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RfH Working Session Recap: How HR Teams Can Battle Burnout

April 22, 2021
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Amid the challenges companies have been facing over the last year, it’s no surprise that HR teams are feeling stretched thin. People teams are emotionally exhausted, having to juggle new standards of employee support while steering their organizations into the new world of work.

Resources for Humans (RfH) – a Slack community of over 11,000 HR leaders – recently hosted a virtual working session for members to discuss how People teams can navigate the emotional demands of work, burnout, and more. Here are some of the session’s key takeaways:

1. Schedule time for yourself. 

When the pandemic first started, most people struggled with feeling disconnected from their loved ones and stressed about the future. This was especially true for workers who had to switch to remote work overnight. As businesses and schools were forced to shut down and transition to new environments, distinctions between the workplace and home quickly began to blur for virtually everyone.

HR teams rose to the challenge by sharing resources and tips for how managers and employees can disconnect from work to protect their mental health. But as the go-to source for support, People teams haven’t necessarily been extended the same level of care during these challenging times. As an HR team and as a leadership team, we will tell others in the organization, ‘Take the time that you need,’” says Anita Lim-Fritz, Senior Director of People & Talent at Mythic, “But I feel like it's often not the message that's told to us.” 

From setting boundaries with leaders and employees to blocking off time for breaks, RfH members shared several ways they were trying to practice what they preached to employees for taking care of their mental health.

Whenever I get 15 minutes back in my diary, I go for a walk or play with my kid for 15 minutes...Figure out whatever gives you that peace, whatever gives you that five minutes of mental wellness, integrate that in your day-to-day life, and don’t feel bad about it.” - Garima Gupta, Senior Director, Global HR Partnerships and Inclusion at Relativity 

“Doing things hour-by-hour has been a helpful strategy, and just resetting. If I have a crappy hour, I can reset. I don't have to reset tomorrow — I can reset right now and just acknowledge it. Being kind to ourselves is really important.” - Chloe Sesta Jacobs, Global Head of People Experience at Deputy

“I think you have to block it off on your calendar. If I don't block off everything that I'm doing on my calendar, then there would be no time to breathe...I have noticed since we've been remote that I actually eat lunch. I don't eat at my desk. I leave my makeshift office in my basement, and I go upstairs and I eat lunch. I do take my phones with me, but I'm away from the actual computer. ” - Penny McNerney, Vice President, Human Resources at QC Terme Spas and Resorts

“I track my time in Toggl — it helps me so that I am stepping away from my computer if I've been at my computer for eight hours, or whatever your scheduled time is.” - Taylor Fiscus, Operations & HR Manager at Janover Ventures

[Following the Pomodoro technique]...after I take just five minutes playing with the dog or doing something completely unplugged, coming back, I am so much more productive.” - Christine Cousins, Senior Innovation Manager at Host Events, Inc.

2. Set and enforce boundaries.

Making changes to your personal work style is only effective if people respect the boundaries you’ve set. Creating company-wide norms for working remotely can help ensure that everyone is able to be at their most productive. The road to a good employee experience is a lot clearer when leadership teams champion healthy communication standards, multiple members said.

“We need to deduce what deserves to be Zoom meeting, what deserves to be an email, what's a working doc, what's a Slack message. So putting together documentation there really helped us.” - Britney Pierini, Head of People Experience at Torii

“I started setting hard limits for myself, and it started to rub off on other people. Some of my executives will Slack me at like eight o’clock at night, sometimes later. I put it in my Slack status, like after four o'clock, I actually have it labeled, “Don't Ask Me Hours,” because I'm not here. If you don't see that green thing on my Slack, don't come looking for me.” - Franky Rhodes, People Operations Manager at Lola.com

“My company actually does [refresh days once a month], and that's basically the saving grace for my mental health...Those days have been amazing for me, and I definitely highly recommend it if there’s leadership buy-in on your team.” - Michelle Costello, People Business Partner at Thirty Madison

Most importantly, our HR leaders said, go with what works best for you, and don’t force yourself into a routine that doesn’t actually make you feel more productive or happy. Jacobs explained, “I go for work-life integration because I feel like balance is unattainable, and if you go for balance, you'll never get it.”

3. Delegate and automate. 

When the world was flipped upside down last year, the role of Human Resources changed dramatically. HR teams were tasked with addressing an entirely new set of issues, from workplace safety to downsizing. Any HR professional needs to be able to wear multiple hats, but learning how to prioritize, delegate, and automate your work is essential to not burning out. 

To help manage the many responsibilities on HR teams’ plates, RfH members recommended setting up handbooks, wikis, or other documentation where employees can find information vetted by their HR teams, freeing up time to focus on other work.

We are expected to respond to situations and come up with something that's meaningful to the employees, right? There's a lot of pressure on us because none of this was in our job description, and this was not what we've been told to do.” - Garima Gupta, Senior Director, Global HR Partnerships and Inclusion at Relativity

“Something that I found really helpful was Eisenhower's urgent/important principle. It’s based around sitting down and looking at your to-do list. The priority list essentially should be [categorized as] important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important but urgent, or not important and not urgent. The rest should be delegated or off your list.” - Sadiya Akhrarova, People Operations Business Partner at Mejuri

“I'm a People Operations professional, I'm a founder, and a family person. I have all these roles, so I have to delegate. At least that's what I learned. I started delegating roles to our team, and some roles I realized, ‘Look, it's time to automate.’ We started using automated tools extensively to the point where we implemented it with our clients too, and they're happy about it.” - Cody Bess, Founder at Poprouser, Inc.

