From compassion fatigue to compassion satisfaction

Prevention starts with knowing the risks and triggers for helping professionals

Jo-Ann Trudeau

Author headshotCompassion fatigue is now widely recognized as an occupational hazard for those careers that are dubbed “the helping professions,” such as nurses, police officers and lawyers. People working in career development, such as employment counsellors and vocational rehabilitation professionals, are also part of this group. Job title notwithstanding, compassion fatigue is a risk for professionals whose jobs require empathizing with another person requiring help, in order to provide competent and effective care.

By developing awareness of what compassion fatigue is, how it happens and strategies to prevent it, career professionals can instead strive for compassion satisfaction at work. 

What compassion fatigue is – and what it’s not

Compassion fatigue is sometimes confused with burnout. These conditions share some symptoms and can co-exist but are not the same. Burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion that a worker experiences when they have low job satisfaction and feel powerless and overwhelmed at work. Individuals who are experiencing burnout might feel drained, hopeless or resentful, and experience lower levels of motivation. Being burned out does not mean that you have lost the capacity to feel compassion for others. Changing jobs – as many people chose to do during the Great Resignation – can provide relief from work-related burnout.

Compassion fatigue develops over time and is described in many ways. Recognizable symptoms include feeling reduced compassion and sensitivity in the face of clients’ pain. People with compassion fatigue may also experience increased anxiety, anger and irritability; cognitive concerns such as decreased concentration and decision-making; sleep issues; and physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and dizziness. Some people may neglect their own self-care, withdraw from friends and family and increase substance use as a form of self-medication.

In fact, more precisely, compassion fatigue is secondary traumatic stress disorder (STS). This is a form of post-traumatic stress, also called vicarious trauma, that is brought on by indirect or secondary exposure to stressful or traumatic events. While we do not experience the events clients are sharing with us, hearing their stories can still have an impact.

Read more on trauma from Careering and CareerWise

How to help your clients navigate the trauma of racism in the workplace

Working toward trauma-informed career development organizations

Practical steps to provide trauma-informed career development

Compassion fatigue triggers

Compassion fatigue can be brought on by a stressful workplace or environment, lack of resources, excessive hours or even workplace culture. What does a CF trigger look like? To name a few, this can include:

With an accumulation of these experiences, your thoughts, mood and well-being negatively change. Being affected by your work is a normal part of a work day; however, when it starts to overwhelm you, you may be feeling compassion fatigue.

Risk factors

People who are most susceptible to CF usually lack a support network outside of work, have a personal history of loss or trauma, are perfectionists and have difficulty dealing with their emotions. The emerging psychological research behind perfectionism suggests that it is a coping mechanism and a sign of trauma exposure that results in much anxiety. The evidence points to protecting oneself against the distress of being perceived as a failure, as perfectionists’ self-worth is based on success and achievement. Unfortunately, trauma can lead to self-judgment and judgment of others, social isolation, stress and negative self-talk. The personal characteristic of perfectionism requires greater research attention on account of it exacerbating the risk of compassion fatigue.

Responses to these feelings can cycle from self-blame and feeling you have neglected your professional standards, to blaming others for errors, to overworking. These are common reactions and there are methods of prevention to heal and maintain balance.

Prevention is the best medicine

The ABCs of compassion fatigue prevention are:

  • Awareness: Consider times when you were annoyed or wound up at work. Ask yourself, what was the trigger?
  • Balance: Practise work-life balance. Do I make time for things that I enjoy? Do I set boundaries between work and home?
  • Connection: Who in my network can I vent to or discuss work challenges with? (e.g. friends, family, colleagues, spiritual mentors)

Answering these questions can help you determine your potential risk factors for compassion fatigue and take preventive action to maintain your well-being.

Adopting self-care routines, including proper sleep, exercise and nutrition as well as practising mindfulness, are also good preventive practices. You may find it beneficial to work with a psychologist or counsellor to develop positive coping strategies and process challenging feelings about your work situation. Above all, learn to have self-compassion and treat yourself with the care and concern you would a friend, sibling or parent.

Two women talking in office
Getting to compassion satisfaction

Compassion fatigue is one dimension of professional quality of life; the other dimension is compassion satisfaction (CS). Professional quality of life describes the negative (CF) and positive (CS) psychological outcomes of working. CS works as a protective factor and refers to the pleasure and benefits of working (and is not exclusive to helping professionals). These include feeling valued, having a sense of belonging in the workplace, having self-efficacy in the ability to make a difference in the workplace and achieving personal goals.

From a workplace perspective, employers can try to prevent compassion fatigue by encouraging work autonomy, providing role clarity, offering mental health days and creating a safe space to share challenges and successes and openly discuss CF. Employers can also give employees the opportunity to attend training regularly (skill training specific to job or training on how to deal with trauma), and encourage them to ask for help with their workload and overall wellness. Look at it as an antidote to CF as well as burnout.

Remember, compassion fatigue is a normal, human reaction to witnessing another person’s pain. Having a compassionate organizational culture increases compassion satisfaction, resetting the boundary between the professional and personal, and allowing helping professionals to return to work engaged, caring and healthy.

Jo-Ann Trudeau is a sought-after expert, speaker and practitioner of return to work/disability management and vocational rehabilitation. She is currently on a second master of art, this time in counselling psychology and holds a human resources management diploma and is a Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist.


