Podcast transcript: How can HR care for their own mental health?

Check out the transcript from Season 2, Episode 1 of AHRI’s new podcast, Let’s Take This Offline, where our host Beth Hall discusses strategies for HR to put their wellbeing first with peak performance researcher and author Dr Adam Fraser.

Listen to the episode below and read more about AHRI’s podcast here.

Beth Hall: This podcast is recorded on Wurundjeri land. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and the land on which you are listening today. Welcome to Season Two of Let’s Take This Offline, a podcast from the Australian HR institute that brings you closer to the minds helping to shape the future of HR. My name is Beth Hall, and I’m the general manager of HR standards and capability at AHRI. I’ve been in people and culture for over 15 years, working with dynamic organisations globally that focus on strategies to enhance workplace wellbeing and performance. I’m passionate about advancing HR to create positive work environments, and my master’s in organisational psychology has been instrumental in shaping my approach to HR. HR is such a rewarding profession. It deals with some of the most pressing challenges in the workplace, from navigating layoffs to addressing mental health concerns, as well as meeting high expectations of our leaders and employees. These experiences place us at the heart of our organisations, especially as we face increasing complexity in today’s ever evolving business landscape. Today, we’re exploring how HR practitioners can effectively care for themselves amid these challenges, which can lead to emotional stress and in some cases, vicarious trauma. Joining me is Dr. Adam Fraser, an author, a peak performance researcher known for his work on vicarious trauma among educators and a featured speaker at our 2024 National Convention in Melbourne. In this episode, you’ll take away how Dr. Adam phrases research into vicarious trauma in the education space could be applied to the practice of HR, as well as some great research back tips to help manage your mental health. There are lots of important takeaways for HR in this episode. So let’s jump in. Adam, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. As we’ve learned in the intro, you are a researcher within wellbeing and performance and have been for over 20 years, I’d love to start by just sharing with our listeners, what kind of areas of wellbeing and performance have you been working in.

Dr. Adam Fraser: So my undergraduate was biomedical science, which is a blend of psychology and physiology. And then I did an honours and then a PhD. And really the PhD looked at how lifestyle factors affected our well being affected our level of happiness, quality of life. So that’s kind of where I started. And then businesses asked me to start applying that research for them. And really, I kind of fell in love with business left academia. And I kind of spend my time either presenting at conferences, running workshops. The second area is doing the research, obviously. And the third area is large scale intervention. So some that springs to mind is we’ve been doing a lot of work with professional services firms around partner burnout. What drives that? What are the dynamics? How do we prevent it? You know, we’ve been doing a lot of work in education around how to educate and sustain themselves. So it varies from that all the way through to for a while I worked on a project with the royal family of Kuwait looking at how do we make the country of Kuwait happier? So it’s been quite a diverse and varied career so far.

Beth Hall: Yeah. Wow. That’s fascinating. One thing that struck a chord with me as a HR practitioner is the concept of keeping educators in their role. We’ve seen a lot of research of late within the HR profession where people are leaving the practice and they’re leaving due to overwhelm. They’re leaving due to the complexity and emotional taxing nature of the role. What do you think are some of the things that we can do and act like, are we doing enough? Are we doing enough in business in the workplace to really support these key roles, like HR in dealing with what it is that they’re exposed to?

Dr. Adam Fraser: I’ve worked with a number of HR professionals in different contexts and something I see is that that’s a role where Lots of people have a lot of demands on, you know, their expectations around their ability to respond, how quickly to respond. I mean, a lot of people look at HR to solve problems that really leaders should be solving. And one thing I’ve also noticed about HR professionals, and I’ll get you to give your feedback on this is that, because they’re a very caring profession, they tend to look after everyone else at their own expense in terms of their wellbeing, their mental health, even just what’s reasonable to take on. So the challenges are both an organisational front of the expectations, but also, many HR people I see are their own worst enemies in terms of lack of boundaries, lack of recovery, self care, because they are so focused on other people. I mean, what’s your thoughts on that, Beth? 

