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15. July 2022

How To Beat HR Burnout, According to an Expert

employee learning about burnout in HR

The issue of burnout across the workforce is both a growing and a hugely worrying problem. But for HR professionals, the battle against burnout is uniquely challenging. They need new strategies for their own wellbeing, writes expert Trevor Merriden.

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The Human Toll of Burnout

Throughout many organisations, burnout is emerging as a major issue. But, for HR, the challenge is twofold: HR professionals are not only expected to manage burnout but to mitigate their own risk of burnout, too.

And, within HR, the danger of burnout is very real.

Following the major transformations brought about by the pandemic and the fatigue that followed, one recent survey revealed that nearly all (98%) of HR professionals say they feel burned out. Additionally, 94% have felt overwhelmed over the past six months, while 88% dreaded the prospect of going to work at all.

Data from the Top Employers Institute confirms that burnout support is moving rapidly up the HR agenda. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of its members now provide burnout recovery support, up from less than half (49%) a year earlier. That said, the more that HR is focused on the support it provides, the more it places itself in a position of increased vulnerability.

After all, the entire profession has had to juggle overwhelming challenges (often simultaneously). HR professionals have had to focus on keeping people safe, providing psychological safety and mental health support and handling the complexities of remote and hybrid workplaces, amongst many other things.

So, what can your HR teams do to protect themselves in the process?

3 Strategies for Tackling HR Burnout

Given all of these concerning statistics, how can HR professionals help to protect themselves during what looks to be a challenging period ahead?

Strategy #1: Seek Out Listening Opportunities

HR professionals are human, just like everyone else. They need to listen to each other within the HR team, just as they would to other employees. HR leaders, in particular, need to listen to their teams – and listen well.

Sarah Fern, Chief People Officer of Velocity Global, explains: “One of the things we do in the business is use new listening techniques, such as anonymous live feedback slides during presentations. And we pay attention to every piece of feedback.”

HR professionals need to be more than empathic in response mode – they need to proactively seek out honest conversations with their team members.

They also need to create a psychologically safe environment for themselves in which they can talk freely about the impact of their work on their mental health.

Strategy #2: Educate Through Action

HR teams need to understand that their role as the main corporate “carer” for employees is best demonstrated through their own best practice. How they care for themselves in tackling burnout is key.

For example, an HR professional who is sending emails well outside of office hours might feel that they are juggling work/life responsibilities in the way that suits them best, but their actions could implicitly influence junior colleagues to do the same.

Satnam Sagoo, Associate Chief People Officer at Imperial College, Healthcare NHS Trust puts it well: “We need to give permission back – permission to take time out.” In her previous job, Satnam noticed a tendency for back-to-back online meetings. “So we decided that at a certain time each day to have a ‘Zap Zoom’ policy, to give everyone back an hour.” The policy caught on – sometimes the best way to educate the business is by setting a good example.

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Strategy #3: Use Tech To Support and Improve

The way HR professionals use technology to analyse and improve their own performance can really be effective in mitigating the feeling of overwhelm.

Jonny Gifford, Senior Researcher at the CIPD says: “Data is so powerful. Data can show clearly if the resources are not there for tasks that need to be done and what the possible solutions are.” The more HR can use data to understand and improve for themselves, the more they can do the same for others.

Sarah Fern adds that in order to develop effective HR strategy, HR “can support and improve through understanding what the data is telling us. We need to use technology to join up the dots and free up time”.

What Can We Learn From All This?

Burnout in the HR profession is a major challenge but it is not an insurmountable one. If HR professionals can seek out proactive listening opportunities within their own teams, educate themselves and others through best practices and make the most out of tech they can avoid the grip of burnout.

With this, fewer employers will face the prospect of an HR talent exodus just when the rest of the company needs their skills the most.

Trevor Merriden

Trevor Merriden

Trevor Merriden is the founder, owner and MD of Merriborn Media, host of the Merri-Cast podcast and an Associate Director at 10Eighty. Previously, he was a journalist for 15 years, including spells as deputy editor on Management Today and editor-in-chief at HR Magazine.

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