4 tips to identify and mitigate burnout in HR practitioners


HR practitioners are so used to recognising and reducing burnout in others, but often struggle to see it in themselves. It’s important to take time to develop your own mental resilience plan.

Conversations about wellbeing and burnout risks of those working in caring professions often centre around the healthcare industry, which is notorious for high levels of employee burnout.

Teachers are another cohort that comes to mind. The long hours, emotionally taxing work and concern for students’ personal wellbeing and success place high levels of stress on educators, which often results in high turnover rates in this profession too.

It’s less common for people to think of HR as an industry prone to burnout due to the specific nature of their work, but we are just as at risk as both teachers and healthcare professionals.

This isn’t just my sense. Research shows us that HR professionals are feeling the pressure of work at the moment. Gartner found that 71 per cent of survey respondents report burnout levels in HR being more challenging than pre-pandemic, and 45 per cent say they now feel it’s more difficult to handle the conflicting demands thrown their way each day.

It’s a tale as old as time: HR practitioners are too busy looking after others to take time to look after themselves. During the pandemic, we heard the adage “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others” so often that it became somewhat of a cliche. We hear that advice far less often now, but it’s just as important now, if not more, as many of our wellbeing challenges are masked under busyness or perceived passion.

Why is HR’s wellbeing on the line?

No one wants to talk about the pandemic anymore; we want to be future-focussed instead of dwelling on the challenges we faced in the past. While I understand this desire, it’s important that we don’t move on too quickly.

In 2020, the World Health Organisation predicted the long tail of the mental health impacts of the pandemic, which has since been backed up by local research here in Australia.

I’ve seen this first-hand. Many of the HR clients I coach are very much still feeling the impacts of the pandemic – some without even realising. This is because HR has been at the forefront of pandemic disruption. 

Many HR practitioners are suffering from ‘liaison role strain’, which occurs when you’re constantly acting as the intermediary and executing on tough decisions. They’re the people leading the redundancy conversations, having the performance management meetings and trying to solve staffing challenges. 

Compounding all this is the fact that the people drawn to HR are generally deeply caring, highly empathetic individuals. This is fantastic and necessary, but it can also mean the challenging aspects of their work can cut deep and stay with them for a long period of time.

This compassion fatigue can leave HR emotionally depleted, exhausted and, essentially, running on empty. We don’t want HR practitioners to feel like they’re constantly riding an emotional rollercoaster every day and, potentially, having to leave the profession to recover.

Organisations simply cannot run effectively without a replenished and energised HR function; we need strategic people leaders at the helm now more than ever. 

Breaking patterns

In my experience working with HR, it’s often only when things get really bad that they’ll start putting themselves first. It doesn’t have to be like this.

The first step in breaking the pattern is to identify the signs of burnout. They typically look like:

  • Constant exhaustion that can’t be fixed by a good night’s sleep
  • Negative feelings, such as cynicism and disengagement
  • Physical and cognitive symptoms such as brain fog, forgetting things or migraines, etc.

Once you’ve reached the depths of burnout, you need to get really intentional about pulling yourself out of it. A one-off holiday won’t be enough – the burnout is usually waiting for you when you get back (along with a mountain of emails). 

Instead, you need to practise consistent daily wellbeing practices to keep burnout or compassion fatigue at bay. Some strategies I share with clients include:

1. Build in transition/buffer time 

After emotionally taxing situations, such as a difficult conversation with an employee, it’s important that you don’t jump straight into the next task. Your mind needs time to digest and reset. This might look like debriefing with a colleague or taking a walk around the block.

Action point: Add a 15-20-minute buffer to your calendar after any meeting you predict could be challenging/emotional. This way you won’t get sucked into back-to-back meetings without taking the time to process your emotions and reset/calm your nervous system.

“Many HR practitioners are suffering from ‘liaison role strain’, which occurs when you’re constantly acting as the intermediary and executing on tough decisions.”

2. Learn the power of respectfully saying ‘no’

The average worker is constantly inundated with things that demand their attention – Teams or Slack pings, requests from colleagues, a never-ending stream of emails that require time and energy to provide comprehensive responses to. 

For HR practitioners, these distractions can feel even more overwhelming, as they’re often coming from both the leadership team and employees. That’s why it’s critical to learn how (and when) to decline a meeting or request from colleagues.

Action point: When declining a request, keep it simple. We often feel the need to over-explain our reasoning, but when we provide that much detail, we give people a negotiation point.

I take clients through a checklist to help them figure out what’s worth saying ‘no’ to, which includes asking yourself:

  • Is this something I want to do?
  • What will I have to give up by doing it? 
  • What might I gain by doing it? 
  • How will I feel if I do it? 

When we don’t ask ourselves all of these questions, we rush to saying ‘yes’ because maybe the answer to the first question is, ‘Yes, this is something I want to do’, but we haven’t considered that by doing it we’ll need to work into the evening and, as a result, miss out on having dinner with our family or cancelling plans to go to the gym, for example.

3. Be clear with your boundaries and expectations of others

As well as knowing when (and how) to say no, strategic HR practitioners learn how to put guardrails around their ‘yeses’.