Beth Hall: Yeah, look, it’s tricky. You’re right. The solving problems that leaders should be solving themselves really resonated with me, and you spend the majority of your working hours in that reactionary nature of problem solving things that other people should have done. But then in order to solve the root cause of those issues, the proactive work then spills into your home life. Because if you don’t do the proactive work, you’ll forever be in reactive. So to your point, the boundaries, the boundaries are hard to set when you’ve got a love for the people. And you can see the solutions, you know what the solution is if you can just get to the root cause, but to it’s just a deep care for the practice of HR and for bettering workplaces that, I guess blurs those boundaries, as you say, self care is not always the highest priority because the company or the employees come before self care, unfortunately. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah, it’s very hard to find that balance piece. And I think, yeah, there are some changes I’m seeing in HR. So we’ve done some research with Deakin University, where we’re measuring vicarious trauma in educators. So something we’re seeing in in schools is more and more children are presenting with trauma, whether that’s home trauma, domestic violence, I mean, think about what’s going on in Australia right now with rates of violence against women, or whether those children have come from like a refugee background where they’ve been exposed to trauma in a war torn area. So what we’re seeing is more children are presenting with trauma, now to support them. Education brought in something called trauma informed practice, how do you support that child and manage that child? But a conversation that literally no one’s having is, well, how does that impact the educator, because when they support someone who’s been through trauma, they experienced vicarious trauma now that exists on two levels. Number one, hearing what has actually happened to a child or hearing about what they’ve witnessed or been exposed to. So there’s that part of it. But the other part is that trauma massively influences their behaviour, their ability to self regulate, manage emotions, you know, they’re often display violence. So the two parts are, you know, I hear about what they’ve experienced. But the second part is I have to then manage their behaviour. Now, what the data is showing is that when vicarious trauma and burnout come together, you get something called compassion, fatigue. And that is where you’ve literally, you know, looked after people so much, your cups dry, and once you start to hit, compassion fatigue, the research from the US shows, educators ability to recognise signs of abuse, to have empathy, to regulate emotion to recognise emotion in others just falls apart. So their capacity to do their role just plummets. Now, the reason I’m bringing this up is that I’ve been having a lot of conversations with HR professionals, that they experienced something similar, you know, with the psychosocial legislation coming into the workplace, what they’re saying is, I’m dealing with people on a deeper level, like I’m understanding what’s going on in their personal life as well as I’m trying to help them. So they’re experiencing levels of vicarious trauma as well. And this is only something we’ve started to look at, like we’re just scratching the surface, but something we’re hearing from HR professionals is that this is becoming more of an issue. Now with your HR head on like, What’s your thoughts on that?

Beth Hall: It certainly resonates you know, we we asked for everyone to bring their whole selves to work and that genies out of the bottle and they literally do and one of the biggest challenges we have is not only hearing the trauma but actually being part of the trauma so whether that be a restructure that’s impacting employees Eat, or whether it be a decision being made from the organisation that HR are the voice of only to understand deliver the message. Yeah, you have to deliver the message. And, you know, there’s some, there’s some awful things that we have to do you know, you might have an employee on a mental health plan and you’re supporting that employee because the manager is trying to drive performance outcomes. And then if they take their own life, the impact that has on the HR practitioner is profound. What does that do to HR who is meeting with them regularly as part of their mental health plan whilst also trying to get the performance gap solved for from an organisational perspective, as you mentioned, those domestic violence victims are in the workplace, and HR play a role in supporting them to feel safe, yet equally, they’ve got to drive performance outcomes and productivity and productivity is becoming an even higher priority for organisations due to the economic climate. Yet, we also need to navigate all of these things. So that compassion fatigue certainly resonates with me, because how do you keep the needs of the organisation and its its people first, not person? First, how do you look after all employees in the team, not just that one that needs that specific help?