Stress-management strategies from occupational therapy

We all face barriers that affect our ability to perform our jobs, both during the workday and outside of it

Gillian Cattle

Author headshotAs an occupational therapist working in the employment sector, I have witnessed the significant impact of the pandemic on employees and jobseekers. The pandemic has caused disruptions to our daily routines, lifestyles, employment, financial planning and future goals, which has led to increased stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances and a decrease in physical activity.

Occupational therapists are experts in occupations, which are any activities that add meaning and value to your life. Occupational therapists support individuals when they cannot participate in activities such as employment and help them overcome barriers to participation.

When we break down the activity of working, it consists of much more than just the job description. All the activities completed before, during and after work affect our ability to perform our jobs, and barriers can exist at any step. For example, if you cannot sleep, you generally have a hard time focusing, completing tasks and managing your emotions. If you cannot decompress and unwind after the workday, you may develop chronic stress, which can lead to anxiety, headaches, memory and concentration issues, or high blood pressure. Employment is more than a job description and COVID-19 has not made it easy for any of us these past few years.

The following are strategies I have used during the pandemic to support clients with employment and ease some of their stress so they can focus on their job duties and have a more balanced/healthy life.


Our days are made up of social and behavioural patterns like morning/evening routines, mealtimes and work schedules. Studies have shown that maintaining a regular routine leads to increased mental and physical health, while irregular routines are associated with lower life satisfaction and greater depression, anxiety and stress.

However, the pandemic continues to disrupt our routines. As workplaces pivot from virtual to in-person, we find that our routines are in flux. Creating consistency where you can is key. The act of planning out your morning/evening routines will be beneficial in maintaining some normalcy. Being able to make new routines a habit and maintaining them throughout change is important.

Illustration of man moving clock arrows and managing time.
Sleep hygiene

Quality sleep is important for overall health and affects your ability to manage emotions, respond to stress and restore bodily functions.

There are various activities that we can engage in to improve our sleep:

  1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed.
  2. Avoid screen time 30 minutes before bed or make sure to set your gadgets to night mode to get rid of the blue-light emissions.
  3. Have an adequate sleep environment: ensure the temperature, sound levels and darkness are to your liking.
  4. Create a “worry time.” Set aside 15-30 minutes to write down all your worries at the end of the day. Make sure to do this before 8 p.m. to give yourself time to wind down before bed. See which worries are within your control, and then make a plan to address them. Cross the items that you have no control over off your list; you have done everything you can.
  5. Create a consistent sleep routine and stick to it. If you stay up late on the weekend, wake up early on Sunday to give yourself time to readjust.

Read more

Two models to develop individual and organizational resilience

Yes, your employees are still burned out. Here’s what you can do about it

How to help your clients navigate the trauma of racism in the workplace

Stress management plan

When you’re stressed, your ability to think and be emotionally flexible decreases. Coming up with a plan before you are stressed gives you a list of dependable strategies that you can reference if you are not feeling like yourself.

  1. What keeps you healthy? Make a list of activities that keep you well and incorporate them into your routines. (e.g. eating healthy, exercising, drinking water, walking, spending time with friends/family)
  2. Triggers to manage: What stresses you out? Try to avoid these things or make plans to improve them. (e.g. caffeine, poor sleep, saying “yes” to everything)
  3. My warning signs: What are you thinking, how are you feeling, how are you behaving? Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours tell us when things are wrong, but we often ignore them. If we are aware of our warning signs, this will signal us that we have to use coping skills/strategies to enact change before it becomes too much (e.g. tension headaches, thinking “I can’t do this,” isolating self, not participating in activities).
  4. Strategies to help with warning signs: What coping strategies have worked well in the past? Recognize that there are different strategies to help with our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and everyone has their own strategies that work best for them (e.g. practising positive self-talk, self-compassion, mindfulness, exercising, music, contacting your support network). If you are struggling to find coping strategies, BounceBack is a free skill-building program to help you develop coping techniques.

The pandemic has caused a lot of change, which has been difficult for everyone. Keeping consistent routines, being aware of triggers for stress and having coping strategies ready can be helpful during these times. Take it slow and introduce one or two changes to start building the routines that meet your needs. Maintaining these routines during periods of change can add the needed consistency in your life when you have to pivot from virtual to in-person or change positions altogether.

Gillian Cattle is an occupational therapist with a background in neuroscience and recreational therapy. At the YWCA Hamilton, Gillian supports clients with self-disclosed disabilities obtain and maintain employment by breaking down barriers and providing strategies to support their employment journey. Gillian’s goal is to provide workers with tools to juggle all their meaningful activities and reduce the risk of employee burnout.

Volunteers doing door-to-door survey with womanCareering

Future mindsets and skillsets for a changing world

Career professionals can support jobseekers to develop human skills, higher-order thinking and other key employability attributes

Colleen Knechtel 

author headshotSkills assessment and development are central aspects of career professionals’ work. Canada is ranked 10th of 36 countries in preparedness for the demand of future skills (OECD, 2022) – a gap that connects to the present labour shortage.

Besides the essential skills of reading, writing and numeracy, Vermaeten, Finney, Zareikar & Downie (2022) presented at CERIC’s Cannexus22 conference labour market gaps that employers identified: social competencies, successful communication, teamwork and problem solving. These presenters noted that collaboration, curiosity, problem-solving, adaptability, flexibility and cultural sympathy were also considered by employers to be work skills of the future. Employers need agile thinkers and innovators who can pivot quickly and lead change.

This article will examine four complex mindsets and skillsets that connect to employers’ present and future needs: human skills, interdisciplinary competence, multiple intelligences and higher-order thinking. Also presented are ways clients can future-proof their employability skills.

