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Employee Wellbeing and Compassion Fatigue Among Animal Caregivers: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study Open Access

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The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of the experience of employee wellbeing and compassion fatigue (CF) in the animal care industry. According to Figley and Roop (2006) in Compassion Fatigue in the Animal-Care Community, compassion fatigue is found at every level among the caregivers in animal-related fields. Utilizing hermeneutic phenomenology, this study explored the experience of employee wellbeing (EW) and compassion fatigue via interviews with 11 participants who are paid, full-time employees from a diverse array of animal shelters. Data analysis followed van Manen’s (1990) description of the inventive thoughtful attitude, which takes place through an ongoing process of writing and reflecting throughout and after data collection to capture participant narratives.The interpretation of the findings and incorporation of relevant literature led to the development of six key conclusions:1. Personal History: Participants’ prior life experiences and personal histories are relevant to, and may have implications for, the experience of compassion fatigue.2. Social Construct: Participant understanding of compassion fatigue is socially constructed, developed through comparisons to, interactions with and support from others. 3. Dirty Work: The perception of animal caregiving as a form of “dirty work” has consequences for the experience of employee wellbeing and compassion fatigue.4. Three-Tier Approach: Participants use two frequently promoted strategies to combat compassion fatigue: self-care and compassion satisfaction, but they also engage in proactive behaviors, implying a three-tier approach to coping with and combatting CF and improving employee wellbeing.5. Levels of Responsibility: Participants believe the responsibility to develop and employ appropriate solutions to address issues of compassion fatigue and employee wellbeing exists on three different levels: individual, organizational, and societal.6. Primary Outcomes: Two primary outcomes are evident from the experience of compassion fatigue—if caregivers are unable to combat the syndrome, they may reach a breaking point and burn out of the field; alternatively they may overcome CF, continue in their work and thrive.Implications for research, theory and practice are presented. A better understanding of CF will allow for more effective planning, preparation and intervention at each level of responsibility. The contributions of this study offer constructive ideas for both individuals and organizations to incorporate into their efforts to reduce CF, improve EW, and hopefully avoid burnout and turnover.

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