HR for HR: 9 Ways to Avoid HR Burnout & Improve Well-Being
HR has become more strategic in recent years, increasingly moving from a largely administrative function to playing a pivotal role in achieving business goals. Many organizations today expect HR to develop strategies around DEIB, hybrid work, organizational purpose, employee well-being, and so on.
However, the one element that seems to be missing in all this is the support of HR itself. Who’s taking care of the people in the People Teams? Who’s asking them what help they need? Because if HR is going to assist the organization – and the people in it – to flourish, they will need to be in the best possible shape.
The first step towards ensuring this is for HR to overcome its own burnout crisis. And although this may go against the nature of many people working in Human Resources, HR practitioners need to put on their own oxygen masks first.
In this article, we’ll take a look at 9 ways you, as an HR professional, can avoid burnout and improve your well-being.
Why are HR professionals exhausted?
HR professionals around the world are exhausted. A study by Workvivo revealed that 98% of HR professionals are burned out. Other data shows that 53% of HR leaders feel overwhelmed and that 42% of teams struggle with burnout and exhaustion.
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These percentages reveal that a large number of people are being impacted and that burnout and exhaustion are widespread in the HR profession. We need to take a look at some of the reasons why so many HR practitioners are exhausted. Because once we know the causes, we can tackle the core issues.
Before we dive into the various causes of the current state of HR, however, we must stress that HR has always been a challenging function to be in. People Teams have to manage difficult situations on a daily basis. These vary from employee grievances such as sexual harassment, bias, or an unfair paycheck to laying off employees or simply being the scapegoat for disgruntled staff.
Recent challenges have further added to the strain placed on HR professionals.
This doesn’t come as a surprise but is an important factor in how HR is doing nevertheless. HR has been pushed to the forefront during Covid into a leading role that impacted the whole workforce. HR professionals had to transition their employees into remote working overnight, ensure the safety of frontline workers, and comply with changing rules and regulations while safeguarding business continuity.
But it didn’t stop there. Soon, organizations began to look to their People Teams again to start thinking about issues such as facilitating a hybrid or remote way of working for the long-term, as well as the mental health of their employees.
Post-pandemic issues have compounded the pressures HR faces with additional situations they must navigate, such as the Great Resignation, also referred to as the Big Quit and Great Reshuffle, leaving HR professionals to solve the new challenge of retaining their talent and attracting new candidates for the organization.
Apart from the pandemic, there have been other developments that have created pressure from the outside world on HR teams. Whether it’s the threat of economic downturn, social justice movements, rising inflation and increasing cost of living, political tensions (in the US), or war in Ukraine, HR has been supporting employees and organizations through it all.
Lack of support and unappreciation
63% of C-suite leaders still view HR as an administrative function. Unsurprisingly, 8 in 10 HR leaders think that the lack of leadership support will continue to remain a challenge for HR in the years to come. This translates into a reality where HR professionals often don’t receive the support needed to succeed, whether this may be with leadership buy-in, budget, and adequate staff.
Also, much of what People Teams do is not immediately visible and, therefore, doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. Take cultural transformation, for example. This is a process that can take years, so it’s not something where people can immediately see the results or the immense contribution from HR.
The perception that employees, and even HR, have for the HR department isn’t always positive. Recently, Steve Browne, Chief People Officer at LaRosa’s pizzeria chain, discussed the first 8 emojis that popped up when his friend typed “HR”:
As you can see, these aren’t the happiest or smiliest of emojis, which doesn’t paint a great picture of how others perceive their interactions with HR.
When asked what could be the possible reasons behind HR’s poor reputation, Steve Browne said: “I think many people base their experiences on if something went wrong, and that becomes their framework reference. So if you had a bad interaction with me, and I’m your HR person; therefore, you go, Steve didn’t do this, or HR didn’t do this. And it fell short.
The other part of it, though, is how HR has positioned itself in companies. They were not as accessible or as approachable or as able to always be there for people on a regular basis. So if you don’t give me your time and attention, I don’t care what role you’re in. But especially in HR, there’s no surprise that it went negative.
Then, when you talk to HR people, they tend to talk about the hard stories and the people who are challenging instead of the people who are amazing. So I think it’s earned on both sides of the ledger – how people view us typically because of their experience with us, and where we tend to focus on the negative more than the positive when it comes to people.”
