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Compassion in leadership: staff morale and burnout

02 September 2021
8 min read
Volume 32 · Issue 9


Increased work-related stress and burnout has been reported in nursing. Jennifer Odell explores the impact of leadership on the wider team

An awareness of the impact of leadership is central to the challenge of understanding and upholding the delivery of compassionate patient care. The increasing scope of nursing practice in primary care and the challenge of meeting rising patient and colleague expectations to alleviate pressure and improve access has led to increased work-related stress. An understanding and evaluation of leadership in the nursing team, and the wider practice team, will help promote cohesion and a renewed focus on a positive and optimistic team attitude.

An awareness of the impact of leadership is central to the challenge of understanding and upholding the delivery of compassionate patient care. An increasingly ageing population with multiple complex health conditions, together with a rise in patient expectation and a target-driven work culture, is creating considerable pressure on staff working in general practice. The aim of this article is to discuss and critically analyse the influence of leadership style on staff morale and burnout through the exploration of three key themes in relation to leadership: the individual, the team and the workplace culture.

Work-related stress is prevalent within the NHS (2020) and if not acknowledged and resolved may lead to burnout. Burnout can be defined as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, cynicism and negative thoughts towards patients and colleagues, together with reduced personal accomplishment (Maslach and Jackson, 1981). In 2018, Monsalve-Reyes et al undertook a meta-analysis of 1430 research studies on burnout in primary care nurses and found reduced personal accomplishment was present in 31% of participants, emotional exhaustion in 28% and depersonalisation in 15%. Emotional exhaustion used in this context could be a similar term to compassion fatigue, a related but separate concept to burnout (Yoder, 2010). Valent (2002 in Yoder 2010) proposed that both concepts are failed survival strategies: compassion fatigue as a response to indirect trauma when caring for patients, for example in a palliative care, termed a rescue-caretaking response, while burnout is an assertiveness-goal achievement response.

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