Commentary: Taking Care of Yourself When Your Job Involves Taking Care of Others

Editor’s Note: This commentary originally appeared in the December 2020 Frontline Supervisor Newsletter published by the Washington State Employee Assistance Program. Cindy Guertin-Anderson, assistant director for workforce support and development shares she personal experience about how easy it can be to neglect taking care of yourself during emergencies like this pandemic.

Message from Cindy Guertin-Anderson, Asst. Director, Workforce Support and Development

Hello leaders! Over the last pandemic-burdened months, the EAP has provided you with encouragement and advice on how to take care of the employees you serve. Certainly, that’s critical. But here’s the other critical thing that you might be ignoring as outside pressures mount: Are YOU okay? When the EAP recently sent out an invitation for post-election support, a friend at another agency forwarded the email to me with the simple question: “But who supports the supporters? Hope you are hanging in there!” I answered jokingly to send an emergency supply of chocolate…but it’s a serious question, and I’m passing along that helpful question to you: Who or what is sustaining you? Are you, managers and HR professionals in your role as supporters, getting your own needs met?

At a recent state HR managers’ meeting, a participant raised the topic of compassion fatigue. And a litany of responses came into the chat—offers reaching out to chat 1:1, talk of creating a support group to process and debrief together with folks who understand what it’s like to be in their positions, desire for a space to refuel and connect together on their humanity. I’ve heard several people say that during team check-ins everyone else says they are doing just fine, “so I say I’m fine too…even though I’m not.” I’m in meetings with leaders who seem to be holding it all together perfectly well, but then I see a glimpse of their exhaustion, their despair. I see many of you—managers, leaders, human resource professionals—both going beyond the call of duty to lead in an ongoing crisis, but also beleaguered. Resilient yes, yet in some moments exhausted and with little or nothing left to give. I believe both can be true at the same time.

I received a letter from my doctor’s office reminding me that I was past due for my annual checkup. And it occurred to me that somehow amidst a pandemic that’s forcing us not to be out socializing, I had also neglected to go to the dentist (despite a minor toothache), neglected to get my eyes checked (despite the fact that I can no longer make out subtitles on my TV screen), and even neglected to keep up with my yoga practice at home (despite that year I spent in yoga teacher training). While I was busy creating wellness messages for the state workforce and trying to lead from a place of compassion, I wasn’t walking the talk. And so a few weeks later I found myself sitting in my doctor’s office for a wellness check. Her simple question, “How’s it going?” brought an unexpected cascade of tears. In other spaces I’ve been responding to that question with my standard, “Pretty well, all things considered,” but somehow in that moment I let my defenses down and I crumpled. I was not okay. I felt lonely and weary. She listened with kindness, told me what I was feeling was normal and expected, and recommended that I do something about it. What she recommended were obvious things, the things I preach but haven’t practiced. I found a counselor. I reached out to a colleague to talk. I made those neglected appointments.

My hunch is that many of you reading this are in a similar situation. You may be working overtime making sure your agency mission is achieved, while neglecting even the most basic of self-care. It’s not that you don’t know what you need to do to care for yourself; it’s just that it can feel overwhelming or exhausting to muster the energy to do it. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky in her 2018 book The Age of Overwhelm, says “Let us aspire to not allow overwhelm in the midst of suffering to leave us feeling powerless. There is always something we can do….It is never too late to start a new practice, merging the reality of insight about who you are—with an understanding of all you’ve got going on—with awareness of the choices you can make to help you sustain for the long haul. Do something. Every day.”

If you resonate with some of what I’ve shared so far, here’s a nudge for a few concrete actions you can take to combat compassion fatigue (either spend 15 minutes now, or find a 15 minute timeslot on your calendar this week and make an appointment to do the following):

  1. Think of a peer or colleague who might be in a similar hard spot right now, maybe someone at a different agency, and send them an email asking how they are managing these days. Invite them to meet for a virtual coffee break to chat. The person you reach out to probably needs connection just as much as you do.
  2. Grab a scrap of paper and jot down 3 things you did well in the past week, no matter how trivial. Read it aloud. Notice what happens to your mind and body when you acknowledge successes.
  3. Send a note of gratitude to someone—it can be the briefest of emails or a Skype chat—just to say “I was thinking of you and wanted to tell you that I’m glad you are in my life” or “Thanks for all you do – I feel lucky to work with you.”

