HR Mindset Betters Organizational Mental Health (But Who Looks After HR?)

In the face of change, the face of HR has been changing for some time. The recognition by employers that their employees are assets has transformed the HR professional’s role irrevocably and for the better, but with added burden. Given the purview of the modern HR professional, is it any wonder that worry lines are emerging on more than a few of those faces?

Expectation and Discontent
The truth is that human resources, as a profession, has a lot of expectation on its collective shoulders—from understanding all of the evolving business opportunities and challenges to handling specific people crises with poise and objectivity. By the very nature of crises, there is usually little or no chance to prepare for difficult conversations, unexpected workplace dramas or emergency mediations.  It falls to HR to smooth the rough edges of daily operations, remove communication barriers and champion business objectives.

The weight of the above is further compounded by the bad rap the profession often gets because of the overall discontent of the very people it serves.  In other words, there is a lot going on for HR folks and that can carry a toll on anyone.

The Perils of the Profession
Employees are most productive when they are in a good place, mentally and physically, and these aspects of well being are interconnected. Mental strength and emotional control is an indispensable component of an effective HR professional’s practical tool box. After all, HR is expected to be able to handle things without absorbing the (positive or negative) energies of the exchanges and exhibit empathy and objectivity while still providing logical advice.

The irony is that these very soft skills help set apart the successful practitioners from those who are simply serving more administrative HR functions. However, if not well managed, even the best of HR professionals can suffer personally and professionally.  Just like healthcare professionals who deal with tough patient/life situations regularly, HR professionals have a very real work/life need for support to remain such pillars of strength for their organizations.

Beyond Being a People Person
Knowing how to manage one’s own emotions while providing a true listener’s spontaneity is important for professional credibility and the key to mental wellness. The hallmarks of effective HR require mental strength to be in the moment and the ability to lead with objectivity whilst preserving the “human” touch. After all, there are no scripts you can practice before an employee meeting or a one-size-fits-all miracle solution that can be applied to be successful.

Just being a “people person” isn’t enough to back the HR leadership function. What it requires is the ability to practice active listening from a solid emotional base and to provide sensible solutions in “real-time” and “on-the-spot.”

HR is judged with a higher bar for sensitivity by staff because of the very nature of our people-oriented role. Making sure we check in with the managers we support, gives us the feedback and buy-in we need to ensure we haven’t missed any points in between solution and execution. We have to find the right timing and pace as HR can be perceived as being too flippant with issues from the third party perspective when we act too abruptly or out of sync. We also have to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others. In order to have empathy and the credible respect of the employees we support, we have to pace our speed (and tone) to maximize their receptivity. There is a delicate balance between responsiveness, speed of action and leadership.

Self-Leadership Key to HR Well Being
The obvious question that arises is, “Who maintains HR’s mental well being and emotional resilience?”  Unsurprisingly, self-leadership plays a prominent role.

Given the increasing pace of the workplace, all professionals need to be able to slow it down in order to speed up—HR included. Taking some time to regroup enables you to gather resources, rally executive support and do an overall objectivity scan. This helps ensure we are not acting on impulse or reactively, thereby missing the opportunity to craft more strategic and well thought out remedies.

Stopping to take the time to hear ourselves thinking is key, but not yet a primary practice despite the benefits. Using solitude to hear our own thoughts opens up space for self-reflection. “…the conversations we have with ourselves in the hope of greater insight about who we are and want to be.” helps keep things in perspective.

And while the rewards and impact of self-reflection take time and discipline to achieve, we only develop better mental strength as we develop the capacity to pause and think through the tangled circumstances of organizational behaviour, motivation and impact; it also helps us to understand our role in the situation and how to remain professionally objective.

Reflecting on how we have dealt with a workplace issue, and what we learned as a result professionally, is very grounding and important to the well-being journey. The conversations we are having (with others and ourselves) is what brings about perspective and change. This is both therapeutic and instrumental in bringing about new ideas and coping skills to stop, reflect and correct.

Bring in Reinforcements
That said, it takes self-leadership and wisdom to realize that we can’t do it all, and that it’s important to call in support from time-to-time—particularly for HR. There are many sources of support, ranging from peer and professional association networks to the extracurricular to the specialists secured in scenarios of crisis or to support catalytic change.

There are times when it is wise to get outside advice before a highly charged situation veers off the rails. As we see more employees willing to speak up, and more awareness of unacceptable behaviours, our daily counselling alone may not be enough. This is when bringing in special topic expertise or individual coaching is helpful.

This is not an indication that the current team (even of one) is ineffective or not doing a good job. An external specialist can bring something else to the table as an outsider; they can provide some helpful objectivity or a stronger focus to the circumstances at hand. Moreover, putting ego aside, when the in-house HR professional’s recommendations are not being “heard”, an external consultant can come in with the same advice to gain traction or get things back on track.

A Wider Network of Support
The important thing is to nurture and grow your own trusted network. The people who you can turn to for advice and support can alleviate some of the stresses which we absorb and often need an “assist” in letting go.

Moreover, the foundation to ensure HR’s mental wellness can be found within its fundamental relationship with the key stakeholders of the executive, management and front-line employees. Your tribe/team should reflect and share the same overall values you practice; reciprocity goes both ways.

You, as an HR professional, should “fit” with the organization you work for, especially when viewed from an HR mindset. Just as HR professionals search for that important candidate “fit”, so should HR (as the employee) seek that fit with the employer they represent.

Herein, the HR mindset shared becomes a bellwether for better organizational mental health—and buoys the HR professional and profession alike.

Amelia Chan, CPHR, RCIC is founder and principal consultant of Higher Options Consulting Services, providing a wide range of HR and immigration services for small to mid-sized businesses.

(PeopleTalk Spring 2018)

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