67% of HR departments say they’re overworked due to an increased workload and additional unexpected work. One example where workload increased dramatically was with the adoption of the hybrid workplace model across organizations. As one Chief People Officer put it: “I’m all for adopting the hybrid work model, but I won’t become the company’s Chief Hybrid Officer and take on an entire additional role.”
This is an ongoing concern that HR teams face post-pandemic. It has become common for HR to be expected to take on new areas that weren’t on their plate before the pandemic without much knowledge or support to implement and manage them.
Because of the increased workload, HR professionals often lack time to upskill and gain new competencies that would help them face business and workforce challenges.
This increased workload, in combination with chronic understaffing, makes for a pretty toxic mix. 41% of HR departments are understaffed, one survey revealed. Among HR leaders who indicated they were emotionally exhausted, more than 40% said it was because they required additional headcount to meet their business goals.
9 tips for HR well-being
It’s clear that HR departments face many challenges in the changing world of work. If you want to thrive in your HR role, you must start paying closer attention to your own well-being. In other words, you need to start practicing HR for HR.
1. Recognize that you need support
This is the starting point. As long as HR practitioners don’t admit that they need support and continue to act as ‘superhumans’, nothing will change.
Some of the signs that you need to ask for help include:
- You regularly need to work overtime to keep up with your tasks.
- It’s unclear to you what your priorities should be.
- You’re juggling multiple projects with no support.
- You don’t feel supported by your colleagues and your manager.
If you recognize yourself in any of these points, it might be the highest time to ask for support.
Here’s what Julie Turney, HR for HR Coach and TedX Speaker says about this:
“Getting HR the support that they need starts with HR. I think a lot of times, people would say: ‘You know, I’ve been in this profession for 10 years, 15 years, whatever, I’m doing good. The organization I’m with is great. They support me.’ And that’s all fine and well. But you still have to do very hard stuff. Where do you go to get that support? It starts with HR recognizing that they do need that support, that they do need that help.”
2. Be transparent and take action
It’s one thing to recognize that you’re not a superhero. It’s another to let your managers – and the rest of the company – know that HR are human beings too and need support. This support can, for example, take the form of getting your teammates involved in a project you’re working on or reviewing your workload and priorities with your manager.
It can also be coaching or access to mental health resources that is paid for by the employer. Julie Turney points out: “One of the things that I will be advocating for more is that HR for HR coaching is included in compensation packages for HR professionals, because the two just go hand in hand. It should be a given that your HR team should at least be going to therapy once a month, or at least once a quarter, depending on where they’re sitting. I think that these things are very important. But I want to help organizations to get a better understanding of why these things are necessary.”
There are two key takeaways for HR professionals:
- People professionals must recognize that they need support.
- They should be transparent about this need and share it with their managers; and even the company’s leadership.
Asking for help and support is certainly not an easy conversation to have. You might be worried about being seen as incompetent, weak, or lazy. However, without expressing your need for help, you’ll continue to feel stuck and frustrated. Preparing for your conversation will help you approach it calmly, professionally, and confidently.
It’s important that you go into the discussion with a clear definition of the problem and ideas for potential solutions. For instance, you feel overwhelmed because you’re in charge of multiple HR projects, and you’re unsure which one needs the most attention. This negatively impacts your productivity. You could suggest evaluating the impact of each project together with your manager and then creating a timeline and a list of resources needed for each project.
3. Build resilience and practice SAFE HR
As mentioned, it’s time for HR professionals to put on their own oxygen masks first. This starts with building your own resilience to then be able to help your organization become more resilient.
- S – Self-awareness. Knowing your strengths, but also knowing your less strong points.
- A – Act. Having those tough conversations with your leaders, telling them what you need and how you need support and if you don’t get what you need, act again and walk away.
- F – Forgive. Forgive yourself when a project you fought for didn’t turn out the way you wanted. Instead, look at all the things you did achieve.
- E – Educate. A safe HR professional takes full responsibility for their own development, both in terms of skills and in terms of knowing relevant technology and what resources their People Team needs. They do everything in their power to be the best HR professional they can be.
Of course, you won’t become a SAFE HR practitioner overnight. It requires time and a different way of thinking, or even a mindset shift. This could make for a great team goal – something that the entire HR department strives for, keeps each other accountable for, and supports each other in.