Human skills

Human skills include socio-emotional skills (Goleman, 1998), self-regulation, self-knowledge and adaptability developed through life roles: school, work, volunteering, recreational activities and community involvement (Super, 1990; Watson, 2019).

For example, when thinking about social, civic and team contributions as a student, parent, engaged citizen or employee, what roles have your clients played throughout their life and how effective were they in these roles? One might demonstrate human skills by summarizing the points being discussed in a group meeting, planning a community event or serving as a referee on a team. It is important for clients to learn how to translate their experiences into skills for the labour market.

Read more

Stress-management strategies from occupational therapy

Re-entry moms: untapped talent at its finest

Which hybrid work model is right for your client?

Interdisciplinary competence

Coined by Frodeman as “sustainable knowledge” (2017), interdisciplinary competence is one’s mindset and skillset for collaborative project work. This includes flexible thinking, understanding other perspectives or worldviews, learning how to learn, being resourceful, recognizing skills and strengths in others, mentorship, giving and receiving feedback, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation, project management and digital platform skillsets.

Interdisciplinary skills inform how one approaches situations and how one values contributions made by others. For example, how aware is your client of their roles in group work? Do their actions help or hinder group process? For example, do they jump right in with their ideas, or do they sit back to reflect on the problem or group goal before sharing their thoughts and ideas? Are they good listeners? Self-awareness is an important tool for reflection and personal growth.

Multiple intelligences

Gardner’s (1993) approach to intelligence embraces differing abilities and skills for an inclusive workplace. One strength of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is the view that learners have different capacities and interests for learning within different areas. A pluralistic conception of intelligence requires the interaction of several different types of intelligence: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal (self-knowledge, purpose and awareness) and naturalist.

Developing diverse intelligences helps individuals solve problems more creatively. Lakhani, Jeppesen, Lohse & Panetta (2007) found that individuals with areas of expertise outside the main expert group offer ideas that are most likely to lead to the best solutions. This reinforces the notion that many voices need to be considered in the creative process of collaborative problem-solving.

Higher-order thinking

Higher-order thinking (Bloom, 1956) involves analyzing complexities as well as evaluating possible solutions to create something new. Anderson & Krathwohl (2001) refined Bloom’s hierarchy:

  • Remembering – retrieving, recognizing and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory
  • Understanding – constructing meaning from oral, written and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing and explaining
  • Applying – carrying out or using a procedure through executing or implementing
  • Analyzing – breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing and attributing
  • Evaluating – making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing
  • Creating – putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning or producing (pp. 67-68)

Higher-order thinking is about considering possibilities and alternative solutions in a non-linear way.

Supporting clients’ employability

By developing human skills, interdisciplinary competence, multiple intelligences and higher-order thinking, jobseekers can be prepared to navigate the changing labour market. So, how can career development professionals help jobseekers identify these employability mindsets and skillsets?

Here are some questions, ideas and activities to help you facilitate knowledge and skill translation as your clients work to advance their future skills.

Know thyself

Self-knowledge is a valuable tool for knowledge and skill translation. It is a way to prepare clients to share specific experiences, mindsets and skillsets, and illuminate those they are working on.

Narrative activities create new understanding and deepen self-awareness to promote empowerment and agency to support life transitions and lead individuals to design their future lives. Career professionals can support clients to reflect on their knowledge, skills, attitudes and values through storytelling.

Sharing stories advances affirmation of one’s sense of self and one’s life purpose. It also helps change our response to differences as we adapt to accept multiple points of view simultaneously. Understanding our personal experiences through socially shared narratives transforms through listening to the stories of others; these stories can provide powerful frames for the way we understand our own experiences (Fivush, Bohanek, & Zaman, 2010). One’s stories act as a way to nurture and care for oneself, and they shape one’s inner compass. The narrative approach to self-understanding is a widely used practice in counselling settings as a way to rewrite one’s life story.

Open notebook with "What is your story?" written on it

Storytelling also allows us to discern what and how to share in interviews. Here are a few examples of how you can help clients derive meaning from their stories.

  • Timeline: Clients can create a timeline and/or biographical narrative of significant events in their lives and write about their future skills from these experiences.
  • Photovoice: Photovoice is a way to empower people to make meaning by using photographs to document their experiences.
  • Personal collage: Life design through narrative storytelling increases an individual’s abilities to create their stories through “bricolage” in art-based learning. Have clients write their name in the middle of a piece of poster paper. Give them five minutes to write, draw and doodle all dimensions of themself that they can come up with. Encourage clients to present in story form what they have identified.
Skills assessment 

To better understand their skills, have clients explore the Government of Canada’s National Occupational Classification website and the Labour Market Information Council’s (LMIC) Canadian Job Trends Dashboard. Clients can present their research findings, identify their future skill gaps and create a paper-based or electronic future skills portfolio they can add to on a regular basis.

Career professionals can also guide clients through the following questions/activities to help develop specific skills:

  • Communication: Communication is a key skill that overlaps the four domains outlined above. Career development professionals can help clients become aware of their communication patterns by asking: How well do you use paraphrasing as a tool to seek clarity and deeper understanding? How effectively do you present your ideas or listen to others?
  • Higher-order thinking skills: To develop higher-order thinking skills, the career development professional can introduce this chart to their clients and create activities around the questions provided.

Knowledge and skill recognition and translation are important to identifying future skills for employability. This advancing future skills framework and activities can lead your clients to developing important future-proofing mindsets and skillsets for skilling, upskilling and reskilling for employability.

