Researcher self-care in organizational ethnography: lessons from overcoming compassion fatigue

Vincett, Joanne (2018). Researcher self-care in organizational ethnography: lessons from overcoming compassion fatigue. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 7(1) pp. 44–58.



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to offer practical researcher self-care strategies to prepare for and manage the emotions involved in doing organizational ethnographic research. Institutional ethics policies or research training programmes may not provide guidance, yet emotions are an integral part of research, particularly for ethnographers immersed in the field or those working with sensitive topics or vulnerable or marginalised people.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork over nine months with a voluntary organization in the UK, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, to explore the experiences and activities of volunteer visitors who offer emotional support to women detained indefinitely in an immigration removal centre. The author is a “complete member researcher”, or “at-home ethnographer”, a volunteer visitor and a former detainee.

Findings – The author describes the emotional impact the research personally had on her and shares learning from overcoming “compassion fatigue”. Self-care strategies based on the literature are recommended, such as a researcher self-assessment, identification of the emotional risks of the research, and self-care plan formulated during project planning. Suggested resources and activities to support the well-being of researchers are explored.

Practical implications – This paper provides practical resources for researchers to prepare for and cope with emotional and mental health risks throughout the research process. It builds awareness of safeguarding researchers and supporting them with handling emotional disruptions. Without adequate support, they may be psychologically harmed and lose the potential to critically engage with emotions as data.

Originality/value – The literature on emotions in doing research rarely discusses self-care strategies. This paper offers an actionable plan for researchers to instil emotional and mental well-being into the research design to navigate emotional challenges in the field and build resilience.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 53465
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 2046-6749
  • Keywords
  • Emotions; Organizational ethnography; Volunteer; Compassion fatigue; Complete member researcher; Researcher self-care
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Business and Law (FBL)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2018 Emerald Publishing Ltd.
  • SWORD Depositor
  • Jisc Publications-Router
  • Depositing User
  • Jisc Publications-Router