Brooks: Why HR pros owe themselves a mid-year rest and reset

Burnt out and exhausted HR teams deserve a break.
By: | July 20, 2021

Most people I know survived the winter holidays hunkered down at home, surrounded only by those who happened to be in their immediate household and doing their absolute best to stay safe as the pandemic raged on outside. For the first time in perhaps 20 years, I didn’t write out my personal goals—not a single goal, not a single tradition I cherish. And that was for good reason, as I had accumulated so much scar tissue from the absolute shock of what 2020 had turned out to be, standing in stark contrast to what my ambitious goals and plans had initially been for it going in. Plus, there was tremendous uncertainty about what would even be possible in the year ahead, particularly outside the walls of my Manhattan apartment.

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I’ll bet you can join me in feeling uniquely exhausted (and perhaps burnt out) as the summer started. So many people everywhere found themselves sharing a mutual feeling of “hitting a wall,” and anyone working in HR had absolutely had a unique bruising over the past 16 months. While medical professionals, essential workers, teachers and first responders had been dealt a far more challenging hand, HR was at the tip of the spear of so many of the challenges, changes and crises of this period of our lives that we’ll never be able to forget. No doubt, many of us have met some definition of trauma during this time, which we must acknowledge, accept and take appropriate action toward as we go forward. Unlike many other functions that had less change to lead, HR never got a break, from RIFs to office closures (and returns), to remote work and outrage over inequities, to workplace safety and vaccines, and so much more—we are entitled to feel wiped out!

Author Ben Brooks is founder and CEO of PILOT.

HR and the professionals who run the function are a classic case of “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.” We are so focused on our executives, managers and employees that we oftentimes end up putting ourselves (both professionally and personally) last. There is, of course, a payoff to this behavior, as it allows us to avoid reflecting on and confront the hard questions of what we want, need or how we feel, given the draw toward helping others instead. But it is not functional, nor is it sustainable, to continue on like this after what we’ve endured. It is time now for each of us to give ourselves a mid-year reset.

I’m walking the walk on this, having just returned from 10 days in Aruba with my boyfriend where I allowed our plans to be “nothing” for some of our days, totally disconnected from work, spent lots of time being active outside and minimized my screen time. If you don’t have a true break (read: not a family reunion, kid’s soccer tournament, etc.) to look forward to and savor—give yourself one.

Read more insights from Ben Brooks here.

Another part of the mid-year reset is to pull up, slow down and take in the context. After a crisis, it is often difficult to “come down” from the adrenaline rush and momentum. Early on in the pandemic, my business’ sales dipped drastically, as few HR people (understandably) could afford to invest time or resources into employee development and retention, so I then went into overdrive in order to protect 100% of my team’s jobs, pay and benefits, and ensure that we could weather the storm.

Today, things are different, as we’re now experiencing significant growth as we ramp up hiring. And so, with this in mind, I must recalibrate my behaviors, including how much I work, the boundaries I set, the expectations I have of myself and where I spend my time. I’m having to go through the difficult yet healthy process of letting go of many things I used to own, as we scale up our team and delegate more. This is a complete 180 from what I was doing a year ago, which is disorienting, but given my role and the current context, it is the right move. In the military, situational awareness is a core tenet of training that keeps servicemembers alive, and we must bring that same degree of alertness and agility to our own professional surroundings, quickly adapting our behaviors as conditions change. Have you slowed down to recalibrate given today’s context, the information you have about you, your role, your goals and the broader environment?

See also: Mailchimp’s burnout strategy? Collective PTO, summer hours

Another way we can give ourselves a meaningful boost in energy, mood and follow-through is to set goals for ourselves. Most of us anchor goal setting to a calendar year, birth year or work anniversary, but nothing is stopping you from simply making the commencement of the second half of 2021 reason enough! Goals are critically important in shifting our present-day mindset, as they generate a future for us and can excite us and boost our spirits—and it’s not just when we achieve them, but goals actually make us feel better from the moment we first declare and share them. This is why we get so excited about vacations not just when they begin, but from the moment we book our reservations. So, this week, I’m working on creating, writing down and sharing with others a focused set of goals for myself that will give me meaning and fulfillment. If I asked you what your goals were for the rest of the year, would you have an answer?

HR must be ready for more challenges looming on the horizon, perhaps even sooner than we might hope. A hot recruiting market and labor shortages, pent-up attrition risk, high employee expectations for progress around DEI, managing a messy hybrid work model and returning to offices will all serve to further stress us. And this is all in addition to business as usual with annual enrollment, compensation reviews and performance management. Will you join me in giving yourself the mid-year reset I’m certain you need and deserve? If so, send me a tweet @benbrooksny, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s do this together!

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Ben Brooks is the founder and CEO of the career development platform PILOT. Share your reactions to this column on LinkedIn or @benbrooksny. He writes the monthly Coach's Corner column for HRE.