Colleen Knechtel is working to complete her PhD research project at the University of Alberta in Education with a focus on career-integrated learning and interdisciplinarity in educational communities. To provide feedback to the author on this future skills framework, please email

Tree growing out of rock in waterCareering

Two models to develop individual and organizational resilience

Dealing with change and loss is inevitable, but there are strategies we can employ to enhance our recovery

Tracey Campbell

Author headshotI believe that resilience is built with hope, health and happiness. Individuals and organizations are motivated by a desire to improve the world, and improving the world is achieved by having a strong understanding of health and happiness factors.

For decades, researchers studied and tried to understand happiness predictors. Some researchers believe that happiness is due to genetic and inherited factors and others believe that happiness comes from environmental factors such as income, education and being active. Results of previous studies suggest that happiness is not caused by just one or two factors but is a result of integrated several factors.

Choosing to notice, appreciate and anticipate goodness is a powerful happiness booster. Hopefulness is a choice to have an optimistic attitude and mindset that allows you to see the bright side of things and plan for a better future. While we cannot always be healthy, we can indeed strive to be as healthy as possible. Over the past 25 years I have spent as a career practitioner, I have observed that resilient individuals and organizations are more hopeful, positive and healthy.

Defining resilience and its importance

Dealing with change or loss is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (not getting into a class or being turned down for a promotion at work), while others are more difficult on a much larger scale (divorce, death of close relative or natural disasters).

Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s hardships. People who are resilient do not see life through rose-coloured lenses. Resilient individuals understand that setbacks happen and that sometimes life is hard and painful. However, they are able to use their skills and strengths to cope and recover from life’s challenges.

Read more from the “Recovery, Reflection, Resilience” issue of Careering:

Yes, your employees are still burned out. Here’s what you can do about it

How to help your clients navigate the trauma of racism in the workplace 

Stress-management strategies from occupational therapy

Resilience is important for several reasons: it enables us to develop protection mechanisms against experiences that could be overwhelming, helps us maintain balance in our lives during difficult or stressful periods, and can protect us from the development of some physical and mental health issues.

To put it simply, resilience is our ability to bounce back after we have struggled, faltered or failed. It is being able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, take a moment or two to collect ourselves, and then get back to the business of pursuing our goals.

Building resilience in yourself and others

Self-awareness is a key component of building individual resilience. When you are self-aware, you are more accountable for your actions because you can see yourself in a real light. With self-awareness, you are set up for more success in personal development.

Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a pediatrician, professor and author, has advocated that the following seven skills and traits will help you build resilience:

  • Competence – the ability to handle situations effectively and trust your judgment to make responsible choices.
  • Confidence – the belief in your own abilities practised through keeping a positive attitude, staying calm, making eye contact and smiling. You got this!
  • Connection – show others that relationships matter by addressing conflict directly. Work to resolve problems rather than letting them fester. Healthy relationships involve honesty, trust, respect and open communication.
  • Character – each of us has a fundamental sense of right and wrong and we demonstrate this by being comfortable with our personal and work values. Change is less uncomfortable if we remember to research, reflect, embrace and then organize information.
  • Contribution – individuals gain a sense of purpose by seeing the importance of their contributions demonstrated by the generation of options through ideas and actions. What steps can you take to improve your personal situation or workplace?
  • Coping and Control – each of us can reduce anxiety by maintaining good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, exercising and practising relaxation techniques. Avoid becoming overwhelmed; change can be controlled by adjusting our behaviour and celebrating each step that gets us closer to the transformation we want to see.
Organizational resilience

In addition to cultivating individual resilience, we also need to build up the capacity of organizations to be resilient. Organizational resilience is the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions to survive and prosper. Organizational resilience can be measured by reviewing its leadership, people, processes and products. Deloitte Canada recently argued that resilience is not a destination; it is a state of being.

“Resilient organizations don’t just survive—they thrive in an unpredictable world. They take on new challenges with confidence. Have the ability to adapt rapidly to changing markets, new threats, and disrupt competition.”

Deloitte Canada’s approach includes three concepts:

  • Resilience by design – Designing and executing the long-term journey toward organizational resilience.
  • Resilience through change – Creating an environment that enables flexibility to change while still maintaining a high level of resilience through any transformation the organization undertakes.
  • Resilience in adversity – Having the right governance, controls, contingency plans, and roles and responsibilities to meet adversity and disruption as it arises.

In summary, Deloitte helps organizations focus on what-if and what-next scenarios to anticipate shifts and identify risks.

Surround yourself with positivity

Your time is a valuable and limited resource. Just like any investment, choose wisely how you are going to spend it. Limit the time you spend with negative people and situations and instead, focus on the positive. Negative emotions – like positive ones – can impact your overall health and sense of well-being. While it could feel selfish on some level, you are taking the steps you need to care for your own health. There are many ways to help nurture the positive – keep a journal, get out in nature, find the awe in every day and practise happiness.

Hope is an inherent part of being a human.  Hope helps us define what we want in our futures and is part of the self-narrative about our lives we all have running inside our minds. In a way, having hope links your past and present to the future. It is a match that can spark the light you need to reveal the path ahead.

For more on this topic:

  • Briggs, J.R. The Resilient Leaders Podcast
  • Ginsburg, Kenneth R (2020). Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Hanson, Rick Ph. D. Being Well Podcast: Introducing Resilience
  • LaDayne, Rebekkah and Kain, Kathy L. (2020). The Mind-Body Stress Reset: Somatic Practices to Reduce Overwhelm and Increase Well-Being, New Harbinger Publications.
  • Ungar, Michael Ph.D. (2019). Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success, The Sutherland House Inc.