“It was a lot of work, but we put together a robust resource center for employees [with] free, low cost, and paid apps, classes, books, and podcasts in hopes of driving them there before they came to us. If they still couldn't find something that they felt was helpful, then they could come to us.” - Britney Pierini, Head of People Experience at Torii

4. Be human and vulnerable.

At the end of the day, RfH members said that the best practice is to be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. If you’re telling employees to take care of themselves and not doing the same for yourself, you run the risk of burning out.

Along with finding tools and resources to help with work when you’re feeling spread thin, HR professionals need to recognize when they need help and not be afraid to ask for it.

Oftentimes with HR, we are the shoemaker's children, right? We kind of say, ‘Hey, develop your people and make sure you're doing this and make sure you're doing that.’ But we don't get that in our own department. We don't get the time, energy, and focus.” - Donna Heaslip, Senior Human Resources Business Partner at Philadelphia Insurance Companies

“I think just humanizing everything is so important. It's pretty much been business as normal for the most part [in Australia], but we need to be sensitive to our people in the U.S. and in London who are really, really struggling with intense lockdowns, plus everything else that's happened in the U.S. over the past year. We need to be humans before we are business people.” - Chloe Sesta Jacobs, Global Head of People Experience at Deputy

“It starts with us. We can't change what other people are going to think, feel, and say. So being able to hold ourselves accountable and make those changes in our lives by putting up boundaries I think is really critical here.” - Caitlin Cocchi, Human Resources Manager at Affiliated Distributors 

“It is very important to show vulnerability. I am like you, we are like each other, we're all going through it, and having empathy for one another is such an important way to just not feel like you're alone.” - Carrie Matthews, Director of Talent at Accelevents 

“From the HR perspective, I have been so stressed. It's been one year, it's been so stressful for us. It’s demands, demands, demands, and you're like at some point, ‘Who is taking care of me if I'm not taking care of myself?’ So you need to work out and do some things for you...and the support of your team also is very important.” - Ingrid Bauer, Employee Experience Specialist at phData 

5. Ask for help.

It’s not a surprise that the pandemic has people pushed to their limits, and the initial reaction is to go to HR for help. For HR teams (especially teams of one), it’s hard to seek help within a company when everyone else is always turning to you. Whether it’s seeking therapy or finding like-minded people to vent with, being able to share their frustrations and struggles was immensely valuable for RfH members.

“It just helps so much if you have someone to talk to...I really like what my therapist [says]: You always need someone that believes more in you than you believe in yourself. And that for me is something really nice and shows what therapy can do. It is so supportive.” - Kristin Eyschen, Talent Acquisition Manager at Enmacc

“One of the first things we did was talk to our brokers, and we found out, lo and behold, that we actually do have pretty robust telehealth support that no one knew about. So that was important to build into onboarding as we bring people in remotely by saying, ‘Hey, don't forget about this. You don't need to be nervous about having to wait to go back to see a provider in-person.’” - Johnna Fieldman, Human Resources Generalist at Zmags

And in a time of crisis, you need your community. “If you strip people of the usual sources of that need [for belonging], they aren’t just going to go without it,” a researcher said in The Atlantic. “They’ll find other ways to fulfill it.” 

For those on small HR teams, living alone, or just feeling isolated during the pandemic, finding an empathetic community can do wonders for your mental and emotional health.

“I find myself reaching out to previous colleagues...Previous mentors, my old managers and stuff like that...and just asking them how did they handle or juggle all of this? It feels like moral support to just talk it out, vent to someone who you're comfortable with, and then get back into the job. But yeah, it’s tough when you don't have someone experiencing it alongside you that can really understand the stress or the nature of it.” - Sophia Tessum, Human Resources Manager at ManyChat

“The People team actually set scheduled time for ourselves at least an hour a day just so we're able to sit there and talk, vent a little bit, or have a moment to kind of de-stress and talk about different things that we have going on...This way we can share resources or suggestions on how to just de-stress for a little bit throughout the day.” - Daphney Addotta, Recruitment Consultant at Capella Space

“I think at first, the Lattice community on Slack was so intense and terrifying for me. I was like, ‘This is too much.’ And then I realized, I can engage as often I want, when I want. It's manageable and I can engage with people individually, which is really cool...So I definitely recommend finding communities like this and/or thinking of ways to connect to people.” - Carrie Matthews, Director of Talent at Accelevents 

Being in Human Resources takes a special kind of person — one who is constantly pushing to improve the lives of others. But at the end of the day, our community members reiterated that HR teams are humans too and need a break just as much as any other employee. If you’re starting to see signs of burnout, ask for help, find your community, and take a break.

Those are just some of the insights shared during a recent Resources for Humans virtual working session. If you haven’t already, join the over 11,000 HR leaders that make up our Slack community