Content Page

No data

An Urgent Call to Address HR People's
Burnout (10 Strategies Included)

Blackboard with the drawing of a stick figure bending down with a battery on its back, with only 1% of the charge left.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on November 30, 2023

This article was originally published on Hacking HR's LinkedIn.

Mental health, wellbeing and wellness are transcending the buzzword status fad and are becoming central pillars of organizational strategy. No organization can, in any way, be effective if its people are not doing well. Creating value as a company is directly related to that company’s employees feeling and being holistically healthy.

In particular, mental health, wellbeing, and wellness must be at the forefront of organizational strategy in a world characterized by what experts term the VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) and BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible) worlds, where traditional business models are constantly challenged by unprecedented changes and uncertainties.

VUCA and BANI.. and Mental Health

The VUCA world is characterized by constant change and unpredictability. Volatility refers to the speed and turbulence of change, while Uncertainty denotes the lack of predictability in these changes. Complexity involves the multiple forces and factors that organizations must consider, and Ambiguity represents the lack of clarity about the meaning of events.

In parallel, the BANI framework provides a more contemporary lens, resonating deeply in the post-pandemic era. It describes a world that is Brittle, where systems are fragile and prone to breaking down; Anxious, where uncertainty leads to overwhelming stress and worry; Non-linear, highlighting the disproportionate impact of small changes; and Incomprehensible, reflecting the difficulty in making sense of events and predicting future outcomes.

The Impact of VUCA and BANI on HR Professionals' Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Wellness

Human Resources (HR) professionals are at the forefront of navigating the complex challenges of the VUCA and BANI worlds. Tasked with managing the most unpredictable element of any business - its people - HR roles have become increasingly challenging and conducive to high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout.

The pressure to maintain workforce stability, ensure employee wellbeing, and adapt to ever-changing organizational needs has placed HR professionals in a uniquely vulnerable position. Thus, it is no mystery why HR professionals are burnout at higher rates than most other professions.

The role of HR expanded beyond traditional functions to encompass all things organizational health and employee wellbeing. This new and expanded role includes not only addressing the immediate challenges of talent management and organizational restructuring but also paying close attention to the mental health and overall wellbeing of employees, including themselves.

That is why understanding and addressing burnout within HR teams is not just a matter of individual health; it is a strategic imperative for organizations aiming to thrive in these complex and uncertain times. In this post, I will address burnout.

Defining Burnout

Burnout is a term that has gained significant traction in discussions about workplace wellbeing, particularly among professions like HR, where the demands of managing employee welfare can be particularly taxing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as an "occupational phenomenon, " not a medical condition. It defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. This definition underscores the importance of context – burnout is specifically tied to one's professional life and is distinct from general stress or depression, which may have multiple sources.

The WHO’s definition highlights three key dimensions of burnout:

  • Feelings of Energy Depletion or Exhaustion: This is more than just typical tiredness; it is a deep, chronic sense of physical and emotional depletion.

  • Increased Mental Distance from One’s Job, or Feelings of Negativism or Cynicism Related to One's Job: This dimension reflects a change in one’s attitude towards work, from positive and engaged to negative and detached.

  • Reduced Professional Efficacy: This involves a noticeable decline in one's feelings of competence and successful achievement in one's work role.

Key Characteristics of Burnout

These are some of the most common characteristics of burnout:

Physical and Emotional Exhaustion: The most telling sign of burnout is a sense of extreme tiredness that does not go away with rest. This can manifest as a lack of energy, feeling drained, or even physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension.

Cynicism and Detachment: People experiencing burnout often find themselves feeling cynical or overly critical at work. They may feel disconnected from their job, colleagues, and even clients or customers.

Feelings of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment: There is a sense of inadequacy or failure and a diminishing sense of achievement or satisfaction in work-related activities. This often leads to a drop in productivity and an inability to cope with workloads effectively.

Reduced Empathy: In HR roles, where empathy is crucial, burnout can lead to a reduced ability to empathize with employees' concerns or problems, potentially impacting decision-making and interpersonal relationships.

Change in Attitude: This can range from disillusionment with the job to increased irritability, moodiness, or a negative outlook on work-related matters.

10 Strategies for Organizational Transformation to Combat Burnout

This is the truth about fixing burnout: it will not be “fixed” only by self-caring. Fixing burnout needs deeper interventions for organizational transformation to address the cause of burnout, not just the symptoms. I will certainly cover later in this article some strategies for self-care to fix burnout, but I cannot miss how important it is to address the root causes.

Ultimately, effectively addressing burnout requires a holistic approach that goes beyond individual efforts on self-care. It calls for organizational transformation that fosters a culture of wellbeing and resilience.

Here are ten (basic) strategies that organizations, particularly HR departments, can adopt to combat burnout. Please note that we, in fact, must go even deeper: discussing job redesign, career management framework, leadership and management styles, etc. For now, I will discuss ten important but still insufficient strategies:

  1. Promote Work-Life: Implement policies that actively encourage a healthy balance between work and personal life. This can include flexible working hours, the option to work remotely, and ensuring that after-hours work is the exception, not the norm.

  2. Foster a Supportive Work Culture: Develop a culture where mental health is openly discussed and supported. This involves training leaders to recognize signs of burnout and to approach such situations with empathy and understanding.

  3. Provide Mental Health Resources and Training: Regularly offer training sessions on mental health awareness. Provide resources such as stress management workshops, mindfulness training, and access to mental health professionals.

  4. Encourage Regular Breaks and Downtime: Emphasize the importance of taking short, frequent breaks throughout the day. Encourage employees to step away from their workstations to recharge, whether it is a walk outside or a few minutes of quiet time.

  5. Implement Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Provide access to EAPs that offer confidential counseling services, support for mental health issues, and resources for personal development.