Tracey Campbell is a Senior Policy Analyst with Alberta Labour and Immigration. She provides strategic advice and policy support on career development, employment, training and labour market policy issues. She has been a career practitioner for over 25 years. She spent the first 15 years delivering career and employment services directly to youth and unemployed adults in Alberta. She is a proud member of the CDAA, APCDA and NCDA.

Busy father and mother with small daughter in entrance hall indoors in the morning, leaving for work and nursery school.Careering

Re-entry moms: untapped talent at its finest

Dismantling caregiver bias in the hiring landscape starts with reflection and resilience

Rebecca Joy Tromsness

Author headshotThe global skills gap is real, and Canada is no exception. Addressing this deficiency is essential to this country’s ongoing economic recovery.

At the same time, the pandemic-induced “she-cession” saw 12 times more Canadian women than men stop working because of childcare responsibilities (Nolen, 2021). They are now, two-and-a-half years later, waiting and available to fill the skills gap.

The solution to meeting these challenges is two-fold:

  1. Reflection: Employers need to reflect on their recruitment and retention practices and address (unconscious) biases to advance strategic diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by accessing an untapped talent pool: re-entry moms.
  2. Resilience: Jobseeker moms can leverage a primary caregiver role by believing their worth and clearly articulating the value of their transferable skills, while also approaching re-entry with the growth mindset employers crave.

Where reflection and resilience meet, it’s a job search and hiring jackpot.

Talent, overlooked

Roughly eight out of 10 Canadian executives recognize an industry-wide skills gap and are struggling to find prospective employees with the right skill level and experience to fill positions, according to CERIC’s 2022 National Business Survey.

In particular, employers surveyed said individuals with adequate “soft skills” are hard to come by. Positive attitude and communication were cited as the top two desirable qualities, and the importance of reliability has increased significantly over the past eight years. The majority of Canadian employers prefer to hire someone with the right soft skills who is a “good fit” and provide training for the technical aspects of the job.

This should be good news for moms who are looking to re-enter the paid workforce. Mothers develop an array of widely sought-after soft skills during their “resume gap” months and years. Adjusting to the arrival of a newborn, for instance, offers a masterclass in adaptability. Navigating children’s virtual education demonstrates communication across remote teams, change management and problem-solving amid strong digital fluency.

Unfortunately, caregiver bias (whether unconscious or not) is alive and well in today’s hiring landscape. It’s playing a role in employers’ rejection of suitable candidates who happen to have a “mom gap” on their resume.

“Mothers develop an array of widely sought-after soft skills during their “resume gap” months and years.”

Studies show that caregiver parents (mostly mothers) are perceived as undesirable candidates, often seen as less reliable, less committed and less deserving of a job; they are 50% less likely to receive callbacks compared to non-caregiver applicants with the same gap (Weisshaar, 2018). Interview chances significantly decrease for work gaps beyond two years, a 2019 ResumeGo field study found.

This bias has been infused into hiring practices. A recent Harvard Business School study (2021) revealed that almost 40% of employers using ATS said they automatically weed out resumes with gaps of more than six months.

Of course, this bias affects caregivers of all gender identities; it’s important to remember that not everyone caring for children full time answers to “mom.”

Read more

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Dismantling employer bias

Lack of corporate self-reflection sustains a rut of outdated and inequitable recruitment practices that sabotage the attempt to close skills gaps and, in the process, overlook underrepresented candidates, harming DEI initiatives.

After seeing new lows in women’s workforce participation at the height of the pandemic, it is crucial to cultivate an organizational culture and recruitment strategy that accepts and respects mothers’ non-linear career paths.

And even though women’s workforce participation has “recovered,” with mothers surpassing pre-pandemic levels in recent months, Leah Nord of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce cautions against a “self-congratulatory consensus” that women/moms have arrived at “recovery.” She points out that the women who made a difficult decision to drop out of the workforce long term to care for children during the pandemic are no longer captured by the StatsCan Labour Force survey (which informs our recovery numbers).  A survey by the Canadian Women’s Foundation this past spring found a whopping two in five moms (37%) have put their career on the back burner to manage home and caregiving responsibilities.

Reflection begins with recruiters, talent acquisition teams and hiring managers recognizing and removing structural barriers in recruitment. For instance, demonstrating a preference for candidates with employment continuity reflects a bias that a mother’s “gap years” are void of employable skills.

Seeing the value of caregivers’ transferable skillset requires a mindset shift: skills aren’t less valuable just because the work was unpaid. Employers need to replace the “mom gap bias” with curiosity — “I wonder how x months/years of caregiving prepared this candidate for this role?”

COVID has helped advance this mindset shift in some ways. For instance, it prompted LinkedIn — the largest professional networking platform on the planet — to provide the option to add a “career break” (including full-time parenting) to one’s profile.

Closeup of handshake

Reflection continues with executives re-imagining what a people-focused ROI looks like, bolstering employee retention by nurturing the very reliability and dependability that they’re hungry for.

Imagine implementing flexible working environments – as part of policy – that offer remote and hybrid set-ups, job shares, part-time positions and hours that aren’t strictly 9-5. Imagine proactively supporting parents with a return-to-work program. (Employers could connect employees on parental leave to the organization Moms at Work, which offers courses, community and coaching for mothers.)

While many employers fear that they will invest in training only to have employees leave, these supportive practices would give traditionally overlooked candidates a strong reason to stay. Candidates who believe they’re valued – and see policies in place that support and invest in their well-being – are more engaged and committed.

