Let’s Talk About How to Cool Down HR Burnout after COVID-19 Turned Up the Temp

HR departments are running on empty and need a thank you, a hug and support.

We hear you HR specialists….

Yes, you, the one that is wondering if you have changed your shirt in the last 24 hours while juggling 10,000 plates as if the next best gig is at the circus. First, thank you. It’s November and a time to give thanks. With that in mind, we wanted to recognize the amazing work you do and, as a thank you, provide a few tools to help shepherd you through what is shaping up to be a stressful holiday season.

As HR people, we are accustomed to covering a broad spectrum of responsibilities and pivoting between issues quickly as they come up. While no one signed up for managing through a pandemic, HR teams worldwide are now called upon to be experts on the everyday responsibilities (including, but of course not limited to the list below) while facing uncertain challenges in the COVID-19 working climate.

The number of new issues to contend with daily can make it feel as if a whirlwind is blowing through our offices (now home offices). This whirlwind brings problems to solve and logistics to manage, but it also elicits human tribulations, and these days the list of troubles is seemingly unending. HR professionals and employees alike are coping with an extreme amount of pressure — uncertainty and fear ranging from concerns around homeschooling, the loss of a loved one, becoming sick, and for HR, in particular, the heightened emotions of stressed-out employees on the verge, if not already, burnt out. How organizations cope with uncertainty is now an HR issue across the board. HR is asked to be the ultimate multi-tasker. Support the business and keep it on track while engaging in the “softer skills” needed for managing emotions, relationships, and employee wellbeing.

Over the past few months, we’ve spoken to HR professionals in a variety of roles and the hurdles are universal:

“If I have one more Zoom call, my mind might melt!”

“I miss my coworkers and find it difficult to find and keep a good rhythm going at work.”

“This legal landscape is constantly changing- I can’t keep up with all the COVID changes not to mention the social topics that need our attention as well.”

“I am really struggling with supporting the business’ needs while juggling the incredible mental health challenges being brought to my attention.”

We have distilled this feedback into three main challenges:

1. Managing my own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and reactions through new stressors

HR teams across the board are now faced with managing their own emotions and anxieties, as well as the engagement and often, emotions of our colleagues. Recently, so much of our time has been absorbed by doing, performing, executing, etc. that there has been no time to focus on “being” or, in other words, paying mind to “how we show up.” This is especially true this month, as the uncertainty of COVID will undoubtedly amplify the regular stressors of the holiday season. There are resources out there that help us to understand ourselves and how our brains work, but with so many competing priorities, this often falls to the bottom of the list. When stress is high, it becomes more difficult to regulate emotions, eventually leading to frustration and exhaustion. When HR teams are burnt out, how can we expect them to be the supportive change agents of the organization?

2. Balancing the human and the business factors at work

HR is often in the middle of what can sometimes be two opposing forces. Caring about the well-being of the employees (the reason most of us went in HR in the first place) and meeting the business’s expectations when it comes to not exceeding budgets, saving money, and thinking about the “bottom line.” It’s no surprise that striking the right balance is a challenge. There is no formal HR training that focuses on how to be successful at both. As most of us know, learning how to engage with people in the manner required of today’s HR professionals generally happens on the job, often in a trial by fire, thrown into the deep end kind of way. When there is so much competing for our attention — emails, To-Do lists, back to back meetings, and unanticipated events — and so much digital clutter, focusing long enough to help any one person or any one problem can feel impossible.

3. HR is looked to as a subject matter expert but is also isolated with few internal resources

HR is a tricky role. Not only is HR the landing pad for everyone’s catastrophes, thereby ensuring that each day requires specific subject matter expertise to put out a variety of fires, but it’s also a place where confidentiality reigns supreme. HR teams are often on their own island because unlike most, they cannot unload their stress by sharing the stories of their day. The combination can be isolating and without a strong network, many feel lonely. If we take a step back and consider the beginning of a typical HR career, there are few options for degrees in HR and only 1–2 national organizations to join. This limits the availability and usefulness of professional alumni networks. Further, while custom, organic solutions are necessary in order to address each organization’s unique culture, those resources are not widely available. We have the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which can be a powerful resource, but since their audience is so large, their solutions are often forced to be one-size-fits-all.

At Crush Limits, we understand the unique position of HR. We’ve been in the roles and done the work. That is why we also understand and believe in the power of HR to create change within organizations.

We see you; we hear you. And we are passionate about alleviating HR burnout.

Even in the darkest of times, challenges can bring opportunities to build resiliency and grow personally. Here are three opportunities we believe will go a long way to address the hurdles the HR community is facing in 2020 and beyond:

1. Focus on SelfQ

Self-awareness leads to an increased ability to self-manage. When we can accurately identify and articulate what we are feeling or experiencing, we can better move forward by meeting our own needs and communicating to others what we are experiencing through difficult times. This is not a box we can check off. It requires time and attention, but the time we invest in understanding ourselves is repaid to us in an ability to manage tension in our relationships not only at work but also in our personal lives. Give yourself the gift this holiday season of setting aside time to practice increasing your SelfQ!

2. Connect to What Matters at Work

In November 2020, we are still in the heat of navigating macro issues like COVID-19, natural disasters, political tensions, and social revolutions like Black Lives Matter. Each of us is also dealing with our own personal stressors at home and work. One proven strategy to managing through the chaos is to reconnect with your sense of purpose[1]. This involves taking time to reflect. Reflecting can start with writing out your thoughts in a journal or an email to yourself. This can help to make sense of our thoughts so we can better focus and prioritize[2]. You can also connect with a coworker on the big picture and how to rally individually or together to get each other and the business through to the other side. Lastly, find a short saying you can write down near your workspace that will remind you of the big picture. This could be a word — Grateful; Happy; Survivor; or a phrase — You Got This; Crush It; or Don’t Forget to Laugh Today.

3. Find a Community

A supportive community, especially built of those in HR, can help build resilience and confidence. A strong HR community can provide individual support through mentorship and knowledge sharing and just provide a place to vent. HR expertise does not come from a book, it comes from managing different situations throughout our careers. We should leverage our community members who have years of experience that will undoubtedly help the next generation of HR leaders navigate their careers and support their businesses.

If you are interested in talking and learning more about these topics, please reach out to us at team@crushlimits.com. Crush Limits is currently offering training, thought partnership circles, and coaching focused on helping HR practitioners build professional support networks and explore topics specifically related to the HR space. Please visit us here to learn more about the Human Resources Business Partner Training we are offering this January!

Wishing you and your family happiness and safety.

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/a-leaders-guide-communicating-with-teams-stakeholders-and-communities-during-covid-19

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-couch/201805/keeping-journal-can-be-good-your-emotional-health

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Monica Faberman

I help small business owners find, hire, and develop their team so that they can spend more time in their zone of genius.