ABSTRACT

This chapter looks at the importance of compassion in the workplace and highlights how intolerance of human weakness and error can erode resilience and organisational effectiveness. It starts by looking at stress and burnout in the workplace and shows how they differ, before detailing the dynamic factors that are commonly associated with the onset of burnout, including the chronic imbalance between occupational demand and the availability of systems and structures that allow staff to execute their roles in line with personal standards and expectations. The chapter then moves to describe the core features of occupational burnout featured in the Maslach Burnout Inventory and lists the common early signs and symptoms. Following this, it documents the high prevalence of burnout in professional fields, such as medicine, social work, health care, the prison service, and humanitarian work, and the knock-on effects of high levels of staff burnout, which include excess staff sickness, attrition, loss of expertise and job presenteeism. The text then details how symptoms of burnout, such as stress, emotional exhaustion and cynicism, invariably impact on the quality of care, and it explains how early intervention for occupational burnout is effective, but much less so in the latter stages of chronicity. Following this, the content turns to examine what can happen when organisations become intolerant of human frailty and creates systems and structures that prioritise targets over people. It highlights the findings of the Francis Enquiry and the Ockenden Review, which were both commissioned to investigate major failings of patient care in the National Health Service (NHS), and it draws attention to the strong, identified link between lack of organisational compassion and engrained tolerance of poor-quality care. The chapter then moves to describe what is meant by a compassionate organisation and explains that it embraces tolerance and acceptance of human frailty and error under pressure and recognition that staff who support vulnerable others are themselves at heightened risk of stress, depression and vicarious trauma. The chapter then concludes by examining practices that have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of human error and contrasts the Aviation industry’s systematic approach to the identification and correction of error with the somewhat ad-hoc methods adopted by the NHS.