“People in HR are not the easiest people to convince that they need to take care of themselves. They’re so busy doing for others, and they may even feel guilty if they have to take time out for self-care. If they don’t, though, they’re not going to be as effective as they could be in helping steer their company - and their own lives - in a positive direction.”
I picked out this quote from an article that I came across on the Society for Human Resource Management magazine, titled, “Avoiding HR Burnout”. The article was dated July 1, 2003.
Clearly, dealing with the human side of business has had, and continues to have, its perks and perils. The HR burnout is real and has existed for years, although, the issue wasn’t always at the forefront. But, the toll taken by the pandemic brought burnout right on the main burner.
The pandemic caused a non-stop deluge of work. The burnout that many people are feeling well into 2022 - at work and in life - is especially acute for those in Human Resources. HR, like any other profession, has its unique challenges and stresses. And part of that stress is that HR professionals tend to take care of others before themselves.
Since 2020, armies of HR professionals have been helping companies shift to remote work, laying off employees and trying to hire them back amidst a global health crisis. With health experts saying we’re still situated at the beginning of the pandemic than the end, there’s a real need for workers, like HR professionals, that are leading through change to brace for more challenges ahead.
But, many HR teams are understaffed, overwhelmed, and burned out. When HR professionals are burned out, it means that employees aren’t getting the support they need to do their jobs effectively. As a result, work productivity suffers. So, why has HR been hit so hard? And what can businesses do to better support their HR teams in the foreseeable future?
Why are HR teams so burned out?
The current state of HR? They are not okay. According the the 2021 State of People Strategy Report from Lattice, burnout and emotional exhaustion among HR professionals were as pervasive as the pandemic. Hiring has been the top priority among HR teams. But even greater is the irony behind the data: The team that is tasked with upscaling the rest of the organization is critically understaffed itself.
HR is burdened by the responsibilities thrusted upon them; most of them new, ever since the beginning of the pandemic. Among the HR leaders who said they were emotionally exhausted, 67% of them blamed it on the being overworked, and more than 40% stated it was because they were sorely understaffed and needed more team members to meet the business goals.
Although it may look like the worst of the pandemic is behind us, the HR burnout won’t get any easier, especially with the supercharged demand for talent still raging on.
Overarching challenges that are building HR burnout
When Covid-19 hit, the sudden shift to remote work and hybrid work blindsided a lot of HR teams. Although it provided the flexibility in work schedule that so many valued, it presented unforeseen challenges to HR. On the administrative side, they had to deal with people living in different geographies, while on the cultural side, they had to figure out how to engage employees fairly across the locations. According to the SOPS report, onboarding (41%), managing employee training (34%), and hiring (33%) have been the greatest hybrid workplace challenges for HR.
The Great Resignation
In addition to the HR burnout, they are facing serious hiring and retention challenges as a result of the Great Resignation. HR departments are overburdened with processing exits and trying to fill gaps with new hires. They are under a great deal of pressure to hire good people as soon as possible.
And, while HR is in charge of hiring and retaining new talent in the face of this mass exodus, they aren't immune to losing good people, making managing the team's responsibilities all the more difficult.
HR is not immune to the Great Resignation. The remaining team is impacted because they are responsible for keeping the ship afloat with fewer employees.
It’s not just burnout: HR is experiencing Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue is a condition often experienced by those who work in caregiving professions such as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and HR professionals. Due to the constant exposure to other’s pain, such professionals reach a diminished capacity to empathize or care about others. The cost of caring for others leads them into a state of emotional or psychological pain.
Caring for the wellbeing of employees isn’t a new job for HR professionals. But, couple that with the challenges of the Covid years, and you are present with a new a new crisis to deal with. The significant changes in working environment, dealing with employee terminations and employee resignations; HR is struggling to deal with the more complicated aspects of employee relations.
Compassion fatigue is not the same as burnout; it can feel similar but manifests differently. Burnout and compassion fatigue can co-occur in some cases. The symptoms of compassion fatigue are caused by constant exposure to the distress of others. However, the preventative measure of combating compassion fatigue is as simple as following the basic safety protocol of securing your oxygen mask before helping the other person out.
How to better support HR teams
The great mash-up of burnout, the effects of emote working and the great resignation, the shift to a hybrid model, and the unrelenting compassion fatigue, all points towards one fact - HR’s situation is dire. It is up to organizations to step up for their Human Resource teams and take up the mantle of nurturer and caregiver. Here’s how companies can better support HR teams.
1. Make mental health discussion a non-negotiable must-have
The issues regarding mental health have always been around, but was so taboo and avoided with a ten foot pole. “Employee mental health has always been important,” says Melissa Doman, organizational psychologist, former clinical mental health therapist and author of Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work: Here’s Why… and How to Do it Really Well.
But with the pandemic, mental health discussion in the workplace has become a non-negotiable must-have. “Making sure your team is doing well emotionally — that is part of a leadership development skill set that you must have,” she said.
Leaders should decide what tools make sense to better encourage discussions around mental health. Under-utilised resources like EAPs should be adopted by not only employees, but HR professionals and leaders, alike.
2. Set up healthy boundaries when working remotely
The blurred lines between work and life have been a the biggest drawback of remote work. And for Human Resources professionals who are facing the brunt of the burnout, the situation hasn’t fared any better. That is why it is critical for organisations to encourage their remote employees, including those in human resources, to set limits on how much time they spend working.
"You have to just find the minutes where you can because it's really about being realistic and drawing boundaries when possible," says Melissa Doman, in an interview with peopleHum. "While this might feel like there's no end in sight, there will be. This will not be forever. We don't know how long this is gonna go on, but we will not be locked up at home forever. So when things get really hard and you just feel like you want to tear your hair out, you have to remember that there is an end in sight and you must take it one day at a time where it's too overwhelming.
3. Invest in the right HR tools
In order to effectively manage their workload, HR teams need the right tools. Investing in HR technology has become the top priority for organizations everywhere, and therefore needs serious consideration. Employers need to understand the struggles of their HR teams, identify the problem cases, and invest in the tools and software that will that will enable them to work to their best potential and set the organization up for success.
When the HR department of an organization suffers, its employees also suffer as a result. The reality is that modern HR teams have a lot on their plates, and the belief is that having the best HR software in place should make their jobs easier. Successful people-centric teams invest in HR software and analytics. HR teams continue to feel the tight crunch of resources, and therefore it is critical that businesses give in to automating manual processes to avoid spending all of HR's resources and time in tactical work.
HR work isn't getting any easier. The way out of HR burnout isn't to simply ride out the storm and hope for the best. Implementing technology won't just save time, but also reduce stress levels, and enable HR teams to effectively carry out people strategies to attract, retain and develop talent. .