Animal shelter workers who believe they are gifted and skilled burn out faster

The sort of animal shelter worker who has a longer career in the sector is the woman who does not, initially, consider herself to be particularly gifted or skilled when relating to animals. Conversely, workers who believe that they have a unique gift for relating to animals or a special gift for working with animals coupled with high levels of idealism have shorter careers and are subject to burnout and an earlier end to work in shelters.

Animal rescue worker
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Photo: Scottish SPCA

Animal shelter workers with an idealistic approach, who love animals and who always wanted to work with animals tend to burn out faster once there idealism had clashed with the reality of shelter work. Such workers can become depressed and physically ill. The work becomes toxic for them. Animal shelter workers with these traits moved away from animal shelter work to other animal-related professions.

Workers who consider themselves to be particularly gifted in relating to animals feel less angry but become disenchanted when unable to meet their personal objectives in saving animals an improving welfare. They often end up in management roles but then became disenchanted with shelter bureaucracy and the usual politics in management. Ultimately they tend to end up in non-animal related professions.

The shelter worker who is passionate in her desire to help animals but does not at the outset consider herself to be particularly gifted or skilled has a longer career in this sector. They have more modest expectations. This equipped them better emotionally for the challenges of working in an animal shelter. They suffered less “dissonance” in their work. By this I presume that they argue less with other workers and with management due to stresses. They accept things more readily and are more able to progress and develop emotionally in what is a very difficult area of work. They approach their work with an attitude that is better from an emotional perspective because they approach their work as an opportunity to learn and acquire skills.

Shelter work is considered to be “dirty work” and rather poorly paid. Shelter workers are sometimes considered to be animal-rights types and there are people who don’t like these sorts of people.

A paradoxical aspect of animal shelter work is that especially gifted people in terms of relating to animals and helping animals are more likely to crash and burn while less gifted people survive longer in the business.

Eighty-siz percent of animal shelter workers are female with an average age of 35. They work in the job for an average of 5.5 years.

The source of this short article is a research paper from Kira Schabram of the University of Washington and Sally Maitlis of the University of Oxford published in the Academy of Management Journal and discussed on the website.

This is a follow-up article to one that I wrote recently about animal rescue workers having the high suicide rate among American workers. There is a link to that article below.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. Linda Tozerf says:

    I can understand why this would happen as I get very emotional just reading about what sort of life animals have had, their death and why, very sad

  2. Albert Schepis says:

    Yes I agree. I think I land somewhere in the middle. I first worked with animals in the horse racing industry and did become disenchanted with the politics and other realities involved. Then again I was quite young at the time (fresh out of high school). That was a rough proving ground and I didn’t last to become a jockey. I was good at it though, and even revisited it at 49 (exercise riding, etc.) I was still a good rider and worker, but too old to hope for solid work again. The lifestyle is too nomadic for adults; it’s better for younger people who don’t own homes, etc.

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