I used to work with someone who was so good at doing this. She was constantly asked to contribute to or advise on projects. When people asked her to be involved, she’d reply saying, ‘Absolutely, I’d love to. I have one hour free in two weeks’ time.’ Because she was so brilliant and people valued her contributions, they were often happy to wait for her.

Action point: Drive shared accountability by always being clear about what you can and can’t do, and what you’ll need others to do.

For example, I used to take on a lot of extra work because I’d always say ‘yes’ to helping people. They’d then take days to get the information to me. While I may have had time in my diary on the day I’d agreed to help, by the time I was delivered with the information, I was deep in the delivery of other work. I told myself I had to honour my commitment, so would often overwork as a result.

Now, instead, I always say something like, “Yes, but I only have time to contribute tomorrow afternoon so I will need the materials by then, otherwise it will need to wait until next week.”

4. Practise small acts of kindness

While we want to avoid getting roped into large, complex tasks that will chew up too much of our valuable time, doing small, simple things that help out others can do wonders for our wellbeing.

Action point: Think of some five-minute tasks you could incorporate into your day that might enhance someone’s day, such as calling out a colleague’s great work to the company, sharing or commenting on content shared by your HR peers in your LinkedIn network or giving helpful feedback on something they’ve worked on. 

Build your own resilience plan

The wellbeing challenges faced by HR practitioners are often quite unique and therefore require a specific approach. This is why I’ve partnered with AHRI to facilitate a short course all about supporting HR to build resilience and protect their wellbeing.

In this short course, I draw on various evidence-based frameworks, such as the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’, to help HR practitioners design prevention and recovery plans that are specific to their needs.

By the end of the 3-hour course, participants will have created their own bespoke resilience plan that outlines their non-negotiables, wellbeing priorities and boundaries (because we often don’t know what our boundaries are until someone crosses them).

HR practitioners dedicate so much time to thinking about how to build these plans for other people, but it’s critical they give themselves permission to do the same for themselves.


Emma Chapple is a wellbeing specialist and coach, and the Principal and Founder of Live Wellbeing. She is also the facilitator of AHRI’s new course Renewing Resilience: Addressing burnout in HR practitioners. Sign up today for useful strategies to avoid burnout and to create your own personalised resilience plan.


 

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Desleigh White
Desleigh White
16 days ago

There’s some very practical things here, thank you. I think compassion is a superpower, and have come to realise, after using the term ‘compassion fatigue ‘ for many years, that it’s actually empathic distress. The studies with Mathieu Riccard are great in this regard.

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4 tips to identify and mitigate burnout in HR practitioners


HR practitioners are so used to recognising and reducing burnout in others, but often struggle to see it in themselves. It’s important to take time to develop your own mental resilience plan.

Conversations about wellbeing and burnout risks of those working in caring professions often centre around the healthcare industry, which is notorious for high levels of employee burnout.

Teachers are another cohort that comes to mind. The long hours, emotionally taxing work and concern for students’ personal wellbeing and success place high levels of stress on educators, which often results in high turnover rates in this profession too.

It’s less common for people to think of HR as an industry prone to burnout due to the specific nature of their work, but we are just as at risk as both teachers and healthcare professionals.

This isn’t just my sense. Research shows us that HR professionals are feeling the pressure of work at the moment. Gartner found that 71 per cent of survey respondents report burnout levels in HR being more challenging than pre-pandemic, and 45 per cent say they now feel it’s more difficult to handle the conflicting demands thrown their way each day.

It’s a tale as old as time: HR practitioners are too busy looking after others to take time to look after themselves. During the pandemic, we heard the adage “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others” so often that it became somewhat of a cliche. We hear that advice far less often now, but it’s just as important now, if not more, as many of our wellbeing challenges are masked under busyness or perceived passion.

Why is HR’s wellbeing on the line?

No one wants to talk about the pandemic anymore; we want to be future-focussed instead of dwelling on the challenges we faced in the past. While I understand this desire, it’s important that we don’t move on too quickly.

In 2020, the World Health Organisation predicted the long tail of the mental health impacts of the pandemic, which has since been backed up by local research here in Australia.

I’ve seen this first-hand. Many of the HR clients I coach are very much still feeling the impacts of the pandemic – some without even realising. This is because HR has been at the forefront of pandemic disruption. 

Many HR practitioners are suffering from ‘liaison role strain’, which occurs when you’re constantly acting as the intermediary and executing on tough decisions. They’re the people leading the redundancy conversations, having the performance management meetings and trying to solve staffing challenges. 

Compounding all this is the fact that the people drawn to HR are generally deeply caring, highly empathetic individuals. This is fantastic and necessary, but it can also mean the challenging aspects of their work can cut deep and stay with them for a long period of time.

This compassion fatigue can leave HR emotionally depleted, exhausted and, essentially, running on empty. We don’t want HR practitioners to feel like they’re constantly riding an emotional rollercoaster every day and, potentially, having to leave the profession to recover.

Organisations simply cannot run effectively without a replenished and energised HR function; we need strategic people leaders at the helm now more than ever. 

