Fighting Compassion Fatigue in the Grooming Salon

Fighting Compassion Fatigue in the Grooming Salon

Monique is on the grooming table, and although she is a Maltese, she turns into a T. rex when you touch her feet. You would like to send her home instead of fighting with her, but you know that her nails are getting too long and will start causing problems. You are the third groomer to battle with Monique and, unfortunately, she won’t be the last pet to test you today. 

Gomer is due to arrive soon. Wrestling with him to get him out of the carrier is exhausting. And let’s not forget about Sadie; her stress level is so high that she begins peeing and pooping as soon as she enters the building. The entire team puts forth a happy attitude as they take each pet from its owner, but the team is getting tired of feeling stressed. But, actually, what they are feeling is compassion fatigue.

Dealing with everything from outrageously-matted pets and challenging style requests to reluctant dogs and stressed-out cats is all in a day’s work. However, the constant exposure to pets under stress takes its toll on the grooming team, causing compassion fatigue. 

Compassion fatigue is an emotional side effect of working with pets in distress and suffering. Those three pets coming in on this particular day are suffering from fear, anxiety and stress—and the team is vulnerable to the pressure.

Compassion fatigue is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion from wanting to care for or help pets in need. Some may call it the high cost of caring, or burnout. No matter what label you give it, groomers get worn down dealing with pets who are suffering—including pets suffering from stress during the visit to the salon. The result can be employees quitting their jobs…or worse. The time is now for implementing a plan to improve pets’ grooming experiences and reduce the compassion fatigue experienced by the team.

For starters, it is essential to discuss compassion fatigue with your team. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has a tool to help team members measure the effects of helping others on themselves called “The Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) Assessment.”1 Consider adjusting the language in the assessment for the grooming industry (care provider = groomer/grooming, patient/client = pets receiving grooming services, care = grooming services, etc.). Although developed for use by human health care providers, the tool is a starting point for discussing the workplace environment and mental wellbeing. 

Recommended action steps for dealing with compassion fatigue include:

  • Make time for yourself: Exercise, hobbies, leisure activities, unplug from technology
  • Focus on your health: Meal breaks, healthy diet, adequate sleep
  • Create a support system
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation
  • Set boundaries: Know when to say “no”
  • Make work an enjoyable place

Make work an enjoyable place? Is that even possible given all that is happening in today’s workplace—long hours, short-staffed, angry clients and challenging patient interactions? Of all the ideas that come to mind for making the workplace enjoyable, think about one potential area for improvement: creating a relaxed, low-stress experience for the pets.

Why focus on the pets? Isn’t this about the team’s stressors? A quick search for common issues of concern for groomers turned up comments about wrestling unwilling dogs all day, stopping the groom for safety as a bite can end a career, and the need for pet parents to train their dogs because it is much easier to groom a dog that isn’t terrified to be at the groomer. Therefore, a stressed pet is a crucial component of what stresses the team.

Imagine the team’s relief when Monique is cuddly instead of a T. rex; when Gomer willingly exits the carrier; or when Sadie trots into the building while maintaining control of all bodily functions. Removing that sense of dread one has when faced with the daily struggle of dealing with stressed-out pets is a significant step in making the workplace enjoyable and in fighting compassion fatigue.

How does one create a low-stress salon experience for the pets? Tap into these resources to get started:

  • Fear Free® Groomer Certification Program from Fear Free Pets2
  • Low Stress Handling® University3

These resources are applicable for anyone working with pets. They provide the tools, training programs, video clips and slides to show the grooming team how to create a better grooming experience for pets—from the salon environment to the grooming table. Both Fear Free and Low Stress Handling offer certification programs for groomers or pet care businesses. Initiating a change to “the way things have always been done” will take some time because it is a cultural change. But the team is fundamentally changing how they interact with pets, clients and even with each other. 

Think about how much time the salon’s team spends learning about grooming styles, tools and techniques. How much time is devoted to safety training or animal handling? What about training on how to make the pet’s experience less stressful? 

“It’s essential for groomers to be educated and empowered in the type of approach and practical techniques that will set a soothing, serene scene and allow for safer handling and grooming of pets while under their care. A Fear Free approach is not only safer and likely to result in lower injury to person and pet in the grooming process, but when the animal is easier to work with because they’re kept calm, it becomes a more enjoyable, less stressful process for everyone involved,” says Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, CDBC, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA, CTC, Fear Free Cert, BA Comm, and Lead Animal Trainer for Fear Free Pets. 

Used properly, the techniques presented in the programs mentioned above can help improve pet care, reduce client churn and improve the workplace environment for the team.

According to Grooming Without Stress! by Terrie Hayward, Jay Andors and Anne Francis, salons making the change to a low-stress environment notice:4

  • Increased business
  • Higher return and retention rates
  • A safer working environment
  • Happier and healthier human and animal clientele

As Mikkel Becker points out, “One negative experience at the groomer can set the pet back for a lifetime. As such, it’s important for a pet to have protected care that watches out for both the animal’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The groomer is a place of particular significance in terms of how the animal is likely to happily or negatively anticipate handling and care outside of the home.” 

Implementing a change in the pet’s experience transforms the team’s daily interactions with pets, clients and colleagues. Instead of dreading that next grooming appointment, team members can have the satisfaction of performing grooming services on calm pets; they can have the satisfaction of engaging in a conversation with a client who can listen (instead of fussing with an upset pet); they experience a calmer, safer workplace environment and they experience compassion satisfaction.

Do not underestimate the importance of those daily interactions. According to a survey on compassion fatigue, veterinary technicians report that “helping animals, working as a team, and working with grateful clients helped protect them from compassion fatigue.”5 Would groomers say the same? Helping animals and working together—this is the face of a workplace environment that enhances the quality of life for both pets and people.

Many factors cause stress in a salon. While we can’t prevent all stressors, we can have a strategic plan to lower the fear, anxiety and stress experienced by pets. This, in turn, improves the grooming experience for clients and salon teams, giving us the gift of compassion satisfaction. ✂️

References:

  1. Assess your wellbeing. AVMA. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/wellbeing/assess-your-wellbeing
  2. Fear Free® Groomer Certification Program. Fear Free Pets. https://fearfreepets.com/fear-free-groomer-certification-course-overview/
  3.  Low Stress Handling® University. Low Stress Handling. https://lowstresshandling.com/
  4. Hayward, T., Andors, J. & Francis, A. (2018) Grooming Without Stress!
  5. Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction. NC State Veterinary Medicine. https://cvm.ncsu.edu/human-resources/employee-resources/compassion/
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