Updated: Sep 1
Ask any person working in HR how their day has been and one of the first things that pop into their minds is "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you". This is the ongoing tongue and cheek phrase amongst HR professionals which paints a picture that there is often so much on their shoulders.
The level of confidentiality that comes with the role and being the middle party between senior leadership and the employees can certainly be a lot of pressure. It's also not a consistent role in terms of how much one person within the HR sector will be responsible for. Research tells us that it can be one person overseeing a few hundred employees or one person overseeing one thousand employees. Some work on their own and some will have a team.
The recent global pandemic has really thrown many types of business organisations into the world of the unknown. Trying to figure out the legalities of furlough, policies and procedures of working from home, reviews of contracts, employees wellbeing, as well as many other situations with the HR lead smack bang in the middle of it all.
So, it is no wonder that the mental health for HR professionals can be difficult to maintain. I've spent the last few weeks looking into this and gathered some great feedback from up to 50 different HR professionals. There are many reasons and situations that can be mentally tough, here are the TOP 10
1. Feelings of Loneliness and Isolation When you are privy to a lot of personal and confidential information it's not surprising that it can come with feelings of isolation and loneliness. That can be a lot of pressure for anyone and not many people that you can open up to about it. It can also be difficult for HR professionals to make friends at work due to the nature of the job. I remember many times being at previous work events where other employees would say 'not in front of HR' or 'are HR around before I tell you this story?'
2. Expected To Produce Miracles The turnaround time that can be expected after decisions have been made without HR involvement can lead to long hours and will simply cut into personal time to get the job done. Very much like the statement I made earlier about one person being responsible for many. An article published by the Guardian on the 4th May 2020 states that HMRC confirmed 6.3 million people in the UK were temporarily laid off across 800,000 organisations. There wasn't much time to plan for that.
3. Pressure To Have All The Answers Often many of the leadership team will lean on HR and ask all sorts of questions that they are expected to know. They are not lawyers although expected to know about employment law or they get asked about medical information or mental health when that simply isn't part of the job even though it is becoming increasingly more common. It can be difficult for a HR professional to simply say 'I don't know'.
4. Lack Of Involvement In Decision Making If the ideology of the company and the HR function aren't aligned it can cause a lot of communication and facilitation challenges. Often feedback can be that senior leadership aren't involving HR professionals in the planning and decision making process which is not effective as then it can lead to bigger problems or ones that could even cause litigation. If HR are represented at senior meetings or on the board this can be improved a great deal.
5. 70% Of Their Time Facilitating Not So Nice Processes. Let's face it, situations like letting people go due to misconduct or because of financial reasons, like redundancies being made, is not a nice day at the office. HR professionals that are great at what they do have a lot of empathy and these can be mental challenging times because of the emotions that are expressed from others, during facilitation of these changes. They get their satisfaction from seeing the company achieve goals and seeing people grow through the company from induction to promotion to name a few. The main aim for a HR professional, whilst they can be empathetic, is to ensure that decisions and procedures are fair and right.
6. Don't Feel Comfortable Letting Others Know They Are Phased Being a HR professional is often about having a lot of diplomacy in delivering hard messages. The main challenge then can mean that they hold back their own emotions and without many people to talk to this can lead to suppressing and bottling up emotions. From the perspective of a counsellor, emotions that are not processed don’t just simply disappear. Feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness, frustration and disappointment, we tend to tell ourselves, through our inner critic, that these emotions are wrong as well as not to be shown. It's no wonder they are very rarely acknowledged and therefore not spoken of. Think of it this way, we are much more likely to tell someone that we are happy or excited because our inner voice tells us that these are ‘normal’ feelings to express and share. Feelings that are suppressed are known to contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. I would urge anyone affected by the processes and events over the last few weeks or months to speak to someone.
7. Level Of Workload The amount of work that a HR professional will take on is a lot and can run into personal lives. I certainly know very valued HR professionals that look after global employees. Starting when Europe wakes at 7 am and not finishing conversations in Australia until 10 pm at night. This can often be overlooked and once a person has started to do this level of work the expectation can be for it to continue. Burnout is a very real situation for many. They may tell an organisation 'yes', although it is up to organisations to put themselves in that person’s shoes and take responsibility for what they expect. Setting healthy boundaries is a priority for mental health. Often HR professionals want to ensure ‘fairness’ for others whilst putting themselves and what they do to the bottom of the priority list.
8. Not Feeling Valued Due to the nature of the work the HR lead has to manage, they can be one of the lat roles to receive open recognition. Many professionals that have been recognised also felt that sometimes when they had been openly recognised or received awards, it felt like a back handed compliment, for example, for a number of redundancies being facilitated or getting the organisation back to financial stability. Let’s remember all the work they also do to get the right people through the door and are often the start point for a person’s career. That would be a much better reason to reward them and thank them for.
9. HR As A Business Function Holds Up Other Areas Although Last To Receive Funding The HR budget will include funds allocated to hiring, salaries, benefits, training, succession planning, workforce engagement, and employee wellness planning. That is a lot of areas to cover for the employees. It can also be one of the first business functions to have funds or resources removed when these funds can seriously affect the whole culture of the organisation. Take hiring for example, if funds and resources are cut then the whole retention figures can suffer. Top consultants in recruitment will recommend a minimum of three interviews to have a successful selection process. When funds are cut then this can lead to recruiting the wrong people or having people join that don’t feel the company matches a culture they were looking for. Recent figures surrounding mental health, as another example, show that there will be a return of £5 for every £1 that is spent on mental health actions within the workplace, although many businesses are still reluctant to spend on this area.
10. People In The Company Don't Understand The Function Of HR Many people within the company simply don’t understand the HR role which can result in requests from leaders to take ownership of situations regarding people management, when it is the manager's responsibility to manage their people. This comes back to managers being fully trained and competent to lead people. The best case scenario is that people managers fully understand and grow in experience from managing their employees with HR support rather than having the HR professional to facilitate situations for them.
Many of the HR superstars that I spoke to as part of the research really do love the work that they do, the challenge really is in finding the balance and finding healthy ways to explore the high emotions that can come with many of the situations discussed.
Spare a thought for what many of them have had to go through in this unprecedented time and start to look at how to improve some of the areas so that they can feel a lot more valued as well as having better mental health.
For any HR professionals that are struggling and looking for online counselling or coaching please feel free to reach out to me. Melissa Curran at the Modern Mind Group - It will help to talk and let those emotions out.
For workplace mental health programmes, training and consultation please contact Modern Mind Group . The creators of The Canary Concept - 8 Key Principles To Improve Workplace Mental Health - 'canaries only sing when they're in good environments'. A CPD Accredited Training Provider.