Self-Leadership Key to Avoiding HR Burnout


By Ingrid Vaughan

This morning Diane had to lay off three team members, with two more scheduled in the afternoon. She’s wrestling with her emotions as she delivers news that dramatically affects these families while trying to remain professionally detached. Diane sighs as she thinks about the two meetings ahead.

Jim closes his office door after an executive meeting and lets out a frustrated grunt. He’s been trying for months to communicate the impact of recent corporate decisions on employee morale but from the executives’ perspective, everything is fine and they are not interesting in “stirring up trouble.” Jim knows the trouble has already been stirred up, and that they are looking at an employee revolt if something isn’t done to address the issues.

Sue has been working on implementing a new performance management system. Even though the managers were informed of the change months ago, today’s implementation meeting made it clear that they did not fully understand the impact of the change. They are upset that the new process will require them to spend more time on reviews than they have previously. She tries to communicate the long-term benefits of the new system but all they can think about is how stretched they already are. Sue feels frustrated and overwhelmed by what it’s going to take to get managers’ buy in for this important project.

Where Does HR Go?
Employees look to HR for support, advice, resources and advocacy. Business leaders look to HR to deliver on goals, roll out decisions, and keep everyone on the team happy, engaged and productive. As HR professionals, we walk this tightrope every day and it can be taxing—but who do we go to with our frustrations and stresses after we’ve taken care of everybody else?

Who does Diane go to with the knot in her stomach after a day of layoffs? How does Jim deal with the frustration of not being heard by his executive? How does Sue find the strength to battle an overly taxed management team?

Most HR professionals are drawn to this career because they care about helping people and organizations. They tend to be nurturers and put others needs ahead of their own. This tendency, on top of high expectations from organizational leaders, puts them at risk for professional burnout. Following are some strategies that can increase your resistance to burning out.

Recognize the Signs
Not recognizing the signs, or taking them seriously when they arise, can lead to devastating consequences, including a potential breakdown and the inability to continue working. To avoid burnout, it is essential to recognize the signs:

  • Short attention span, lack of ability to stay focused;
  • No energy, exhausted, withdrawn, feel overwhelmed;
  • No motivation, not taking care of yourself;
  • Negative attitude, unhappy both personally and professionally;
  • Performance is decreasing at home and at work; and
  • Health problems develop/increase.

If you notice these things on a regular basis, do not ignore them. See your doctor, talk to someone, a close friend or colleague or a professional counsellor. Acknowledge the impact and act on these signs before they become chronic to avoid serious repercussions down the road.

Establish a Strong Support Network
It’s rare for an HR professional to have someone within their organization to talk to about their job stresses, so it’s important to have people you can connect with regularly so you can release some of these stresses. Are there industry colleagues you can meet with for coffee on a regular basis for support? Could you create an HR networking group or join an already existing group where this kind of support is possible? Even spending time with good friends that have nothing to do with work can reduce your stress. When you’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed, tap into this network for support and perspective.

Make Self-Care a Priority
It is critical we keep ourselves balanced so that we are capable of handling tough times on the job. Self-care is a personal thing, so choose the things that resonate with and work for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Focus on the physical. Maintain proper diet, exercise and sufficient sleep;
  • Commit time and energy to an activity that you love. Getting out of your head and into your heart is a fantastic way to minimize stress and create perspective;
  • Meditate, pray, visualize. Let go of what you can’t control and focus on the things you can. Make changes where possible;
  • See a doctor, counsellor, therapist or coach to explore your emotions and strategize ways of engaging in your work without it taking a negative toll.
  • Spend more time with people who matter to you. Friends and family are often forgotten when we are under stress at work; and
  • Make time for fun! Do something that leaves you exhilarated and smiling.

Take good care of yourself so that your life remains balanced, your stress is minimized and you can remain effective in your work.

Maintain Perspective Through Gratitude
No matter how difficult life gets, there are always things to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude is a practical, tangible way to keep your perspective. It doesn’t eliminate the challenges you face, but it does help to focus on what matters to you. Gratitude can keep you grounded and help you to cope more effectively with the stresses you face at work. If you are struggling with feeling grateful, perhaps it’s time to consider making important changes in your life.

There are emotional challenges inherent in the human resource profession, both in the nature of the work and in the nature of those drawn to the work. To be effective in our HR roles, we need to maintain an important balance of empathy, compassion and strategic leadership. This requires making intentional decisions that protect our physical and emotional well-being.

Choices that create balance—allowing us to give our best selves at work and keeping ourselves physically and emotionally healthy—are key to avoiding burnout and sustaining and long and meaningful HR career.

Ingrid Vaughan is an experienced HR generalist on Vancouver Island, consulting with individuals and organizations to facilitate positive change.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2015)

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.


Enter your email address to receive updates each Wednesday.

Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.