Tackling the burnout crisis in HR

Amidst the post-pandemic Great Resignation, businesses are finding that their remaining staff face another significant challenge: the Great Burnout. The pandemic stress has weighed heavily on many team members, and HR teams have felt this particularly acutely.

They were handed duties during the pandemic that most in the company wouldn’t want to tackle, like being the one to deliver grim news about pandemic-related redundancies. Furthermore, HR had to oversee the shift of teams to remote working, create on-the-fly rules for this unfamiliar working arrangement, and stay abreast of ever-changing vaccine and safety guidelines – then ensure these were adhered to in the workplace and, in many cases, were responsible for handling severe illness and deaths in the workforce. All whilst managing their own health, safety, security, family and the usual trials and tribulations of life

More recently, in the midst of the Great Resignation, HR teams are scrambling to pull candidates from a diminishing pool to keep their businesses running. And often, HR teams have found themselves acting as emotional support for colleagues despite lacking the resources or training to play this part and not having the same support available to them. This weight of unexpected responsibilities and being the emotional backbone in such turbulent times has sparked widespread burnout within HR departments.

Does this person need wine or an employer that supports them? Or both?

A study by Workvivo, highlighted in Forbes, showcased the impact:

  • A staggering 98% of HR professionals report feeling burned out.
  • 88% admit they dread going to work.
  • 97% say their role has left them emotionally drained.
  • 73% feel they don’t possess the tools to do their job effectively.
  • Just 29% believe their work is valued by their company.
  • Notably, 78% of HR professionals are pondering leaving their current roles.

Given these stats, it’s hardly surprising that HR professionals might not only consider moving jobs but could also succumb to long-term stress issues like insomnia, high blood pressure, and mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression. Leaders need to be on the lookout for signs of burnout, including missed deadlines, dips in performance, changes in mood, and a drop in communication.

Darcy Gruttadaro, of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, suggests companies must step up their game. Gillian French, an employee experience specialist at Workvivo, echoes this, urging businesses to genuinely tune into their employees and revamp their company culture.

So, how can businesses step in and assist, uplift and keep their invaluable HR teams?

  1. Involve them in decision-making: Often, HR staff tackle challenging tasks without a say in the policies or decisions that impact them. Gillian French noted that HR professionals rarely pop up on company boards. By letting them join senior meetings, companies can gain valuable insights and design policies that genuinely support HR, making them feel valued and more committed to their roles.

  2. Prioritise wellness programmes: When done correctly, these are beneficial. According to a study by Udemy, 48% of employees believe that workplace wellness programmes are the top factor in stress management, enhancing overall health and job satisfaction.

  3. Promote flexible working: Even if the pandemic’s intensity has receded, life remains unpredictable for many. Offering flexibility in working hours or the choice to work remotely, at least occasionally, can reduce work-related pressures.

  4. Give them autonomy and budget: According to my workplace wellbeing reporting tool, 69% of HR professionals surveyed said they have no dedicated wellbeing budget.  This means that any wellbeing initiatives must go cap in hand to someone else to get the funds. They often lack the freedom to do what they believe is best and are instead instructed by more senior figures who lack the relevant qualifications and (more importantly) real-world experience to make such decisions.

And for HR professionals feeling the strain?

While not every business will adequately address the HR challenge, those in HR must find their own ways to stave off burnout. If you’re in HR, watch for signs such as feeling defeated, isolated, unmotivated, apathetic, or persistently exhausted. The issue here is that these symptoms become the norm and engrained into life, meaning that often, they fly under the radar, and people think that it doesn’t apply to them. 

Your employer has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to look after your health (physical AND mental), but it also falls to us as individuals to take steps to look after our health. Some strategies include:

This is not a throwaway image. Pay attention to it!
  1. Finding your balance: The idea of a ‘work-life balance’ often feels like an elusive unicorn, but remember that there is no such thing as perfect balance, and where that balance sits will change regularly, but take steps to draw boundaries. Whether that’s to use your ‘out-of-office’ function more, communicate when you’re available and when you’re not or maybe even limit your ‘open door’ policy a little to allow yourself time to focus.
  2. Access wellbeing resources: Do you know those employee wellbeing resources you constantly direct other employees to? You know they’re there for you, too, right? You can contact the employee assistance program, speak to a mental health first aider, and attend that stress seminar. And YOU CAN TAKE TIME OFF. 
  3. Peer support: There is something incredibly powerful about speaking to other people who get it. You don’t need to explain why something is pissing you off or stressing you out because they’ve been there. But they can assure provide validation, some reassurance and maybe some guidance. There are loads of Facebook and LinkedIn groups out there for this. Some are better than others, so find what works for you. 
  4. Get physical: There are so many studies that support the power of physical activity for our mental health. The cruel reality is that the symptoms of stress and burnout make getting active feel like climbing Mount Everest but this is where we need to get a little stubborn and make ourselves do it, whether that’s a full-blown run or something else like yoga, circuit training or whatever works. If exercise isn’t accessible to you, anything that produces oxytocin (the anti-stress hormone) is good – stroking a pet, hugging your kid, or *ahem* special grown-up time.
Looking to the future, the HR challenge, while partly a consequence of the pandemic, presents a golden chance for businesses to revisit their values and consider how their work culture and practices influence their teams. Embracing a people-centric approach can lead to long-term employee loyalty in a setting that promotes well-being. Given the changing values of today’s workforce, this shift seems inevitable. Pioneering organisations will likely set the trend for others to follow. Or, to be slightly more concise about it, Organisations, put people before the bank balance, and the bank balance will grow along with your people!