This is what it looks like to lead in the new normal: reflect, adapt, rebound.

Building up re-entry moms

The mindset shift is crucial for parents, too. Moms also have to bridge the skills-awareness gap to effectively communicate their value to potential employers, and this takes work.

Resilience for re-entry moms begins by replacing self-doubt with knowing their worth. Knowing that their transferable skills have value. Knowing that employers need and want those skills. Re-entry caregivers’ job search success relies on doing their part to be clear (and confident) about which in-demand, transferable skills they offer – including those they developed doing the unpaid work of raising a family.

For the past two years, employers surveyed in Monster’s 2021 and 2022 annual Future of Work reports say that jobseekers need to better articulate their transferable skills to make it easier for recruiters and hiring teams to quickly identify a candidate’s value as a great fit for the role.

To help them navigate this, moms may want to check out free back-to-work sites such as Nabanita de Foundation, conduct a skills audit (either by cross-checking against a skills checklist or having a professional evaluation) or work with a career professional.

An awareness of moms’ transferable skills shines brightly when application documents and interview conversations reflect evidence of in-depth company research. Caregiver parents will draw on critical thinking skills, investigation and data analysis to answer: How would my transferable skills help my potential employer make money, save money and/or save time?

Part of company research involves networking and arranging informational interviews with individuals at target companies or in target roles to better understand and articulate relevant transferable skills.

Resilience continues with mothers demonstrating and communicating a growth mindset to prospective employers – a willingness to learn and grow through upskilling/reskilling. Re-entry moms can approach new roles with open-mindedness, teachability and a positive attitude – the soft skills needed to address our labour market recovery.

Filling skills gaps takes two to tango; however, gatekeepers will always make the final call. Leading in the new normal means imagining an economic recovery that normalizes hybrid work, flexibility and mat leave / return-to-work onboarding as policy so that DEI initiatives can seamlessly include the untapped, soft-skills rich talent pool that is caregiver moms and simultaneously be met with ROI and high employee retention.

Rebecca Joy Tromsness is a full-time caregiver mama, turned re-entry prospect, turned entrepreneur and educator. Tromsness helps fellow caregiver parents land call-backs against crappy odds. After years moonlighting as a copy editor, resume-polisher and research junkie, she has plucked the most relevant tips, tools, and strategies from all the current advice and (mis)information, curated specifically for moms re-entering the workforce with a resume gap. Tromsness’s background in journalism lent itself to a digital editing and reporting stint at The Globe and Mail before jumping into full-time people management as a mom of four and most recently founding and launching Rebecca Joy.


Supporting homeless clients starts with understanding their unique stories

Narratives can be a powerful tool for breaking down biases

Mustapha Sokrat 

Author headshotAccording to Homeless Hub, 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night and 235,000 experience homelessness in a year. Tackling this complex issue requires the efforts of social and community workers, policy makers and career counsellors who can adapt their services to this population.

Work-related experiences and narratives can play a role both in creating the conditions for self-confidence, as well as in an individual’s recovery and resilience.

The 2018 census of homeless people by the Government of Quebec indicates that 11.2% of residents are homeless because of job loss. The same study highlights that 12.2 % of homeless people have an informal job, while 9.4% and 3.3% are self-employed.

To support clients experiencing homelessness, career professionals need to better understand the individual’s unique circumstances and narratives about work.

Personal stories can be a powerful tool for breaking down assumptions and stereotypes about people experiencing insecure housing situations. For instance, at Parc Hamelin in Montreal, I witnessed a community organization using a photovoice exercise to have homeless individuals document their personal stories. Career-related narratives are important to present individuals under another angle. This contribution can be considered as an Artivoicea concept I coined to highlight the role a career counsellor can play in terms of social advocacy and experience sharing with other counsellors and stakeholders.

In this article, I will share my personal experiences with homeless clients through many years of work experience in employment and community organizations. All names were changed to respect confidentiality.

Note: While “unhoused” is becoming an increasingly common term, this article will use “homeless” because that is the prevalent term being used in services in Quebec.

Read more from Careering

From compassion fatigue to compassion satisfaction

How to help your clients navigate the trauma of racism in the workplace 

Keeping hope alive for clients in the criminal justice system

Nostalgic experience

Sharing job-related experience is often a way to present the self as unique and different from others; this is also true of homeless clients. One person I spoke to emphasized the dangerous nature of his career as a high-rise window cleaner in Montreal. Another client, an elderly man, highlighted his physical strength. He used to drive agricultural machinery at his uncle’s farm.

Jean, another individual I spoke with, talked about his life as a Canadian living in a foreign country, where he had a girlfriend and a house. Now, living unhoused in Canada, he still dreams of going back and starting a business in another continent.

“Sharing job-related experience is often a way to present the self as unique and different from others; this is also true of homeless clients.”

It can be a nostalgic experience for people to share job-related narratives. It helps them connect to an idealized self in the past, when they were young, strong and active. However, reminiscing can also be a springboard to the future. “Because, I was such and such, I can do it again.” One person I worked with, Victor, was a house painter. Sadly, the death of his son jeopardized his family life and he lost everything. But he still remembers his previous experience as a painter. He is planning to get his accreditation in construction as well as his driver’s licence.

Career counsellors can use these narratives to strengthen clients’ self-confidence to trigger career planning. They can also use narratives to assess clients’ skills and help them to get government services.

