very helpful and I appreciate it.”
  • “I'm so grateful for the Compassionate Workplace initiative at HCI. It's very helpful and will help us take care of our patients better.”

Nursing Cancer Care