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 people with cancer and their loved ones. To support all staff at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), HCI leaders created the Compassionate Workplace program to promote joy in work and foster resiliency.

Compassionate Workplace supports the personal growth and development of our employees, respects their individual uniqueness, and celebrates the impact they make in the lives of those we serve. Compassionate Workplace is built on bridging equity, diversity, and inclusion with joy in work. The framework that supports this structure includes a focus on community, assessment, resilience, education, and safety.

compassionate workplace graphic

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. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It can happen from feeling chronically overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Supporting employees with education and evidence-based services can 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.

The initial driver of Compassionate Workplace was to address compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a condition that results from ongoing emotional and physical exhaustion. It can lead to a lowered ability to empathize or feel compassion for others. Sometimes this is called the negative cost of caring or secondary traumatic stress. As time went on and staff needs evolved, other priorities started to emerge, including civility, safety, and anti-discrimination. Compassionate Workplace now works toward creating a sense of community for all HCI staff that fosters equity, diversity, and inclusion.

What specifically does the Compassionate Workplace program provide for staff?

 Compassionate Workplace has put many initiatives into place:

  • Wellness 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
  • The PROMISE Standards, which are the behavioral standards at HCI: Patient centered, Respect, Ownership, Making a difference, Innovation, Safety, Excellence
  • An on-site Starbucks for staff and patients
  • B.E.R.T – Behavioral Emergency Response Team: a process for addressing behavioral emergencies in the hospital and de-escalation training for staff
  • Restoring Balance Retreats for staff
  • Leadership-specific manager training
  • Increased staffing to meet clinical workload needs
  • Schwartz Rounds, a program that provides a safe space for staff to talk about the difficult aspects of providing care
  • An annual Grief and Remembrance Celebration for staff and families
  • The HCI Anti-Discrimination Committee, formed under Compassionate Workplace
  • Collaboration with the HCI Commission on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • Free chair massages for staff
  • Resiliency Series for Oncology Practice (RSOP) program: a three-part educational workshop for staff that focuses on resiliency – coming soon!
  • Measurement tools and quality improvement metrics to assess employee engagement, turnover, and burnout

Is the program making a difference?

We measure success in a variety of ways:

  • Employee engagement surveys: Upon initial evaluation, the most significant change was responses to the statement “My organization helps me deal with stress and burnout.” 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. Currently, 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 the 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 of staff and that they are willing to receive feedback and input.”
  • “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.”
  • “The resiliency training and support I have received at HCI has been the single-most influential piece of my formal training as an oncology professional. I have never felt more supported by an employer and am so grateful for such a supportive organization that recognizes my needs and works toward meeting them.”

Learn more about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives at HCI.

Find career and employment opportunities at HCI.

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