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July 2016Vol. 17, No. 5Organizational Culture and Secondary Traumatic Stress

Caseworkers who serve traumatic stress survivors are at particular risk for secondary traumatic stress and burnout, but organizational culture can play a key role in helping to reduce or elevate compassion fatigue, according to a recent study in the Journal of Social Welfare and Human Rights. Using data from a sample of 282 professionals who provide a variety of services to trauma survivors, the study found that while working with trauma survivors may be stressful, the workplace environment and working conditions were also main sources of stress and pressure for trauma caregivers.

The study reports that organizations with compassion fatigue are often plagued with challenging personnel issues, such as high absenteeism and worker turnover, constant change in coworker relationships, lack of collaboration, and resentment toward management. The author suggests that trauma-informed organizational systems—those that promote the well-being of trauma survivors, caregivers, and organizational leaders—enhance organizations' resilience to trauma and improve organizational health. The research assessed four variables—supervisory support, peer support, organizational support, and trauma-informed caregiver development—and corresponding levels of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion satisfaction among those working with trauma survivors. The study surveyed workers, supervisors, and administrative staff in three different settings: a county child protection department, a homeless services organization, and a nonprofit organization supporting animal control officers.

The study made several statistically significant findings—most notably that those workers who felt supported by their supervisors, peers, and organizations were at lower risk for secondary traumatic stress and burnout. Conversely, the lack of such support predicted burnout and secondary traumatic stress. The author suggests that there is a strong cost-benefits rationale to investing in organizational well-being, even amidst budgetary concerns: the costs associated with staff turnover may well be higher than investing in the health of the organization and its workers.

"Trauma-Informed Systems of Care: The Role of Organizational Culture in the Development of Burnout, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Compassion Satisfaction," by Joni Handran, Journal of Social Welfare and Human Rights, 3(2), 2015, is available at