Stress: How HR Can Help Employees Get through the Tough Times (5 tips)

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I’ve run an HR based Facebook page (Evil HR Lady) for the past three or so years. It’s been fantastic. Everyone is kind and helpful, and it’s a wonderful place to be. Until last week when everyone cracked under the pressure of the world situation and a whole bunch of mean came out.

This is not surprising. 

Not since the days of Noah (remember Noah and his ark?) has the whole world been under this much stress at the same time. And this means that we’re all susceptible to burnout at a higher rate than usual.

In HR, we’re running around trying to take care of others, and we often forget to take care of ourselves. And since this crisis hit, our jobs haven’t been the same. HR has been firing, furloughing, revising policies, getting new information and revising again, closing things down, opening things up, listening to employees cry, and getting laid off ourselves. It has not been easy.

So, when I saw my group cracking, I did a couple of things that can help if you see your employees becoming angry or mean. 

1. Do a Culture Reminder

Cultures in businesses or departments or Facebook groups need nurturing. If you just let things run wild, you’ll eventually get chaos. All it takes is one person with a lousy attitude to destroy years of hard work.

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So, I posted a reminder about the culture. 

Posting works well for an online group, but if you’re all together in an office or a factory or a store, a meeting can help. Remind people that at this company, you are X and not Y. In my case, it was a reminder that this is an HR page, not a political one. 

2. Warn, Discipline, and Fire

Sometimes everyone goes bonkers. Sometimes one person turns into a real-life troll that eggs the others on. If you can identify who that central person is, a nice one on one conversation can change things.

It can also make someone dig in their heels. By golly, they will declare, they are just honest. Isn’t honesty a core value? Or they are providing helpful feedback. Or they have the right to say whatever they want to at work.

Your sincere hope is that one small correction (Bob, your negative attitude is affecting the whole team. Keep it work focused and positive, please!) will solve the problem. But, if it doesn’t, you absolutely, positively have to speak up. A formal warning is in order at this point. If the employee still behaves like a troll, use progressive discipline up to and including termination.

A mean-spirited employee can bring an entire department down. It’s not worth it. In my group, I muted the biggest offender and told her why. 

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3. Lighten up the mood

HR consultant Brenda Neckvatal had a bunch of employees who were at each other’s throats. Recognizing that they needed a change, she brought them all into a room with a mirrored wall, told them to face the wall and smile. The ridiculousness of the situation made people start to laugh. Laughing makes people happy. Laughing bonds people together.

The result of her forced fun? The best week they’d had in a long time. Everyone needed a chance to laugh and see each other as humans. Sometimes we can forget that there is a real person with real feelings on the receiving end of that instant message, tweet, or comment in the breakroom. Getting together and laughing can help break that negative energy.

This doesn’t mean that the problems in the world aren’t severe. It merely means that right now, we are going to focus on something funny. We are going to give our brains a break and push those positive endorphins out. It makes a difference.

To encourage humor and good feelings, I posted a couple of funny things that encouraged people to participate. People did, and the mood lightened.

Stress hr tips

4. A little self-care goes a long way

The virus isn’t the only thing causing stress in my life, but it was the only thing preventing me from getting my monthly massage. As restrictions loosened and country borders opened, I hopped across the border to Germany (I live three kilometers away) and got a massage today (masked, thank you!).

The massage therapist asked if I had any pain, and I said no, just stress. Taking the time to do something nice for myself and for a small business that lost months of income due to the shutdown was a good thing. I left feeling much better. 

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And this has benefits – because when I’m feeling better, I have more energy to give to the people I serve, whether it be clients, colleagues, or kids. 

If you’re working 60 to 80 hour weeks trying to keep up with all the changes and employee needs, you’re going to burn out. It’s not an option. There will come a breaking point, and then you will be of no use to anyone else. Prioritize and delegate. While people often expect HR to be all things to all people, it’s time to learn the word no.

5. None of this fixes everything

I want to fix things. You want to fix things. But, here’s the thing: no HR person is going to solve the Corona crisis. We don’t have the knowledge, skills, or abilities to do so. But, we can influence those in our sphere. We can make things better for our companies and our employees and our customers. We can ensure that when employees come to work (physically, or through their computers), they have a comfortable and safe environment.

Sometimes, we can get frustrated that we can’t fix the underlying issue. Right now, this is on a global scale, but it can be smaller as well. We can’t fix an obnoxious CEO or a declining client base. Don’t let that stop you from helping your employees get through the tough times. 

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