  6. Adopt a Holistic Approach to Employee Wellbeing: Incorporate physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing into the company’s health and wellness programs. This could include fitness classes, meditation sessions, and health screenings.

  7. Encourage Open and Transparent Communication: Create a safe space for employees to voice their concerns, suggestions, and feedback without fear of reprisal. Regularly engage with employees to understand their challenges and needs.

  8. Recognize and Reward Employee Efforts: Develop recognition programs that acknowledge not just the achievements but also the effort and dedication of employees. This recognition can be in various forms - public acknowledgment, awards, or even simple thank-you notes.

  9. Offer Professional Development Opportunities: Provide opportunities for career growth and development. This includes training, mentorship programs, and clear pathways for career advancement, which can increase job satisfaction and engagement.

  10. Regularly Evaluate Workload and Staffing Needs: Continuously assess the workload of employees and adjust as necessary. This might involve hiring additional staff during peak periods or redistributing tasks to ensure a fair and manageable workload.

10 Strategies for Self-Care to Combat Burnout

Self-care is not enough to combat HR burnout, but it is essential. Self-care plays a crucial role in preventing and managing burnout, especially for HR professionals who often prioritize the wellbeing of others over their own.

While transforming work toward a more human-centered (meaning, more mental health, wellness, and wellbeing) workplace can take time, self-caring can be a more immediate way to manage the symptoms and root causes.

Here are ten effective self-care strategies:

  1. Set Clear Boundaries: Establish and maintain clear boundaries between work and personal life. This includes setting specific work hours, avoiding checking work emails or messages outside of these hours, and learning to say no to additional responsibilities when you are already stretched thin.

  2. Prioritize Sleep: Ensure you get adequate and quality sleep. Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress and negatively impact mental health. Establish a regular sleep routine, create a restful environment, and avoid screens before bedtime.

  3. Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Exercise is a powerful stress reliever. It does not have to be intense; even a daily walk, yoga, or light stretching can significantly impact mental and physical wellbeing.

  4. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking a few moments to be present can reduce stress and enhance focus and clarity.

  5. Maintain a Healthy Diet: Nutritional choices affect mental health. Choose foods that provide the energy and nutrients needed to cope with stress.

  6. Cultivate a Support Network: Maintain strong relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Sharing your experiences and concerns with people you trust can provide emotional support and perspective.

  7. Take Time for Hobbies and Interests: Engage in activities outside work that you enjoy. Whether it is reading, gardening, painting, or playing an instrument, hobbies can provide a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

  8. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Recognize that experiencing stress and burnout is a normal response to challenging situations, not a sign of weakness.

  9. Seek Professional Help When Needed: If you struggle to manage stress or burnout, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide strategies to cope with burnout and address any underlying issues.

  10. Regular Breaks and Vacations: Take short breaks during the workday and ensure you use your vacation time. Time away from work can help you relax and return with renewed energy and perspective.

Implementing these self-care strategies can help HR professionals and others to manage stress, prevent burnout, and maintain overall wellbeing. It is important to remember that self-care is not a one-time activity but a continuous practice that should be integrated into your daily life.

Moving Forward

It is vital to acknowledge that combating burnout is an ongoing journey, both for people (everyone, including HR) and organizations. The strategies outlined in this article provide a roadmap, but real change comes from a continuous commitment to these practices.

Here are some final thoughts to guide you forward:

  1. Collective Responsibility: Addressing burnout is not solely the responsibility of individual people or the organization but a shared commitment. Organizations must create supportive environments, and people should actively engage in self-care practices.

  2. Cultivating Awareness: Regularly assess and be aware of the signs of burnout in yourself and others. Early recognition can lead to quicker interventions and prevent more severe outcomes.

  3. Embracing Flexibility and Adaptability: The world of work is constantly evolving, and our approaches to wellbeing must evolve too. Be open to new strategies and methods to enhance mental health and wellbeing.

  4. Investing in Mental Health: Both people and organizations should view mental health as an essential investment. This includes dedicating time, resources, and effort towards maintaining and improving mental health.

  5. Prioritizing Communication: Open, honest, and empathetic communication can break down the stigma surrounding burnout. It encourages a culture where seeking help and taking time for self-care are normalized.

  6. Recognizing the Value of HR Professionals: Organizations should acknowledge the critical role HR professionals play, especially in challenging times. Their wellbeing is intrinsically linked to the overall health of the organization.

  7. Continuous Learning and Improvement: Stay informed about new research and strategies related to burnout and mental health. Encourage ongoing education and training in these areas.

  8. Building Resilience: Focus on building personal and organizational resilience. This includes developing coping mechanisms, fostering a supportive community, and maintaining a positive outlook.

  9. Celebrating Progress: Recognize and celebrate the steps taken towards reducing burnout, no matter how small. Acknowledging progress can be a powerful motivator for continued effort.

  10. Looking to the Future with Optimism: Finally, approach the future with hope and optimism. By working together and prioritizing mental health, we can create more sustainable, fulfilling, and human-centric workplaces.

Integrating these strategies into our daily lives and organizational cultures will pay off. It is about creating an environment where taking care of mental health is as natural and essential as any other aspect of our wellbeing. As we continue to navigate the complexities of modern work life, let us commit to making burnout prevention a priority, fostering a world where everyone can thrive both professionally and personally.

We are powering the future of HR!

Hacking HR is the fastest-growing global community of people leaders and professionals interested in all things at the intersection of people, organizations, innovation, transformation, workplace and workforce, and more. We deliver value through hundreds of events a year, community engagement opportunities, learning programs, (soon) our certificate programs, and more. Join our community platform, the Hacking HR LAB. Click here.


Document Map

Get more content like this in your Inbox

Email is required


Share the Article

on every platform


Related Posts