4. Establish healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries will help you prioritize and focus on what matters most. Boundaries will also make it easier to explain to colleagues outside the HR department what you do and do not do. That way, you can avoid getting tangled up in all kinds of demands and projects that aren’t yours to deal with.
- Setting clear expectations for your stakeholders about what is and what isn’t within your scope of activity,
- Delegating work, and
- Communicating your working hours.
5. Understand your stressors
‘Know thyself’ as the Ancient Greeks would say. While self-awareness is a key to building resilience, understanding your feelings and knowing your strengths and weaknesses – as well as your stressors – is essential if you want to minimize your stress level at work.
If, for instance, a big workload of a certain project stresses you out, you can try to apply HR project management principles to streamline your work. This will help you reduce your stress and get closer to achieving your goals.
It’s also important to realize that you don’t need to do everything at work from scratch. For example, when you need to write a new policy or you’re about to conduct an HR audit, you can simply download a ready-to-use template that enables you to manage your workload, make your work easier, and thus, reduce your stress.
6. Focus on all aspects of your well-being
Total well-being is one of the 11 HR trends and priorities we identified for 2023 and beyond. It includes making time to take care of your physical, mental, financial, and career well-being. Focusing on total well-being can take many forms, depending on what works best for you. Think of (obvious) activities like movement, getting enough sleep, and healthy food.
Also, consider the following to improve your total well-being:
- Consulting a mental health professional
- Getting an HR for HR coach
- Seeking financial advice and education
- Charting your HR career path
- Setting HR professional development goals
- Expanding your skill set to meet your goals
There are some total well-being interventions that you can implement at your organization and benefit from as well:
7. Rely on your team
One of the greatest benefits of being part of a team is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. And even if you’re an HR Generalist in a relatively small company, you have colleagues to rely on.
Sharing your struggles with the team will ease some of the burden you are carrying and could help you find solutions to issues. You can also divide tasks and manage your workload better. There are several things you can do to enable better team collaboration, such as having daily standups, team reviews, and one-on-1ones.
However, for the magic of teamwork to unfold, you’ll have to first recognize that you need support… and ask for it.
8. Find your HR community
It’s impossible to talk about HR for HR and finding support without mentioning HR communities. Being part of a community of fellow HR practitioners can be invaluable. It’s a great place to share experiences, ask for input, have a laugh, or maybe even rant a little every once in a while among peers.
If you’re a member of an association like SHRM or CIPD, you can participate in discussions and look for advice and support there. Other HR communities that come to mind are:
- AIHR learners community
- Hacking HR
- The Evil HR Lady Facebook group
- Disrupt HR
9. Celebrate wins and achievements
Setting goals enables you to see how you progress towards them and – more importantly – celebrate when you hit a milestone. Not only does this help you take ownership of your great work, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment.
Too often still, we forget to take a moment and look at what we’ve achieved because we’re already moving on to the next goal or task on our list. So, make sure to recognize your achievements. If you find that hard to do, track them within your team and celebrate the milestones together.
Build a culture of peer recognition within your team and lead by example. Be specific about the praise you’re giving and describe exactly why your teammate deserves recognition. This can, for instance, be when they demonstrate a company value.
Let’s say that one of your organizational values is continuous learning and your teammate just successfully finished an HR certificate program. You could say: “I noticed how dedicated you are to continuously improving your HR skills and how you manage to find time for learning every week despite your busy schedule. The competencies you’re gaining are helping us make our HR department more effective and innovative. Well done, and congratulations on your certification!”
Bonus: Invest in developing HR skills and capabilities
Talking about continuous learning, it’s essential for HR professionals to keep investing in expanding their own skills and capabilities. You need to be ready to face the next crisis, which will inevitably come and guide your organization through it again.
Focus on developing future HR skills like change management, organizational design, and inter-departmental collaboration. It’s also vital to work on your core HR competencies:
As a well-rounded HR practitioner, you will be able to navigate the future challenges your organization will be confronted with and come out stronger.
On a final note
If you want to build an organization with happy and productive employees, start taking your own well-being seriously and prioritize HR for HR. Only then can HR become a resilient, flexible, and future-proof function with the power to help organizations achieve success.