Give unto others

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer

As gleaned from a slew of recent McKnight's stories, I've learned one thing for sure: nurses are stressed out. As a result, some of them (and I stress “some”) might not be dealing with it in the healthiest ways possible. Whether it's called compassion fatigue or just plain burnout, long-term care workers know it well.

The problem is that the fixes aren't easy. Experts say increasing nursing staff is the best solution, but most facilities can't afford the luxury. But here's one (free!) idea: Try reminding your caregivers of the obvious — that their job is all about giving. Trust me, there is some science to this.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan recently published a study that suggests that when people reflect on what they've given rather than what they've received, they feel more inclined to keep giving.

To test this hypothesis, the investigators first studied a group of college students who worked as call center fundraisers for their university (which, ironically, is the same job that funded my spring break and other more mundane expenses in my first year of college). Investigators split the group of workers in half. For one week, the first group was required to write journal entries about recent experiences of feeling grateful for receiving a benefit; the other group had to journal about recent experiences in which they made a contribution that enabled other people to feel grateful.

As the researchers predicted, the group that was required to expound on their own gratitude increased their volume of fundraising calls by 29% in the two weeks following their weeklong journaling exercise.

The Wharton and Ross scientists confirmed this finding in a different experiment that solicited donations for disaster relief. The investigators concluded that “Helping, giving, volunteering and other actions undertaken to benefit others play a critical role in protecting health, promoting education, fighting poverty and hunger, and providing disaster relief.”

Clearly, the benefits of selflessness aren't limited just to taking a box of canned goods to a food bank. But after a long, exhausting day of catering to your residents' every need, it's easy to forget that what you're doing is giving of yourself.

The hard part is remembering that not everyone is going to say “thank you,” give you a raise or even pat you on the back for a job well done — although they should. They really should. But sometimes that's up to you to remind yourself.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.