Dr. Adam Fraser: Here, that tug of war is an interesting one, isn’t it? Because obviously, with COVID, and what went on, we had a huge focus on well being. And, you know, some of our research showed that one of the fallouts of that was this almost mentality of entitlement of well, you should give me whatever I want, whether it’s the way I work, whether it’s don’t put pressure on me, it almost that we went so far the other way. So many leaders said, I don’t even know how to have a performance conversation right now, because of what we’re dealing with. And we yeah, we come out of COVID, we go into cost of living, we go into all sorts of challenges around interest rates. It’s just such a difficult thing. And it even I mean, one thing we worked on with one of the big banks was in their collections department, turnover was really high. Absenteeism was really high stress. Stress claims were just through the roof. And yeah, he a collections department in the bank. And when I first heard this, I kind of thought, Ah, well, it’s just people who stretch themselves, like, you know, a guy bought a car that he couldn’t afford. Because with every group I work with, I really want to understand them. So I spent a day sitting in on the calls, and the calls were, you know, particularly women that were victims of violence or drug affected people or I’ve got a sick child, or, you know, like it was this really full on cases of hardship. And one of the things we worked on with those people is, how do they process that? How do they manage that? How do they not carry that home with them? So I think, particularly for HR right now, it is a really challenging time. Gosh, Beth, we’ve got to cheer people up in this is doom and gloom, like we need something but yeah, I think it is a real reality. Yeah.

Beth Hall: And it’s interesting, I had a similar scenario to the call centre you just mentioned where an organisation that was an insurer, the HR function was asked to deliver vicarious trauma training to the call centre team members, because they were really struggling to say, No, we are not going to fill your insurance claim and the impact that had on that individual that essentially was becoming homeless or, or was in some really short time, so. So HR being seen as the solution to vicarious trauma within organisations that are exposing their teams to things yet they don’t have it for themselves. So again, it’s an interesting position to be in where I need to help my employees and my organisation is coming to me, and I don’t have trauma informed practice to to use your phrasing. So how can I be that person when I don’t even know how to be it to myself? So maybe that’s the light at the end of the tunnel? Adam, let’s talk about some of the things that HR can do, whether they be incremental things on a day to day basis or some larger intervention. Talk to us and give us some examples. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Well, I mean, what we’ve been doing is looking at multiple professions who are exposed to this sort of vicarious trauma. And one of the problems is the research is so thin on the ground, most of the research has been done in social workers as well as health care. And what we’re lacking is just some really good practical things that people can put in place now. What we’re trying to do with our research with educators is actually come up with an articulate One of the things we can do, but what we have been doing is more qualitative research working with different professions. And asking them, okay, what are the things you do that are actually effective? Because sometimes we have habits that are not. So some of the things that have come out is, and this is this makes sense is the number one thing is the support in the team debriefing with colleagues discussing, you know, talking about how they feel, and the most important thing that we’ve come out of it is that ability to debrief with colleagues and be validated and supported without people jumping to Well, here’s what you’ve got to do. And you’ve just got to do this, like the cliched sort of joke comes to mind is, you know, we always talk about how a woman comes home from work and wants to debrief and the guy wants to solve, you know that? Well, all you’ve got to do is this type of response. What we’ve shown from our data is having someone listen empathetically and understand and validate without trying to tell people, here’s what you need to do. So that sort of compassionate listening is a huge piece on this. So I think in terms of HR coming up with solutions, what they’ve got to look at is, what’s the culture like in our team? Do we have each other’s backs? Do we take time to support each other? I mean, over the years, we’ve done work with paramedics, police around how they transition home and having that team debrief and that team support is so critical. So if you’re looking at what’s a practical thing, it’s addressing the culture of the team? And do we have each other’s backs and support each other in that way? And obviously, one thing is going to get in the way of that is the pace and franticness of the work. I mean, you’ve had multiple HR roles, and you would have, like a lot of comparison, and worked in teams that are supportive, and probably aren’t. I mean, what’s your take on that first one? Look,

I couldn’t agree more. And I don’t know whether you’ve been chatting to my husband, but yes, he is the solutions guy. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Actually, this is an intervention.

