People Strategy

4 Ways to Navigate the Emotional Demands of Being in HR

October 14, 2020
March 8, 2024
Lisa Van de Ven
Lattice Team

Handling heightened emotions. Dealing with mental exhaustion. Advocating for mental health resources.

These are just a part of your job description. As an HR professional, you’re a shoulder to cry on, the confidante that helps employees navigate challenging situations, and the go-to for when employees are feeling burned out. And this year — faced with a global pandemic, a new remote workplace environment, and rising social change — emotions are especially heightened.

But as HR teams deal with increased demands and employee emotions, what are they doing to navigate their own feelings? And when will they start taking some of their own advice?

The Emotional Fallout

In the wake of a tumultuous year, employees today are experiencing an emotional fallout, as Lattice’s State of People Strategy Report 2020 suggests.

Based on a survey of 570 HR and People professionals from companies across industries and around the world, the report found that nearly 60% of HR professionals see emotional exhaustion as their top challenge in 2020 — for either themselves or their teams. Of those, two-thirds listed poor mental health as a contributor.

And the survey shows that HR teams are doing everything they can to respond to those needs.  In some cases, that might mean sending out engagement surveys or conducting performance reviews that escalate communication in a remote work environment. It can also mean providing mental health services, flexible workdays, and work-life balance initiatives to help team members handle the extra stress. At the same time, People teams are also dealing with mass layoffs, and doing their best to address those layoffs with compassion.

All of which is bound to take a toll on HR.

“It can be exhausting, overwhelming, and tiring,” Garima Gupta, Director of HR for The Fund for Global Human Rights, explained when she spoke at Lattice’s Resources for Humans Virtual Conference. “It can be so easy to be everyone else's anchor when in fact, you're the one who's drowning.”

To survive and thrive, even during a pandemic, HR needs to find a life preserver — or risk being pulled underwater. And that starts by (at least sometimes) putting themselves first.

4 Ways HR Teams Can Help Themselves

Keeping employees balanced and de-stressed may be part of your job, but doing the same thing for yourself doesn’t always come naturally. If you don’t make it a priority, you face the same risks your employees do. Then there’s the genuine problem of compassion fatigue or empathy burnout.

“The same traits that make HR professionals good at their work — the empathy, compassion for others, and tenacity — can, when self-care is neglected, turn into compassion fatigue,” Gupta said.

So listen to some of the advice you give your employees, and consider the following.

1. Prioritize work-life balance.

As an HR professional, you know that overworking, without any breaks, can lead to employee burnout — but you may not be applying that same knowledge to your own life. Yet with work-life balance more of a concern than ever, and with so much on your plate already, it’s natural if the lines have begun to blur.

If you want to have something left in your tank, you need to take time for yourself. The State of People Strategy Report shows that 44% of organizations have started offering flexible workdays or schedules this year — so why not take advantage? Take breaks and time off, and establish routines that help you get away from work for designated periods to unwind.

2. Find a sounding board.

HR teams aren’t usually large — survey responses show that they represent just a small percentage of organizations. If you work at a smaller organization, you may even be a one-person shop. There’s not necessarily someone on your own team, then, that you can turn to for your emotional needs. But finding someone to talk to is critical. That could mean turning to a community of HR professionals who can sympathize with your concerns, offer feedback, or request a mental wellness coach to help you navigate your emotions — or maybe a combination of all three.

3. Understand when you need help.

Having a small team means you’re likely spread even thinner than usual, trying to get the job done. So understand when to ask for help, and how to build up the resources you require to support your day-to-day work. That could mean training managers to help facilitate communication and one-on-one employee interactions, investing in coaching to build your skills and team, or asking executives to back up an initiative as you roll it out company-wide.

4. Acknowledge a job well done.

“Self-acknowledgement and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward in the right direction,” Gupta said. Just like employee rewards and recognition programs effectively motivate employees and make them feel appreciated, gratitude is important for you. Expressing self-gratitude and rewarding your job well done can help you thrive in this trying time.

As HR professionals, you’re more than capable of looking after yourself—after all, these are all suggestions you’ve likely already given your employees. You just have to take the time to do it—and understand how much more value you can bring when you support yourself as much as you do others.

For more insights, download Lattice’s State of People Strategy Report 2020 and watch Garima Gupta’s on-demand presentation, Your People Team Members Are People Too.