Human resources professionals have been hit hard by the pandemic. When you think of all the massive disruptions and transformative changes that have impacted the workforce in the past two years, almost all of them have been directly managed by and touched upon the work of the HR team.
Whether it was managing layoffs and furloughs in the early days of the pandemic, adjusting company procedures for a rapid transition to Work From Home or navigating the ongoing challenges of employee burnout, talent shortages and the Great Resignation, HR execs nationwide may be the most overlooked personnel who are in great need of wellness solutions. In fact, while workplace burnout is something employees have always experienced, HR professionals say the toll on their profession could have a long-lasting impact.
Let’s take a closer look at why HR execs need a new approach to wellness, and why CEOs and the whole C-Suite beyond CHROs need to make HR wellness a priority today.
HR Teams are Burned Out After a Uniquely Stressful Year
The past 18+ months of uncertainty, stress and disruption have posed some unique challenges to HR leaders. Think of all the challenges that HR teams have had to manage during the pandemic:
• Workplace health and safety issues related to COVID
• Vaccine mandates and masking requirements
• Societal issues of racial justice and equity, and implications for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in hiring
• Working mothers leaving the workforce due to school closings and lack of childcare
• Helping support employees’ mental health during a time of near-universal stress and grief
• Recruiting and retaining talent during generational upheaval in the job market
Any one of these issues would present big challenges to the HR team’s workload, but 2020-2021 has been an environment of cascading crises and overlapping stresses, where HR leaders have had to navigate all of them at once!
As a result, it’s no wonder that HR teams are showing signs of stress and burnout. Recent surveys have found that 70% of HR leaders said that this has been one of the most challenging years of their career, and 77.3% of HR professionals have experienced burnout during the pandemic.
HR Teams Have Big Goals Ahead
Along with the challenges of the past 18 months, HR teams are still facing big expectations for ongoing performance goals. Right now, we’re in the midst of the annual enrollment period for employee health insurance and benefits, which is one of HR’s busiest times of year. The Great Resignation is continuing to present big challenges to HR, as hiring teams push to staff up to capitalize on growth opportunities, while also keeping their top talent from jumping ship for new jobs.
This is a complex tightrope that HR leaders must walk, and it’s not getting easier. Think of how much care and attention companies get from HR during “normal” times! HR teams help take care of the company; they help make sure people are getting placed in the right jobs, that people have the compensation and benefits at the right level to stay in the job, that the company can keep growing and thriving while paying people fairly and competitively. HR professionals are often the ultimate “people persons;” they love building relationships; they are caretakers for the organizational culture.
But if we’re not careful, CEOs and C-level executives are going to be faced with a situation where HR professionals experience extreme high levels of burnout. Companies need to take care of the people who take care of them. We’re at a critical tipping point that could result in the great HR job exodus.
Strategies for HR Wellness
Here are a five key strategies to help companies provide focused wellness support for the unique needs of HR professionals:
1. Get alert about stress: The HR role has expanded so much during the pandemic; HR teams are under more stress than they might realize. They’re wearing many hats and having to deal with everything from vaccine mandates to helping people navigate mental health issues. Educate your HR teams on understanding how to deal with stress and anxiety.
2. Teach stress-relief exercises: Train your HR teams on how to deal with their own stress and anxiety, whether it’s a mindfulness practice or meditation, how to do breathing exercises, how to take short breaks throughout the work day to go for a walk, and more.
3. Show how to respond, not react: During stressful times, people sometimes react harshly or lose their composure. This can sometimes lead to poor decision-making. Train your HR teams on how to separate themselves from the moment of stress, take a deep breath, think slowly, and then respond to the situation with calmness and care, instead of making fast, reactive decisions.
4. Promote mindful leadership: Mindfulness is one of the top leadership trends. Work with your HR team to talk about how to stay present in the moment, how to encourage a calm work culture, and how to avoid distractions.
5. Practice empathy: HR leaders often must have difficult conversations with people, whether it’s a work performance issue, a change in strategy that affects the company structure, training people on unfamiliar new work processes, or notifying someone that their employment is being terminated. Especially in stressful times, it’s important to show HR people that it’s OK to keep kindness and vulnerability at the heart of even the difficult conversations.
As business leaders, we are all navigating times of historic transformation, and the pandemic has changed HR’s role much more than any other function. HR should spend time getting to know these new responsibilities. It’s crucially important for HR teams today to understand what is the best culture, tools and benefits for their employees in this new world. If organizations don’t support HR with better wellness strategies, they run the risk of losing their valuable HR talent. Let’s take better care of the hard-working HR professionals who take care of our companies.