Beth Hall: Yeah, yes. Yeah. Oh, worse. He asked me 10 questions, and I don’t want to go to the detail. Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And sometimes, you know, I’ve been a lone ranger in a HR role, where I’m the only HR team member with an organisation all the way through to a 22,000 employee workforce, where I’m part of a team of 55 HR professionals, so varying degrees on that spectrum. And I agree with having people to be able to lean on, I don’t know that we do it enough. I don’t know that we build in that debrief time, I liked that transition home you just mentioned, often, that transition home is spent on the phone to either a manager or an employee that’s having a challenge. So even our commute is being consumed by things that are hearing trauma, or areas where we get home and their compassion. Fatigue is real. So it’s an interesting practice that I think we need to consider how we build that into our daily with him because it isn’t there today. And also, I think potentially it’s just it’s become normalised. You know, it’s become a, How was your day? Yeah, I had a bad day. But it was normal, because yesterday was bad, and the day before was bad. So from your perspective, how can HR practitioners actually clock that they have vicarious trauma? Because I don’t know we’ve ever labelled it that way. We’ve just labelled it as this is what we do. We haven’t called it, you know, compassion, fatigue, or vicarious trauma, not? Because we don’t see the logical rationale in what you’re saying, but because it’s normal.

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah. Oh, gosh, that’s such a great point. And something, I’m going to bounce around here for a little bit, and make sure you bring me back to answer the question. I mean, philosophy, 15 years, we’ve been measuring the resilience levels of Australians. And what we’ve shown is people’s resilience levels are incredibly high. And from our perspective, we don’t lack resilience. You put us in a bind, and particularly HR, like you guys get in the trenches, and you just sort it out like you. You’re just, you’re back you into a corner and give you a big challenge. You guys come out swinging and you solve problems and get things done. And, you know, one of the things we saw in COVID is people’s ability to adapt and adjust really quickly was quite extraordinary. So I don’t think we have a resilience problem. We have a recovery problem. We never take time to put stuff back in now. We were, as I mentioned earlier, doing some research on partners in professional services firms. The resilience levels are incredible. And I think you know, it’s self selecting, you don’t get into that position without it. But what we found out about them is they literally never stop. Like they don’t do things to put stuff back in. So the first step is the awareness of, yeah, we actually do deal with some pretty full on stuff. And one of the problems with, and we found this, both in educators and HR who have huge parallels in terms of their mindset, and their approach to work, is I think, because they haven’t seen the trauma or experienced it, it hasn’t affected me, but it has a huge impact. So first of all, I think, HR professionals looking at, yeah, this is a thing, and this isn’t becoming a victim or anything. But it’s it’s recognising that conversation was full on. And yeah, I do feel sad after that, or I do feel challenged. So that’s the first piece. I mean, you talked specifically about that transition from work to home. And, you know, a concept I came up with, gosh, that’s so long ago now, it’s like over 15 years, is the concept of the third space. So the third space is looking at how we transition from one thing to another. The first space is what we’re doing now, the second space is what we’re about to do. And the third space is that transitional gap. And what we applied this to is how we transition from work to home. And when we’re working with paramedics, yeah, they see things we can’t even comprehend, like they deal with firsthand trauma like they’re in it. And one of the things we talk about in that transition, or what the third space looks at is this three key things to do as you transition from work to home, whether it’s from the kitchen bench, whether it’s from the spare room or from the office, is the first part is that reflection phase like how do I reflect on the day and shut it down? How do I make sense of it, so I can move on from it. And we got paramedics to do little huddles at the end of the shift. Because they didn’t, they didn’t debrief, they didn’t talk about what they had experienced or how they felt. Yeah, because someone might go, yeah, that was a tough shift. But I’m in an alright space, but someone else in the team might go, man, I’ve seen that accident 100 times. But today, that just hit me really hard. I’m not okay after that. And all we asked the rest of the team to do was name and validate, which is I get, like, I totally understand why you feel that way. And just go Yeah, do you remember that thing we went through a couple of months ago, I had a similar response to that. Because what we often do, is people will go, I feel really upset and we go, Well, don’t let it bother you. And you’ve just got to move on. We always will do the opposite. We don’t validate. We go, No, you shouldn’t say that to yourself, or you shouldn’t feel like that, or, Oh, don’t let that bother you or don’t get upset. But when someone said I get it, I’ve been there. And that’s a really normal response. They actually cope with that stress far better, then if someone goes, amen. And unfortunately, in many roles, they go, toughen up, you just got to handle that’s part of the gig. So they’re not only dealing with what they’ve seen, but they’re also beating themselves up for not being strong enough. So one of the big pieces is that debrief, like checking in. How are you going? What happened for you today? I think that’s a tremendous way to transition from work to home.