And if no one has said it to you recently, I’ll end with this. Thank you for all you have done to support employees in the past 9 months. You are doing a great job. You need and deserve support too. What choice will you make today to sustain for the long haul?

PS: If you missed the October State HR Lunch and Learn on Workplace Resilience featuring Dr. Kira Mauseth from the WA DOH Behavioral Health Strike Team, give it listen. It’s well worth the hour.

Resource: Webinar: How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis The EAP has an upcoming webinar from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday Dec. 7. You can register here or visit the EAP website for on-demand recordings of this webinar topic.

Washington State EAP COVID-19-related Webinars for July and August

The Washington State Employee Assistance Program, EAP, is offering webinars on a variety of COVID-19 related topics to support emotional and mental health and wellbeing. Register for an upcoming live session or view a pre-recorded session on-demand below. More sessions will be added regularly.

EAP also has a website with links by topic to helpful resources from addiction to finances to parenting to support for marginalized communities.

Navigating Change in Challenging Times

In our ever changing world, learning how to navigate change is an essential skill—one that can be developed. In this webinar we’ll talk about the impact of change, actions you can take to navigate change based on your unique response to stress, and resources available to support you.

  • Friday, July 24, 2020 8:30-10:00am  Register
  • Tuesday, July 28, 2020  3:30-5:00pm  Register
  • Wednesday, August 5, 2020 2:00pm-3:30pm  Register
  • Tuesday, August 11, 2020  10:00am-11:30am  Register
  • Thursday, August 20, 2020  9:30am-11:00am  Register
  • Thursday, August 27, 2020  1:00pm-2:30pm  Register

Navigating Change Handouts:

Self Care with the WA State EAP

This webinar addresses the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and offers ideas for self-care and strategies for managing stress and fear.

  • Wednesday, July 22, 2020  3:00-4:30pm  Register
  • Monday, July 27, 2020  2:00-3:30pm  Register
  • Tuesday, August 4, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Thursday, August 13, 2020  1:00pm-2:30pm  Register
  • Tuesday, August 25, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register

How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis

This webinar is intended for those who are supporting others in crisis e.g. customers, clients, students, employees/staff. During this webinar you will learn how your mind and body responds to stress, possible impacts on your emotional and physical well-being, strategies to build resilience, and supports and resources available to you.

  • Tuesday, July 21, 2020  8:30-10:00am  Register
  • Wednesday, July 29, 2020  2:00-3:30pm  Register
  • Thursday, August 6, 2020  9:30am-11:00am  Register
  • Wednesday, August 12, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Tuesday, August 18, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register

For more information about the Washington State Employee Assistance Program or to view other COVID-19 related resources, please visit

Washington State Employee Assistance Program

Phone: (360) 407-9490 or toll-free at (877) 313-4455

Visit the EAP website.

Upcoming Virtual Training: Unleash Your Talents and Do Your Best Work

home office

Unleash Your Talents and do your Best Work (Half-day Virtual Training)

Date And Time

Fri, May 29, 2020

9:00 AM – 12:00 PM PDT

This training is open to all, so please forward!

When you really understand who you are, you are going to be better at what you do! In this half-day workshop, you will:

  1. LEARN how to identify and embrace untapped talent in yourself and others.
  2. EXPLORE what gets in the way of you being your best self.
  3. DESIGN an individualized action plan to add value to your workplace.

This workshop is designed for anyone interested in learning how to unleash talent for themselves and others. It’s also great for supervisors, managers and HR professionals who help others succeed in the workplace.

Previous workshops have sold out quickly – early registration is recommended.

This course qualifies for 3 SHRM Professional Development Units (PDUs).

