Caretakers in need of counseling

Caretakers in need of counseling

CHINA - Many people working in the public welfare industry often face the threat of "occupational burnout" because of the high-intensity emotional investment, which is one of the reasons why they quit their jobs.

Their work means they often face tremendous pressure and mental stress as they try to help disadvantaged groups.

"Our staff often feel mentally and physically drained," said Zhang Wen, executive director of the Children's Hope Foundation, which was established in 2010 to provide assistance for orphans and disabled children.

Zhang said the work, often emotionally charged, can be challenging.

"We play the role of a giver at work. However, when we see children in danger and their distraught parents, we can be easily heartbroken and depressed."

Even though they try their best to provide assistance to those in need, the workers are often underappreciated by society.

Moreover, the working hours are arbitrary and overtime is common, she said.

The nature of the charity sector is to improve the lives of others and society in general but the balance between family and work is not easily achieved.

According to a report focusing on hospice workers in the United Kindom, 30 to 40 per cent experienced burnout and planned to leave.

Wu Fei, a programme officer from Maple, a women's psychological counseling centre, said there are less than 15 people at the centre, but five of them have left recently and two said they will go part-time in a few months.

Wu admitted she spent little time with her child and needed to work on the weekends.

Zhang said the low salary is another reason for the high turnover.

"In our organisation, about a quarter quit their jobs in a year. Ordinarily they earn 3,000 yuan (S$610) to 4,000 yuan each month.

"I think people who are really willing to work in an NGO for a long time should have a selfless devotion to duty, even, possibly, a heroic determination."

Chu Ying, a researcher with Tsinghua University's NGO Research Center, said occupational burnout is common.

"Professional psychologists or psychiatrists are needed to give psychological counseling to the people working in the public welfare industry. Furthermore, the employers should rotate work regularly.

Chu recognised that the salary and lack of promotion prospects are also a factor.

"The salary is quite low even in first-tier cities. For instance, middle managers at some large NGO in Beijing only earn about 5,000 yuan each month," Chu said.

More and more NGOs are taking note and are starting to provide working guidelines.

The Shifangyuan elderly care centre, which offers hospice services to the terminally ill, has psychological training and holds consultations once a week for its staff members.

Zhai Jing, a staff member, came to the centre about one year ago, and said people in this line of work need to be mentally strong and able to cope.

They are taught to be calm, measured, compassionate and responsible. One moment they could be dealing with a death, then they have to look after another patient who needs compassion.

A good working atmosphere and solid relationships with colleagues will help staff members deal with emotional stress. Zhai said there are no communication barriers among colleagues and they help each other whenever they have problems.

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