Beth Hall: Yeah, that’s a great idea. I have seen it happen, where it’s almost become a well, I’ve experienced something much worse than you’re sharing with me your experience. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah. You reckon you’ve had a bad day? Beth, let me tell you about my day. 

Beth Hall: Yeah, yeah. So that’s, to your point is something that it’s not just the naming. It’s the compassionate response to that naming of I understand it’s that validation of I understand where you’re coming from and, and why you feel that way. Interesting point you made around the fact that HR was so resilient. Every psychometric and I’ve been psychoanalyse multiple times is my resilience is off the charts. And it’s actually too high. It’s an overdone strength. And I guess that’s the fear of it’s cumulative. It just, it layers on and on and on, and if it isn’t clocked if it isn’t acknowledged, and potentially that’s why we are seeing people leave the practice because we don’t have trauma informed practice. We don’t have HR for HR. 

Dr. Adam Fraser:  We’re not, you’re not a psychologist who gets supervision. 

Beth Hall: Yes, yeah. And look, interestingly, more and more psychologists are moving into HR roles. and potentially there’s something we can really learn from them in terms of having that supervised practice and having that we’ve just engaged live well being and to support our members or are we around building personal resilience plans and, and building support for themselves. So they’re in that proactive space as opposed to the reactive space. But if we do have listeners today that identifying with what you’re saying and almost clocking to themselves, that’s me I have some work I need to do here ready. You’ve mentioned debrief with peers, and how do they lean in? How do they work on their transition home? And how do they support and acknowledge what happened that day before they, which is tricky, because you know, there’s one room in my house, I walk in there, and every so often, it will trigger me that I made an entire workforce redundant a week before Christmas in that very room. And after making that entire workforce we’re done then broke down in tears for two hours. So this hybrid working has caused more triggers at home for HR to so how do they navigate that, from your perspective?