Link to registration:

·         General Admission

$125.00+$9.24 Fee

Select quantity: General Admission

Sales end on May 25, 2020

·         Government/Non Profit

$95.00+$7.42 Fee

Select quantity: Government/Non Profit

Sales end on May 25, 2020

Upcoming Webinars

home office

As more and more employees begin teleworking as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, more companies are offering professional development webinars you can take from home online.

Here are some training and support offerings from Compass Consulting and The Athena Group:

For those of you who missed the last Compass Consulting webinar, here is the recording of the Manage Stress during Difficult Times webinar:

Manage Stress during Difficult Times

1-hour Webinar

Facilitated by Amy Leneker

The Athena Group is offering various types of support from expert coaches and consultants, including free online webinars, resources for managers, coaching consultations and more. Explore current support . This web page will be continuously updated as new challenges and needs arise.

Centering Sessions Live Online Guided Meditation

Thursdays 10:00 – 10:30am PDT Starting April 9 Donation-Based

“We know you are holding a lot, both personally and professionally, and we know proven tools that can help. Whether you’re new to meditation or are a seasoned practitioner, you are welcome to join us for live, online, guided meditation sessions. These short sessions are open to all, so you can regroup, center yourself and find the ground under your feet.” This training does not have a set fee, as it is donation based.  >>> Click here to learn more & reserve your seat.


Virtual Workshop: Working Alone Together Tuesday, March 31

woman beside laptop
photo courtesy of Unsplash

ICSEW is partnering with Renee Smith, Founder of A Human Workplace, to bring you this timely opportunity for support. “A Human Workplace Virtual Gathering: Working Alone Together” takes place Tuesday, March 31 from 10 a.m. – 12 noon via Zoom.

We are all working in a time of unprecedented challenges. We know you’re trying to adapt to this very difficult time. Many of us are facing loneliness, stress, and overwhelm but perhaps also strangely some hope. We may be struggling to work with kids at home or with the isolation of being alone 24/7. We may be questioning our value and purpose. We may enjoy working from home and the short “commute.” But we may also be worried about the safety of vulnerable family and friends or our financial security.

image of Renee Smith
Renee Smith

We want you to know that we care about you and want to support you during this time of uncertainty.

We are partnering with Renee Smith, founder and CEO of A Human Workplace who is offering Virtual Gatherings via Zoom.  This Gathering will help us to…

• Connect with each other while we are in the middle of this experience.
• Discuss practical tactics for building our person to person connection while we are isolated.
• Discover hope for the future and resilience to sustain us while we get there.

Join us for a conversation about “working alone together” in the age of COVID-19.

There is no charge to register and attend this event. Register here today:

For information on A Human Workplace visit

Free Webinar: Maintaining Your Composure in the Face of COVID-19

COVID 19 model

Submitted by WaTech

A webinar for state employees on how to maintain composure through the COVID-19 epidemic is set from 8-9 a.m. Friday, March 20.

The webinar is called: Keep Calm and Carry On: Maintaining Your Composure in the Face of COVID-19. You may register (no charge) at this link.

The webinar is presented by Workplace Options in partnership with the Washington State Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a service of the Department of Enterprise Services. The EAP also offers a guide: Coping with Stress During an Infectious Disease Outbreak.

Here is a description of this Friday’s webinar:

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to widespread fear on a global scale. The pervasive impact of the outbreak on a humanitarian and economical scale has caused many of us to experience extreme levels of uncertainty and anxiety. As every person and every organization tries to quickly adapt to the constantly changing situation, societal stress levels remain high. Given that stress has an adverse impact on our immune system, it is more important than ever to maintain a healthy sense of perspective, focus on practical ways to adapt to the situation and respond to the outbreak with calm and composure.

The webinar will cover:

  • Strategies to tackle feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • Practical techniques for working from home.
  • Ways to address signs of panic in the workplace.
  • When to reach out for further help and support.

For more information about the EAP, visit their website or call 877-313-4455.