Adapting services

Homeless clients are often reluctant to use public services for job integration. In my experience, they want to fix the problem when they want and to do it at their own pace. Therefore, they often seek fast solutions, instead of long-term processes. That’s why they prefer integration programs that give them the opportunity to work and get money instead of preparatory courses and meetings. Otherwise, they move on with their own social network, using mouth-to-ear strategies or contacting a previous employer. Networking is often a strategy to get a job.

Clients experiencing homelessness often work for moving companies, or doing snow removal or demolition work, for instance; in general, in the kind of jobs that have high turnover and require labour on demand.

For career counsellors, adapting the pace of their service can be an added value for the attraction and retention of such clients to career counselling or job search programs.

Getting back to a sense of belonging

To live in a shelter as an elderly man is a challenging experience for homeless people. They can be victims of harassment and threats, and they have deal with the shelter’s rules. Take Charles, who is 72 years old and has been using Montreal’s shelters for more than 10 years. After his mother’s death, he lost everything because of his addiction problems. Even construction companies could not hire him because they were threatened to lose their contracts. However, he moved to Montreal and did not give up. Unfortunately, living in a rooming house was not easy because of drug dealers and he lost his room because of his addiction problems. He lost everything and got to a shelter to start building again a new life. He is planning to have a part-time job as a helper in a restaurant and to volunteer in the kitchen of the shelter. Having regular meetings with his social worker brings him relief and a sense of recognition. Another community housing support gave him support to find a lasting shelter.

I also learned about the story of Sebastien, who was chronically homeless for more than 10 years. When his mother passed away, everything fell apart and family members stopped talking to him because of his drug addiction. He did not want to stay in a subsidized apartment, preferring the emergency shelter.

Finally, he got another social housing placement and he is still volunteering in the shelter. He cannot stay home all day doing nothing. He wakes up 4 a.m. and walks half an hour to start preparing the kitchen for day shift workers. He knows every corner in the basement stockroom and he is aware of the breakfast routine. Five days a week, he gives more than six hours. He is proud of the consistency of his contribution and also the recognition he gets from staff members. Because of the turnover, he is more than essential for the daily activities of the centre. He often trains new employees.

Breaking down biases

I believe that work-related counselling can be very helpful for clients dealing with job instability and loss of income. Encouraging homeless clients to share their life and job-related experience can be helpful to start thinking about and planning their careers. I encourage clients to use their active coping skills to move forward and look for better options in terms of housing and career.

Recognizing the agency of homeless individuals starts with awareness of the structural factors that create homelessness. Career counsellors need be able to question their own stereotypes about the work challenges of homeless clients. They must overcome their professional and personal biases to be aware of downstream implications of upstream decisions.

I believe that structural competency is a core skill for employment and career counsellors to get ‘’Les ficelles du métier’’ [tricks of the trade] to help clients facing complex issues and challenges.

Meeting homeless clients where they are can help us disconnect from our preconceptions. Understanding the structural factors and initial triggers for losing one’s home, as well as these individuals’ struggle to find a solution to their daily life problems, is an essential competency for the recognition of their agency and their capacity to build on their strengths.

Mustapha Sokrat has been a Member of the Accrediting Body of Career Counsellors in Quebec since 2011, having worked as a guidance counsellor and community worker in non-for-profit organizations. He was involved in various employability and community programs for more than 10 years.

fountain pen on notebookCareering

Editor’s note

Author headshot“Everyone is acting so weird!”

There’s a through-line from that sentiment in an article published in The Atlantic earlier this year to our Fall Careering magazine on “Recovery, Reflection, Resilience.”

As CERIC’s Content and Learning Advisory Committee convened in the spring to determine a theme for this issue, one member pointed to the article to reflect on the strangeness of the moment. We weren’t in lockdown any more, and normalcy was starting to creep back in. But for a lot of people, something still felt off.

Burnout and stress had led people to behave in ways they didn’t before. Workers were grappling with new feelings about their career plans and the role of work in their lives. Students were struggling to communicate and reintegrate. Managers encountered new leadership challenges, as the desire of staff to hold on to remote work clashed with return-to-work mandates.

“The ‘new normal’ is nothing that we thought it would be,” one committee member said. “The pre-pandemic lens is gone and what’s normal is yet to be discovered.”

“There is no quick recovery from this. That’s overwhelming for people,” another observed, noting that two years of crisis response had robbed individuals and organizations of crucial time to reflect.

Our Careering theme of “Recovery, Reflection, Resilience” aims to hold space for this complex reality. It recognizes that we’re recreating normal as we go – and it may not be what we had imagined.

So, we asked contributors to consider, how can the career development field navigate what’s happening now and prepare for what’s to come?

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom they shared in this issue:

  • We can’t cure burnout with self-care
  • Finding possibility within uncertainty is key to preparing for future challenges
  • We need to get uncomfortable to go beyond surface-level work on workplace racism
  • There is no “one-size-fits-all” work model
  • A golden opportunity can be hiding within a career action crisis

If nothing else, just try to remember: We’ve been through a lot. It’s okay if you’re acting kind of weird.


Graduate students win award to attend the Cannexus23 conference

CERIC has announced the recipients of this year’s Graduate Student Award, providing support for four graduate students to the attend the Cannexus23 Canada’s Career Development Conference, January 23-25, 2023. 

The recipients are: 

  • Hannah Celinski, PhD candidate, Education, Simon Fraser University
  • Omotade Owodunni, PhD candidate, Business, Royal Roads University
  • Viviane Poirier, MA candidate, Education, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Mouhamadou Moustapha Sow, PhD candidate, Education, Université de Sherbrooke 

The award, presented annually to select full-time graduate students studying career counselling or career development, provides free registration to the virtual edition of Cannexus and $1,000. The Cannexus conference – which in 2023 is happening both virtually and in-person in Ottawa, Canada – promotes the exchange of information and explores innovative approaches in the areas of career counselling and career development. Student posters will be available for viewing during the virtual conference.   