Dr. Adam Fraser: Just what hits me is just how that is not okay. Like to have to do that. That is not, that is not just part of the gig like that is a big thing. And yeah, I think so many people go through something like that and just kind of sweep it under the covers and don’t spend time processing or acknowledging or doing things to try and heal from that experience. This is a combination of the vicarious trauma research. And the third space research is that when we’re working from home, we want to try and compartmentalise that area. So if we’re lucky enough, keep it to a room, like the only work that happens in the home is in this room. Or if we’re having to work on our dining table, ensure that at the end of the day, we pack up our stuff, it’s not in line of sight. So trying to have that separation, and actually reminds me just a friend of mine is going through cancer treatment. And obviously it’s really devastating. And he said, I actually took your third space concept, and the only time I discuss my cancer and my treatment is in the bathroom. So literally his partner who says we have to go to the bathroom, and we talk about it there. Like he said, I just need to contain it in a certain area, because it’s so encompassing, it’s taking over my life. This is the only time we talk about it. So it is about that of trying to constrain how much work spills into the home environment. Look, in terms of I’ve just go through a list here, because I’ve got I’ve got some obviously debriefing with the colleague is that important? First step? I mean, the second thing is that holding each other accountable for self care, and really encouraging and going, Hey, Beth, like, you know, you talked about the impact of that meeting you had the other day, like you need to do this, or are you doing that, and just that checking in and supporting and giving each other permission to do things to help process and that self care is really high. Now, so that were the first two. The third one, which we didn’t see coming out the research is crying. Literally people said the thing that helps me process this and get to the other side is taking time to cry. But if you look at the physiology of crying, like it almost resets your system that and there’s a dose response on this. The harder you cry, the better you feel afterwards. It’s almost like it resets homeostasis, it kind of reboots the system. And when I read this in our data, I just kind of went, Oh, I can’t share that with people. Like we have that shameful response of crying. But what this data shows is it’s really important. The fourth thing that came out of our data is playfulness, humour and laughter within the team as well. And obviously, we’re not making fun of certain situations, but it’s this almost ability to have lightheartedness and banter and fun when we’re in the trenches is such an important piece. So this is something we’ve got to look at too. I think about my team. And we’ve been going through a hard situation at the moment and what we have almost naturally dolled up is that she humour in that that silliness in the workplace, in terms of the playfulness, and laughter, it can be harder with the dispersed team. So obviously, laughter and playfulness is easier when you’re in the same room, but you just get creative around this. I got a flashback to parenting, and homeschooling and trying to work during that period. And I gotta tell you, it was cruel and unusual punishment. Like, I found that so difficult, but what got me through it is my mates and I would send each other funny memes, or messages about just how terrible we were as as teaching our children, and it was one of the most helpful things to share that and, and to laugh at ourselves. So if your team is dispersed, we can still be playful, but it just takes a little bit more creativity to make that happen. The next thing that people said was most beneficial is exercise, like being active, moving your body. And the next one that was very interesting was spending time in nature. So that ability to get out. And if you look at all the data on being whether it’s near the beach, being in the bush, when we’re in nature, it’s incredibly nurturing and supportive for our brain and our ability to process stress, get out of that sort of mindset. And one of the other ones too, was also random acts of kindness within the team, I just doing things for each other, that show you care that support just little, these little bright spots and moments. So if we look at what people said, are the most effective strategies, obviously, the team comes out as the most important. So investing in your culture, supporting each other, holding each other accountable for self care, you know, being playful, doing things for each other. So that team environment is really critical. And then the next one is just that, you know that self care stuff of? Do I get out of move? Do I ever put myself in nature to balance my brain out? So these were the kinds of themes that came out what was really interesting, in terms of things that did not help alcohol. They said we use it, but it does not help. It’s not constructive in any way. And we recently did a some analysis of the projects that we’ve done over the years with Deakin University, and one of the strongest correlations is alcohol intake does not correlate with anything good anytime, in any group over the last 20 years. So often, that crutch that we use is just not an effective one. A lot of people talked about just numbing activities like social media, distracting yourself watching TV, what they all talked about is is these are strategies I sometimes use but do not help at all. And what was really interesting in this not helping list was mindfulness.

Beth Hall: Wow, that surprises me. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah, really surprising, because I looked at that data. And I went, Oh, that can’t be right. So we started, I did interviews with a number of people and they said, Look, mindfulness is a regular practice is a good thing. But I mean, look, they took mindfulness as practising meditation, or listening to an app on their phone. And they said, look, it helps calm me in the moment. So if I’ve had something distressing, it helps calm me but it doesn’t help me process. Does that make sense?

Beth Hall: Yeah, it does. I am when I was at my lowest in HR, the alcohol intake, the glass of wine, poured it, you know, started at seven but then progressively got to how do I poured a glass of wine at five, I replaced that with yoga and I found it really tricky to stay in the moment to stay with my breath because it was essentially the first time I’d stopped that day to is to replay the day and therefore replay that trauma to myself, which didn’t actually help with the compassion fatigue it actually exasperated it so I think that exercise is how do you get that mix of energy I spoke to one HR practitioner who’s phenomenal HR generalist and she says I have to box like I have to do really high intensity you know that that’s what gets it out of my systems so yeah, look, it’s certainly resonates what you’ve shared I’ve taken the debrief with peers and the importance of them transition home the laugh until you cry like you know we’re time poor so let’s do both at this.

Dr. Adam Fraser: Oh, someone in my team made a joke the other day, like, I’m gonna go into the forest and cry because I’m in nature and I’m crying like, I’m killing two birds with one stone. 

