MSPB Encourages Agencies to Focus on Emotional Labor

In the Merit Systems Protection Board’s September newsletter, the group focused on the toll of emotional labor and ways agencies can relieve emotional fatigue. The newsletter highlighted how investigative positions can induce high levels of emotional and compassion fatigue, making it difficult to perform tasks effectively.

The September edition of Issues of Merit explains, “It is important to realize that many Federal employees work in highly stressful environments that require them to control both their emotions and to respond appropriately to the emotions of those in various states of anxiety and distress… Investigative work is another field that is subject to high levels of emotional labor and compassion fatigue, for instance, when dealing with crimes against children or other vulnerable populations. In addition, when employees serve in combat zones or other highstress locations, they could be subject to greater levels of emotional labor and fatigue because of concerns about safety for themselves, their families, and those they serve.”

The newsletter notes that emotional fatigue can negatively impact important work outcomes, including discretionary effort, intent to quit, and job performance.

The MSPB surveyed agencies on their action to combat emotional fatigue and found a wide range of employee assistance programs. Many agencies reported having health and wellness programs, flexible work-life balance options, unscheduled leave, and distressed employee hotlines.

Some agency representatives also reported that they work to adjust workloads, provide flexibility in work assignments, and respond to requests for a change in population or service to reduce emotional fatigue when possible.

The MSPB also encourages employees to show support for their coworkers and subordinates. One agency representative told the MSPB, “I personally check in with staff regularly about their compassion fatigue, have provided education on compassion fatigue and how to take care of yourself, and try to help staff via case consultation/staffings about difficult cases so we can talk about compassion, transference, and counter-transference issues that might arise and complicate the emotional labor the staff might be feeling.”

The newsletter also highlighted some agencies who have implemented “leading edge” programs to help employees manage emotional labor and stress.

Among these programs is the Homeland Security Investigations Awareness and Resilience Mentoring for Operational Readiness: A Safeguard Program for Child Exploitation Investigations program, which includes orientation and preexposure training for employees who will be exposed to potentially traumatic events and images.

The newsletter also praised programs in the Federal Bureau of Investigations and U.S. Marshals Service for working proactively with employees who may experience traumatic situations and retroactively to ensure they are supported.

The newsletter encourages employees looking to learn more about emotional labor and fatigue to read the MSPB’s recent research brief Managing Employees to Perform Emotionally Laborious Work.

To subscribe to the MSPB Issues of Merit Newsletter, sign up here.

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