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Lucinda Carney



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Five tips for HR during the most stressful ‘Stress Awareness Month’ on record

This year’s Stress Awareness Month has come in the midst of a global pandemic – and many HRs are feeling the strain. What steps can be taken to better cope?

With the coronavirus lockdown having been extended for at least a further three weeks, it’s safe to say that Stress Awareness Month 2020 has been a very stressful period for many.

With no certain end in sight, the novelty of working from home and homeschooling the kids is wearing off – and that is for those of us lucky enough not to be on the front line.

The lack of perceived control being imposed on us during lockdown may lead to an increased risk of depression, with the healthy or unhealthy habits we cultivate during lockdown likely to make the difference between surviving and thriving. 

HR teams are under a huge amount of pressure to interpret and manage the new laws that are being introduced with the evolving pandemic. Many businesses have needed to furlough their staff, doing the best they can with limited and evolving government information. The influx of advice from non HR-related ‘experts’ has added to the strain for many, putting HR professionals in a moral conflict without the clarity of case law to fall back on. 

C-suite execs might be urging HR to cut costs and benefits to future proof the business. However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds as it introduces an increased risk of employment tribunals down the line if employment rights are not respected.

HR professionals have been stuck in the middle trying to do the right thing by the law, their business, their people and, not to mention, their own family. 

As much as we like to strive for perfection, at times like these it’s not always possible to please all of the people all of the time.

Avoiding the pandemic panic

To help HR practitioners in this challenging time, I’ve outlined five tips below for better managing stress levels while navigating through so many unknowns.

1. Reach out to your HR network – you are not alone

This month has been unprecedented, everyone is learning together as the situation evolves. You are not alone, so reach out to others in your team or the global HR community to gain a different perspective.

Now could be the time to invest in your social media community to share your challenges and recognise that you are definitely not alone. As each week passes, we’re learning more about what works and what doesn’t, so seeking (and sharing) advice from others is one very good and reassuring way to prepare. 

2. Remind yourself (and others) that you are doing your best in an impossible situation

No one is expecting perfection. Many in the business community are maintaining that it’s business as normal, but this simply isn’t true. There’s nothing normal about our current situation. No matter what industry you work in, or your role in the organisation, everyone is operating under great professional and personal pressure, working from home and looking after children whilst ensuring the safety of at-risk family members.

Priorities have to be allocated and so demands cannot always be met. HR is being tugged this way and that with requests coming from every which way. As much as we like to strive for perfection, at times like these it’s not always possible to please all of the people all of the time. It’s impossible to predict what might happen next so attempting to prepare for every possible situation is ill-advised. This could only lead to a professional burnout for those of us at the helm. 

3. Don’t be pressured into doing things in a hurry that you will regret

With daily government press conferences providing updates, it can be difficult to be confident in making accurate decisions quickly that will stand firm in the coming days and weeks. Be sure to assess the latest advice from experts when putting HR and businesses processes in place.

Since the business landscape is so fluid and unpredictable, processes should be equally flexible and adaptable to any unforeseen changes. Acting on a whim for the sake of being timely can only backfire.

Although you may want to provide as much certainty for your workforce as possible, it’s hardly going to inspire confidence if the organisation is constantly making U-turns due to some hasty and uninformed decision making. Carefully considered guidance is much more valuable and can help spread an element of calm and reassurance that reduces stresses and worries for all concerned.

HR has a tendency to ‘be strong’ almost to a degree of martyrdom – now is not a time for this.

4. Prioritise your own wellbeing and ensure that you embrace the things that make you feel good  – friends, family, exercise (and chocolate)

It’s never been so important to focus on your own health and wellbeing. To work well you have to live well. It can be difficult to walk away from work when your home doubles as your office, but it’s vital to working healthily. For example, setting a designated workspace within the house that you can pack up and work away from at the end of the day can help to physically distance yourself from any professional stresses.  

Overworking yourself can only lead to burnout, especially at a time of increased pressure and stress. Take breaks to relax and step away. Our normal working routines may have been thrown out the window, but that’s no excuse to adapt and introduce new ones.

Get dressed for work – not just so you don’t get caught out on your webcam, but also because it’ll put you in the right mindset and encourage a more productive work day. And, at the end of the working day, move around, spend time with your family, go for a run  – break up the monotony of being stuck indoors. 

Imagine navigating this crisis without the expert insight of HR! That’s not something anyone wants to have to do, so keep yourself healthy, and play hard so you can work hard too.

5. Ask for help – who can help or listen to you? 

HR has a tendency to ‘be strong’ almost to a degree of martyrdom – now is not a time for this. Be sure to turn to those around you, from family and friends to managers and colleagues. We’re all in the same boat and having someone reach out to you for help can be as reassuring as asking for it. 

Maintaining a physical distance doesn’t mean you have to be socially distant. Remember that there are other channels of communication besides email. Pick up the phone, arrange a skype call. Communication has never been so important.

The majority of us are working from home and we’ll all have our own personal and inventive ways of keeping sane and managing stress. So just ask. How are your friends juggling childcare with their job? What’s working for your manager when it comes to prioritising the to do list? If you have to care for a sick family member, don’t panic: is there anyone on your team that can help with the workload and what processes can you implement in the meantime to keep things running ship shape? 

Whilst work can be a real cause for stress, well-managed, it can be a source of sanity too. But remember, in all things during a global pandemic, health and wellbeing always come first.

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