Beth Hall: And then just walk around that forest and you’ve ticked because you’ve done your exercise as well. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah, run through the forest crying.

Beth Hall: Yeah. And look, we joke but the reality is with work and home life and for many people, raising families whilst also working full time, it is a reality. So it’s how do you build those practices into your routine into your day whereby exercise doesn’t have to be? I’m now leaving the home for an hour and who’s gonna feed the kids like it can be? How do I move around? How do I take phone calls on the beach or in the park as opposed to feeling like I need to sit at my desk. So I think some of those things you’ve shared a really opportunities and that that acts of kindness in team that builds culture that builds trust, that builds the relationships so that when you are having a halftime hard time, you can debrief with your peers, because those acts of kindness have really built that trust account. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah. And the act of kindness, maybe if you’re a bit cynical, you might roll your eyes and go, please. But as I said, whipping through a really challenging time. And one thing I’ll be doing is every day writing a couple of people, I’ve worked with a really nice LinkedIn validation. And I cannot tell you the impact it’s had on my mood, you know, and also just taking a lot of time to say to my team, hey, that was just really great. Or I really appreciate that, or Yeah, I couldn’t, couldn’t do this without you. So almost dialling up, the kindness has had a tremendous impact on me. So yeah, we can’t discount that one. We’ve talked about a lot of full on things in this conversation. And as HR professionals, we do experience some really challenging things. And one thing I will say is, I think there’s an incredibly important role for clinical care. Like seeing a psychologist talking about these things, like something I’ve done in my adult life is regularly had a psychologist that I turned to and talk about some of the things I’m experiencing. So we’ve talked about a lot of things individuals can do and teams can do. But there’s also an incredibly important role for engaging a professional to help you deal with some of this stuff. And we shouldn’t have any stigma around that. Because it’s just a it’s a really smart thing to do. 

Beth Hall: Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Look, you’ve shared so many awesome tips. And you did at one stage say or we need to light in this conversation, and you certainly did, you’ve given us some really practical takeaways. At the end of every episode with our podcast, we pose a scenario to our guests that could be playing out at any workplace across Australia and selfishly, this is something that has happened to me. So are you comfortable if I share with you a scenario for you to respond to?

Dr. Adam Fraser: Yeah, I’m, I’m terrified. But please.

Beth Hall: Let’s go for it. So an experienced HR leader at a large complex matrix organisation has had a particularly challenging year, they’ve been navigating multiple organisational wide layoffs, they’ve been tasked with both the logistics of the restructuring, as well as supporting and addressing the emotional distress not only of the people that are exiting the organisation, but all that also the team members that to stay and having that survivor guilt in being keeping their jobs in comparison to their peers. This person’s day is filled with difficult conversations with both leaders and with team members, consoling team members due to either their exit from the organisation or their peers exiting from the organisation. They’re trying to boost morale, they’re trying to drive performance and deliver so that they don’t end up having more layoffs within the organisation at the same time, and not really getting much support from the organisation. So this person is the HR leader and therefore they’re supporting their team, as well as supporting themselves and they’re really struggling with the emotional weight of not just the tactical structural layoff conversations, but also the uncertainty that this is creating for them and indeed for their team. So due to the lack of support from the organisation and the ongoing demands, both logistically as well as emotionally, what steps would you advise this HR leader to take in terms of managing their vicarious trauma?