Eligibility for the award is based on participation in CERIC’s Graduate Student Engagement Program (GSEP), which includes the submission of a one-page article on a career development topicRead the award-winning articles and all the thought-provoking submissions on CERIC’s GSEP Corner. 

GSEP encourages engagement of Canada’s full-time graduate students (Master or PhD level) whose academic research is in career development or a related field. The program will re-open to applications in 2023. Please check back again for updates!


Request for Proposals: How the Changing Nature of Work Will Impact the Concept of Careers and the Role and Identity of Career Developers

The pandemic, and indeed the major disruptions that came before, brought to the fore the importance of having an effective labour market entry and re-entry system. Canada lacks both a national framework for this system and the heavy lifting is often done by career and employment practitioners from myriad sub-sectors (from post-secondary to community) which lack a stable and unified identity.

CERIC is issuing this Request for Proposal (RFP) to undertake research about the changing role and identity of career developers as defined or shaped by the external forces of the changing nature of work and the evolving definition of what a career is.  The purpose is to identify factors that define and conversely limit identity making of career developers, the roles they see themselves playing through this identity and through the interplay of macro socio-economic external factors. We are interested in understanding how these factors and changes are going to drive the evolution of role and identity of the career development field as well as the skillsets and competencies they will need to navigate these changes. Additionally, CERIC has a special interest in understanding the value placed on and demand for the work of career professionals in Canada through this RFP.

This RFP invites interested researchers to submit a detailed proposal that will enable CERIC to select the research/consulting team that it determines is best suited to complete the project according to the enclosed criteria.

CERIC’s interest in this project is three-fold:

1. To develop an understanding of the macro factors that are redefining the changing workplace and career paths

  • A summary of existing work on how technology, social change and global issues are changing the workplace and career paths
  • Evolving definitions of the workplace and value of work
  • The impact of these factors on the changes to the concept of careers in the future, how traditional on-ramps into careers are being challenged or displaced by new notions of learning required to launch into new careers

2. To understand the role and identity of career developers

  • An understanding of the barriers and facilitators to forming an identity as career developers
  • An understanding of the current and future experience of career developers in their roles and how anticipated changes in the work environment will influence them
  • Comparison between the past, current and future understandings of the role and identities
  • Assessment of the professional development needs of career developers and factors that limit access to learning and skills development required for the coming world of work

3. To understand what services clients/students need and how career services need to adapt to meet these changing needs

  • A summary of evolving service modes and methods
  • An understanding of emergent competencies required by future-ready career developers
  • An assessment of gaps in skills required by career development professionals to meet the future needs of their clients

Deadlines for this RFP are as follows:

  • Request for Proposals Released: October 19, 2022
  • Intent to Submit: November 23, 2022 (submit name & contact info to
  • Proposal Deadline: December 21, 2022
  • Award of Contract: March 31, 2023
  • Project Initiation: May 1, 2023

To learn more about the Scope of Work, Target Audience, Deliverables, Budget and Duration, and Eligibility Requirements, please download the RFP. For any inquiries, please contact CERIC Executive Director Riz Ibrahim at


Toolkit showcases 10 ways employers can partner with career professionals to address talent needs

Today’s tight labour market requires new approaches and flexibility to attract talent with shifting jobseeker and employee expectations. A new toolkit from CERIC highlights 10 ways that career development professionals (CDPs) can partner with employers to meet their recruitment, retention and training needs. The toolkit was created by the CDPs who work with employers every day within their communities.

It is a compilation reflecting input from more than 100 CDPs with advice for helping to mobilize local labour markets. This resource is the result of Virtual Community Roundtables with career development professionals held this past June. Organized by CERIC, the roundtables were hosted in partnership with two provincial career development associations, ASPECT BC and the Ontario Association of Career Management.

During these roundtables, CDPs discussed with their peers the results of CERIC’s Environics National Business Survey of 500 Canadian employers released earlier this year. Discussions focused on five themes: Challenges for Canadian Businesses, Recruitment, Skills Gap, Soft Skills and Professional / Career Development.

The toolkit that emerged is intended to be a brief resource that conveys the most impactful approaches for CDPs to work with employers. Some of the 10 ways to partner range from #4 Find Untapped Talent Through Non-Traditional Hiring to #9 Focus on Employee Retention, Engagement and Wellness. CDPs can use this document to identify new or enhanced ways to support employers or can share it directly with employers.

The goal is to provide ideas and a tool to raise employer awareness of the value of career development and the role and services of career development professionals. The National Business Survey showed that while 53% of employers are aware of CDPs, only 12% have worked with one in the past.

Recognizing that the role and services vary by type of CDP, organization and sector (e.g., post-secondary institution vs. community agency vs. private practice), this document aims to be as inclusive and flexible as possible. Anyone is welcome to use or modify the content as part of their communications materials.

Building on this work, CERIC will host two more Virtual Community Roundtables this fall with the Career Development Association of Alberta (registration now open for the Nov. 2 Alberta roundtable) and with Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d’orientation du Québec (OCCOQ) (to be held Dec. 1 in Quebec.) The roundtables will continue this important conversation on employer engagement and the contribution of CDPs to workforce and workplace strategies. The employer toolkit will be updated to incorporate additional insights from CDPs in these other provinces.