How can we fix HR's own mental health and burnout crisis?

It’s been an exhausting few years for the HR profession, with many HR leaders reporting widespread burnout amongst themselves and their peers. What can we do to fix this ongoing crisis...
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
How can we fix HR's own mental health and burnout crisis?
HR leaders are overwhelmingly suffering from burnout - a solution has to be found

81% of HR leaders admit to being burnt out, according to Sage’s 2024 Changing Face of HR report. 95% of HR leaders say working in HR is simply too much work and stress.

These figures are astonishing. Whether it’s working on tighter budgets, coping with new responsibilities, mastering talent management, dealing with divisiveness on ED&I, or improving perceptions of HR, nearly every HR leader is exhausted and overwhelmed by the extent of their workload.

HR must address burnout among existing leaders and create a healthier future for the next generation of leaders. Just like any employee, HR leaders will struggle to deliver on long-term goals if they are burned out.

Who knows the detrimental impact of burnout on engagement, turnover, productivity, health, and healthcare costs better than HR? And yet, this crisis is as yet largely unaddressed. It’s time for HR leaders to get serious about the widespread burnout crisis in their profession.

What’s behind the rise in burnout for HR professionals?

Before HR can fix the issue of burnout among its leaders, we must first understand the reasons behind this alarming trend.

There are triggers existing at the individual, organisational, and socioeconomic levels that may be causing burnout to be so prevalent.

Firstly, at the socioeconomic level, HR is subject to the same turmoil as any other business leader. “The world of work is undergoing a massive transformation since the pandemic, the ongoing consequences of Brexit, international conflicts and political uncertainty in the UK and other countries,” says Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Chair of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work, and former president of the CIPD.

At the organisational level, also consider the added caveat that many of these trends place unprecedented demands on HR to cool uncertainty, manage change, and increase its strategic value to the business by helping companies – and their employees – weather the storm.

“HR professionals are having to deal with a variety of new challenges from these events, either directly, like hybrid working post-pandemic, or indirectly, like job insecurity in a low growth economy,” explains Cooper. “They are having to deal with a dramatically changed workplace (e.g. flexible working), cost of living crisis and its consequences for financial wellbeing, increased labour mobility as people assess their job prospects, a long-hours culture or presenteeism of employees to show commitment in job insecure times, and more.”

We're moving faster than we ever moved before. There's geopolitical conflict and social unrest. Human Resources professionals often feel these external challenges acutely. With everything going on in the world, how do you pause and take a moment for yourself?

Kacy Fleming M.A. | Head of Global Wellbeing, Fortune 500 Biopharmaceutical Company

Lastly, at the individual level, add in the personal impact of all the uncertainty mentioned above, the threat of redundancies to HR and ED&I teams, and the extra pressure of closer relationships with the C-suite. In short, the emotional workload of HR professionals has never been higher.

Joseph Dicianno, Ph.D. in Leadership and Talent Management Practitioner believes each of the way macroeconomic issues flow into organisation and individual responsibilities is a major driver in burnout amongst HR leaders. “With a workforce disrupted by COVID and the ensuing “Great Resignation,” I believe that many HR burnout issues are caused by how their customers (employees and leaders in the business) are lacking compassion, kindness, and empathy,” he says.

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