Dr. Adam Fraser: Man, could you have asked me a harder question? This is our lives. This is I as I’m listening to you, I can reel off a lot of people that are in a similar situation. Look I think the first thing out of the gate is that recovery piece. Because I mean, this is just ripe ground for burnout. These are all the signs. So I would look at the recovery piece. And from this, but that regular practice of some sort of calming, is often referred to as non sleep, deep rest, doing something each day to get you in that deep state of relaxation, whether it is an app on the phone, whether it is the end of a yoga class, there’s got to be something where they’re starting to calm their nervous system, because they’re just on football. I mean, the next one is what’s kind of what we’ve talked about on this podcast so far, which is, are we getting support? And are we able to debrief and talk you mentioned in there, you’re not getting a lot of support from the organisation, I would turn to peers, other professionals, something we have seen in our data, particularly with HR people with financial advisors is people that tap into associations, like archery, and engage with their community and their peers. It has huge benefits around mental health and sustainability. So my second piece would be am I actually collaborating and getting support from my peers? The third one, and this might sound a little bit weird, but every day that reflection of have I evolved, like, what did I? What skills did I use today? You know, looking at a situation even a very difficult one, it’s that consistent reflection on am I evolving? am I improving? So it’s really hard when you’re in all that mess to take time to look at? Well, I think I handled that well. Or I think I’m developing that skill or even in my delivery and my empathy, it’s getting better. One thing we found in our data, and I mean, if you look at positive psychology, it’s one of the cornerstones But human beings are most resilient and engaged when they see themselves progressing and improving. And when we’re in a challenging situation like this HR professional is, it can be so easy to just think the whole world’s terrible and everything sucks. So it would be taking time to reflect on progress. Am I doing recovery? Am I collaborating with peers to get support? And am I actually reflecting on progress and evolution, where I can see myself growing and evolving? And we actually a couple years ago released a book called strive. What it was all about was our relationship with challenge and struggle. And one of the things we found is that when we’re in the trenches when we’re trying to achieve a goal, the most important part to keep us going, is that reflection on I’m making progress, or I’m getting somewhere, so they would be my three.

Beth Hall: Yeah, I love that. I’m so glad that I asked you that question or be complex, you really gave us some gold there in terms of the we’ve already already talked about the recovery in the peer support, but we hadn’t talked about how do we celebrate the wins? How do we acknowledge the progress we’re making from a professional perspective? And how do we think about the empathy we bought to that situation and the positive difference we made to that person’s life in that moment, so there’s some really good takeaways. 

Dr. Adam Fraser: Look, my fourth one was going to be reflect on meaning or purpose. But the scenario you gave, they might not be in the mindset around that. But we did a really interesting project with a group in Lismore where they had repeated floods. So I mean, these people got smashed over and over again with these natural disasters. And we went up there to offer wellbeing support. And we’re working with different groups. And like one of the things I learned from having worked with a number of consultants that walk in and think they know everything, is that we think we’re the experts when there’s so much gold within the group. And we literally sat these groups down and said, like, how do we serve you? And they said, our to stop asking us how we’re if we’re okay. Yeah, I’m like, what? And they went, Man, we just want to move on like, so educators said, I want to get back to teaching kids, I want to make an impact. Health care workers said, you know, we want to get back to helping people with their situation. What they were looking for is, okay, everyone’s given us a lot of empathy and care. We just want to get back to making an impact on other people. And that’s was the thing that actually helped them move forward. But even though that these people were nice Deep in struggle, when they focused on, well, we’re going to help others. That’s where their mental health kicked up. That’s when their mood improved. So I suppose the last one is is where is the meaning and purpose in what you’re doing? 

Beth Hall: I love that you added that because the reality is that’s why many of us joined HR with hearing when Yeah, we didn’t join HR to unpack policy and apply legislation. Although we do find that stuff fun. We joined HR because we genuinely care about bettering people, workplaces and businesses. So I’m so glad that you took the moment to add that one of meaning and purpose because I think that’s a huge takeaway, that when you step back, just really acknowledging the difference that you’ve made and, and the meaning that you’ve made. Adam, thank you so much. You’ve been absolutely incredible the insights, the advice or care that you’ve given to the practice of HR, and that you continue to give in terms of your research is really well received. So thank you so much, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Dr. Adam Fraser: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Beth Hall: Thanks for listening to this episode of Let’s Take This Offline. If you or someone you know is struggling with the challenges discussed today, please remember that help is available. Check out the support resources listed in our show notes, or consider reaching out to professional support to get the assistance you need. I’ve also included some useful resources to help you put Adam’s insights into action, as well as some member exclusive content and links if you’d like to learn more about Adam. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts, and share with your colleagues and network. To learn more about the Australian HR Institute, visit our website, ahri.com.au.

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