Breaking patterns

In my experience working with HR, it’s often only when things get really bad that they’ll start putting themselves first. It doesn’t have to be like this.

The first step in breaking the pattern is to identify the signs of burnout. They typically look like:

  • Constant exhaustion that can’t be fixed by a good night’s sleep
  • Negative feelings, such as cynicism and disengagement
  • Physical and cognitive symptoms such as brain fog, forgetting things or migraines, etc.

Once you’ve reached the depths of burnout, you need to get really intentional about pulling yourself out of it. A one-off holiday won’t be enough – the burnout is usually waiting for you when you get back (along with a mountain of emails). 

Instead, you need to practise consistent daily wellbeing practices to keep burnout or compassion fatigue at bay. Some strategies I share with clients include:

1. Build in transition/buffer time 

After emotionally taxing situations, such as a difficult conversation with an employee, it’s important that you don’t jump straight into the next task. Your mind needs time to digest and reset. This might look like debriefing with a colleague or taking a walk around the block.

Action point: Add a 15-20-minute buffer to your calendar after any meeting you predict could be challenging/emotional. This way you won’t get sucked into back-to-back meetings without taking the time to process your emotions and reset/calm your nervous system.

“Many HR practitioners are suffering from ‘liaison role strain’, which occurs when you’re constantly acting as the intermediary and executing on tough decisions.”

2. Learn the power of respectfully saying ‘no’

The average worker is constantly inundated with things that demand their attention – Teams or Slack pings, requests from colleagues, a never-ending stream of emails that require time and energy to provide comprehensive responses to. 

For HR practitioners, these distractions can feel even more overwhelming, as they’re often coming from both the leadership team and employees. That’s why it’s critical to learn how (and when) to decline a meeting or request from colleagues.

Action point: When declining a request, keep it simple. We often feel the need to over-explain our reasoning, but when we provide that much detail, we give people a negotiation point.

I take clients through a checklist to help them figure out what’s worth saying ‘no’ to, which includes asking yourself:

  • Is this something I want to do?
  • What will I have to give up by doing it? 
  • What might I gain by doing it? 
  • How will I feel if I do it? 

When we don’t ask ourselves all of these questions, we rush to saying ‘yes’ because maybe the answer to the first question is, ‘Yes, this is something I want to do’, but we haven’t considered that by doing it we’ll need to work into the evening and, as a result, miss out on having dinner with our family or cancelling plans to go to the gym, for example.

3. Be clear with your boundaries and expectations of others

As well as knowing when (and how) to say no, strategic HR practitioners learn how to put guardrails around their ‘yeses’.

I used to work with someone who was so good at doing this. She was constantly asked to contribute to or advise on projects. When people asked her to be involved, she’d reply saying, ‘Absolutely, I’d love to. I have one hour free in two weeks’ time.’ Because she was so brilliant and people valued her contributions, they were often happy to wait for her.

Action point: Drive shared accountability by always being clear about what you can and can’t do, and what you’ll need others to do.

For example, I used to take on a lot of extra work because I’d always say ‘yes’ to helping people. They’d then take days to get the information to me. While I may have had time in my diary on the day I’d agreed to help, by the time I was delivered with the information, I was deep in the delivery of other work. I told myself I had to honour my commitment, so would often overwork as a result.

Now, instead, I always say something like, “Yes, but I only have time to contribute tomorrow afternoon so I will need the materials by then, otherwise it will need to wait until next week.”

4. Practise small acts of kindness

While we want to avoid getting roped into large, complex tasks that will chew up too much of our valuable time, doing small, simple things that help out others can do wonders for our wellbeing.

Action point: Think of some five-minute tasks you could incorporate into your day that might enhance someone’s day, such as calling out a colleague’s great work to the company, sharing or commenting on content shared by your HR peers in your LinkedIn network or giving helpful feedback on something they’ve worked on. 

Build your own resilience plan

The wellbeing challenges faced by HR practitioners are often quite unique and therefore require a specific approach. This is why I’ve partnered with AHRI to facilitate a short course all about supporting HR to build resilience and protect their wellbeing.

In this short course, I draw on various evidence-based frameworks, such as the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’, to help HR practitioners design prevention and recovery plans that are specific to their needs.

By the end of the 3-hour course, participants will have created their own bespoke resilience plan that outlines their non-negotiables, wellbeing priorities and boundaries (because we often don’t know what our boundaries are until someone crosses them).

HR practitioners dedicate so much time to thinking about how to build these plans for other people, but it’s critical they give themselves permission to do the same for themselves.


Emma Chapple is a wellbeing specialist and coach, and the Principal and Founder of Live Wellbeing. She is also the facilitator of AHRI’s new course Renewing Resilience: Addressing burnout in HR practitioners. Sign up today for useful strategies to avoid burnout and to create your own personalised resilience plan.


 

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Desleigh White
Desleigh White
16 days ago

There’s some very practical things here, thank you. I think compassion is a superpower, and have come to realise, after using the term ‘compassion fatigue ‘ for many years, that it’s actually empathic distress. The studies with Mathieu Riccard are great in this regard.

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