8 ways HR leaders can take to overcome burnout

Reducing employee burnout is a big topic across corporate America, but HR leaders also need to take a hard look in the mirror and recognize whether you too are succumbing to burnout.

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There is a good chance that you are.

It turns out that HR leaders rank the highest among professionals when it comes to two key burnout metrics. One is they are substantially more likely to be at risk of leaving their current employer in the next 12 months. The other metric is 37% of HR leaders have trouble balancing their work and home life, according to a survey of 1,300 HR leaders, business leaders, knowledge workers and frontline workers across the globe. 

So, how do you catch signs that burnout is creeping into your life?

Related: How HR leaders can mitigate burnout and engage today’s workforce

Ways to identify if you’re suffering

“There are a lot of hazards we encounter every day,” says Allessandria Polizzi, CEO and founder of Verdant Consulting, a consulting firm focused on helping professionals build resilience and avoid burnout. 

Polizzi, who presented a session on “HR Burnout: How to Care for Yourself as You’re Caring for Employees” at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, says HR executives are highly susceptible to burnout due to a number of factors.

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Those factors include a feeling that HR is of low importance, a lack of appreciation, being in a unique position to hear the problems employees are facing, and a lack of a community to vent to or discuss sensitive issues with. 

Three signs to look for that you are beginning to experience burnout? Emotional or physical exhaustion, cynicism, and deteriorating cognition, says Polizzi, a former HR executive who faced her own case of burnout. From that experience, she launched into researching the subject before founding her consulting firm.

Related: Burnout and resignations are rampant in HR. What leaders need to know

Hazards that contribute to burnout for HR leaders

Polizzi points to five hazards that can lead to burnout, some of which she experienced personally.

Increasing complexity in the HR function and decreasing clarity with where your HR role starts and stops is one of the hazards, she says.

Trauma exposure is another. This can come from vicarious or secondary trauma, which is the result of listening to the trauma of others. The best action is awareness and allowing yourself time to recover following the interaction, Polizzi advises.

“It’s not that we don’t want to do this work and be there for others, but we diminish the impact of this on our mental health,” Polizzi says.

Masking or hiding your personal self to gain social and professional acceptance can also lead to stress, which in turn can fuel burnout, she warns. Meetings are often a common environment where masking occurs, so take time after the meeting to recover, she notes.

Toxin handling is a situation where HR leaders face difficult conversations or encounters, such as talking with an employee who is unhappy that certain benefits are no longer available. 

“We need to balance the toxin we absorb and make sure we recover from it afterward,” Polizzi says. “You need to pay attention to what you need as well.”

Loneliness is another hazard for HR leaders, especially CHROs. It’s a situation that many CEOs face as well. 

“You can’t talk about half the things we do and have no one to vent to,” explains Polizzi.

8 ways HR leaders can minimize burnout

Despite these hazards, there are three steps HR leaders can take to overcome burnout.

  1. Practice acceptance. Accept what you can change and what you can’t change, she says, acknowledging it can be a difficult practice to follow.
  2. Be intentional and thoughtful about how you want to spend your time. She notes that spending just 15 minutes each day with self-reflection on how you are feeling today and think you will be feeling tomorrow can boost wellbeing by 25% in just 10 days. 
  3. Sticking to your values can also reduce the internal conflict that would develop within, which could lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout. 
  4. Self-compassion is also key to avoiding burnout. Polizzi advises HR leaders to talk to themselves like they are speaking to a best friend. For example, give yourself the same grace if a friend called you with the same situation you are facing and think how you would respond to them.
  5. Establish healthy boundaries and recognize it is ok to say “no.”  “This a muscle we have to build and reinforce,” says Polizzi, who acknowledges this is also difficult for her to do.
  6. Take up space, meaning recognize you and HR are not a cost center. Without you, the people sitting at the table and viewing you as a cost center cannot be successful, because they depend on you to help the people that help make the business possible and successful, Polizzi says. 
  7. Get support when you need it and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 
  8. Take care of the basics in self-care, such as making sure you drink water, get up and walk around when working.

Above all else, Polizzi says, “Speak to yourself with kindness. It can be transformational.”

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.