Can Leaders Prevent HR Burnout?
Labor shortages, increasing wages, demand for broader, more inclusive benefits programs, intensifying focus on learning and development ... a lot of the issues of the past three years — not to mention COVID — have rested on HR leaders' shoulders.
Far from being out of the woods on many of those issues, HR teams are having to heed their own advice to avoid burnout and strike a healthy work-life balance.
Yet, a recent study by workplace communication app company Workvivo found that 98% of the more than 250 HR professionals surveyed across the US and the UK have experienced feelings of chronic fatigue and even burnout at work in the past six months — and 78% are now open to leaving their jobs.
These are alarming statistics. Unfortunately for employers, they also can't just hand if off to HR to fix. So, what is the problem and what can be done?
The Sources of HR Burnout
It doesn't take a lot of digging to figure out why HR leaders today may feel overworked and stretched thin; the causes abound. But two of the most commonly cited causes of burnout within HR teams are linked to workplace transformations and the Great Resignation.
Workplace transformations continue to dominate HR work, as staff move to hybrid or remote work. Research by Human Resource Executive found that HR leaders find it more challenging to manage hybrid work than remote or in-person work.
"Employees who work in a hybrid environment shift from their home office to a satellite or corporate office, while bouncing from video calls to in-person meetings. Working in this fashion can create greater anxiety during the working day," the research report read.
Meanwhile, the Great Resignation remains a major headache across industries. A PwC survey of more than 50,000 workers found that one in five will consider leaving their current role in the next 12 months. These empty positions will continue to add pressure on HR teams as they attempt to find replacements, and train them — not to mention that HR employees themselves are expected to join the quitting trend, according to the Workvivo research.
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How Can Companies Help?
There's been a lot of irons in the fire for organizational leaders these past few years. Holding their end of the bargain, HR leaders have had to deal with most macro workplace issues independently.
But lack of support from senior management and leadership teams can be a source of stress, and one of the most significant issues HR professionals reported is the lack of resources to cope with growing demand.
Workvivo's survey found that only 29% of HR professionals feel valued in their organization, and one in two said their organization does not support HR. Nearly three-quarters said they lack the tools and resources to do their job well.
There are many more takeaways from the Workvivo study — and many others on the issue — that can help leadership teams improve their policies and behaviors around HR teams. Here are three considerations:
1. Integrate HR into the Wider Business
Having an independent HR team, one that represents the interests of both the employer and employees objectively, has long been a goal for organizations. But Linn Atiyeh, founder and CEO of Bemana Power Recruitment, says keeping HR at arm's length from the C-suite is also causing significant issues for HR teams and the business.
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Instead, Atiyeh recommends that C-level executives look for ways to integrate HR more closely into the business to ensure the team's achievements are recorded and recognized, and that the workload is realistic and that HR leaders receive the support they need in challenging transformational times.
Related Article: How Leaders Can Alleviate Workplace Burnout
2. Set Boundaries
One of the biggest consequences of the Great Resignation, not just in HR but across organizations, has been having to fill in vacant seats. While initially thought to be temporary, for many that responsibility has not waned. This is true of many HR teams, and Michael D. Levitt, chief burnout officer at Breakfast Leadership Network, says companies need to have policies that establish boundaries around working hours — for everyone, including team leaders.
According to Levitt, remote and hybrid work often means employees don't recognize office hours. As a result, they overwork. There's been a lot of talk about employee wellbeing and how to ensure everyone has a chance to disconnect at the end of the day. This holds true for HR leaders and their employees as well, who should be encouraged to follow the same routine.
3. Give HR a Rest Day
Athletes know it well: rest days are vital to performance. The same goes for knowledge workers.
"There's a recovery process that needs to occur," said Joe Robinson, a burnout specialist at Optimal Performance Strategies. "The burned-out need to build up their energy, drive and confidence again."
Unfortunately, though, once you get to the burnout phase, a rest day is no longer sufficient. Burnout requires a systemic approach to alleviate the stressors at burnout's roots, so it's in the best interest of everyone at the company to ensure that all employees get proper rest regularly, as they need it.
Offering HR staff time away from stressful environments will help make them feel revitalized, clear-headed and more productive.
About the Author
Kaya Ismail is a business software journalist and commentator with years of experience in the CMS industry. He is also the Founder of Wordify, a content marketing agency for software vendors.