Stress is a killer (sometimes literally) in the workplace, and HR managers are some of the most stressed employees of all. A recent survey found that HR managers topped the list of occupations most likely to take time off due to stress, above shop floor workers, doctors, and IT managers. Furthermore, stress does not discriminate based on income. Higher earners thought their colleagues do not appreciate the stress and workload they handle, while lower earners thought they are paid too little for the stress they are put under.
There are plenty of guides on the Internet which can talk about how HR can help manage employee stress in the workplace, such as this one from Undercover Recruiter. But preventing stress is better than managing stress, and HR managers have to know what stress and burnout look like and are caused by in order to help mitigate the rise of stress. By knowing the key symptoms of burnout, perhaps they can help prevent themselves from falling victim as well.
The first thing to understand is that while “stress” and “burnout” are often used interchangeably and the two are linked, they are not the same thing. Stress is a natural reaction to tensions within the workplace as we adapt to changing, negative circumstances. Most people become more excitable and active. Stress may be negative, but it is created out of the positive belief that if we do things correctly, we can get out of this temporary workplace jam.
But no matter how hard you try, you find yourself more and more trapped in the quagmire of rising responsibilities, angry workers, and challenges in your domestic life. That is when burnout starts to set in. If you are never going to get out of this jam, why bother? What is the point? You become detached, depressed, and unmotivated.
There is no way to entirely prevent stress in the workplace. But burnout is the result of prolonged, accumulated stress which workers, especially managers, brush off by saying that they are fine. But then one day it turns out they are not fine and it can lead a major collapse in productivity.
Take Time for Yourself
If burnout is the result of prolonged, accumulated stress, then you have to prevent stress from accumulating in the first place. But for HR managers who face an ever increasing workload and demands from both workers below and management above, that may feel impossible.
Demanding time for yourself starts with yourself. Some HR managers try to set an open door policy, but think about setting a closed door policy. Close your door for an hour or two each day, do not check your emails or answer your phone, and focus on yourself instead of others. If you do not have an office, move away from your cubicle and work somewhere so that people cannot find you easily.
This does not mean that you spend that hour or two goofing around. But instead of running frantically around trying to put out the latest HR fire, you focus on the actual long-term assignments that you keep putting off, like looking for apartment rentals. They will not linger in the back of your mind and cause additional stress.
Do What You Can
We often think of high-stress jobs as jobs which assign a lot of responsibilities, but a research study of stress in the workplace reported by Fortune indicates that a lack of control is the real cause of stress. As HR managers, we can often find ourselves in a position where we empathize with a worker’s plight, but lack the power to do anything about it. We feel helpless as another cog in the machine and get stressed out from it.
You can talk with management about enacting policies which give yourself and workers more autonomy and flexibility, but the real challenge towards accepting that you are not always in control is to change your mentality. Instead of focusing on what you cannot change, look at what you have changed. Even something like listening to a worker complain about a policy and empathizing with them can do a lot for them and by extension for you.
Keep Work at Work
HR managers are often expected to be on-call 24/7, especially because we can always be contacted through our phones. But you do not want to be the guy on “vacation” who is taking calls and emails while on break. It hurts your social relationships, prevents you from properly recharging, and leads to more stress buildup and eventual burnout.
Just as you should set a closed door policy at work, look to set guidelines on when you cannot expect to be contacted. You may still have to deal with emergencies at odd hours as an HR manager. But by knowing when you are truly free from your responsibilities, you give yourself a chance to recharge and establish control over your life.