Workplace Wellbeing

4 Ways HR Leaders Can Transform Burnout Into Sustained Enthusiasm

If you’re in HR, you have a lot on your shoulders these days—and you're also in a unique position to improve employees’ lives. To do this, it’s essential to make your mental health a priority.

Written by
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Shannon Maynard
Certified Professional Coach
Clinically reviewed by
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    HR professionals have a lot on their shoulders these days. We’re in the midst of the Great Resignation, with employees quitting their jobs in record numbers each month, leaving an increasing number of roles to fill as the war for talent keeps heating up. 

    There’s also the Hidden Resignation, as many employees who are choosing to stay are burned out and disengaged. Gallup found that in the US, employee engagement dropped in 2021 for the first time in a decade, with only around a third of employees saying they’re actively engaged in their work. 

    And, according to the Mental Health Index, mental health is at an all-time low as PTSD, depression, and addiction soar to new highs.  

    Employee wellbeing is essential to workplace engagement and performance, and this includes taking care of your own mental health. HR professionals are in a unique position to improve their employees' lives, and to do this, it’s essential to make self care a priority.

    Here are four ways you can begin transforming burnout into the sustained enthusiasm you need to engage, support, and impact your employees. 

    Strategically prioritize and set realistic expectations

    Does your job feel harder today than it did a few years ago? If so, that’s likely because you’re playing an even more critical role within your organization that is rapidly expanding. 

    You’re expected to craft a healthy workplace culture, improve your employees’ wellbeing, launch successful DEIB initiatives, attract and engage top talent, backfill roles at a faster rate than ever before, and gracefully handle layoffs. 

    It’s a lot, and you likely care deeply about your people, making every aspect seem equally important. But there are only so many hours in a day and it’s critical to ruthlessly prioritize in a strategic way. 

    At the beginning of each workday (or at the end, if that works better for you), make or update a list of everything that’s on your plate. Writing it all down can immediately make it all feel more manageable, and using a tool like Trello makes it easy to move things around. 

    Now, create the criteria for ordering this list. This could include things like company OKRs or business objectives, true urgency, deadlines, and impact. Identify the tasks that deserve your focus, and then identify anything you can delegate—and delegate, clearly communicating what needs to be done. 

    Managing your workload in this way helps you focus on the things you can control, and let go of what you can’t. 

    Lastly, as you begin a new workday, be realistic about what you can accomplish and decide to welcome those inevitable things that will come up. Setting realistic goals and expectations go a long way in maintaining your enthusiasm. 

    Establish firm work-life boundaries

    Boundary setting has never been easy, and it became even more difficult with the shift to remote work. Suddenly, lines between work and home were blurred, people began working all hours, and employees turned to HR for support dealing with everything from uncertainty to unexpected crises.  

    HR leaders became invisible first responders, and because they care about people—a lot—many are now suffering from compassion fatigue, defined in the 1980s as the “cost of caring for others in emotional pain.”

    This is why it’s critical to establish firm work-life boundaries. We all teach our coworkers how to treat us and what to expect from us. If you respond to email and instant messages at all hours and while you’re on vacation, people will come to expect this. And if this describes you, it’s never too late to change this.  

    Set a hard start and stop to your day and communicate this to your coworkers, manager, and direct reports. Schedule mental health breaks on your calendar throughout the day, to give yourself time to reset and recharge, and get outside if you can to clear your head. 

    Take vacation

    This may seem impossible, with all the work that needs to be done, but you can have more of an impact when you’ve had a break to regain perspective and recharge. And a proper break often looks like a full week off, not just a few days. 

    Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer says, “Put your own oxygen mask on and make sure that you draw the line. Work will fill the capacity you give it; you can work 24/7 in this job.” 

    Besides, if you’re never taking time off, you’re modeling this for your teams, making it more likely that they’ll burn out. 

    Also, when you go on vacation, be on vacation. Communicate ahead of time that you’re planning to completely unplug and will be unreachable. 

    Develop healthy morning and evening routines

    Prior to the pandemic, the majority of us commuted to work. This gave us time to ease into our day, and even more importantly, time at the end of the day to process and decompress on our way home. 

    If you’re still working from home and tend to begin your workday feeling rushed and already behind, consider creating a morning routine. 

    Think about what you need to do before beginning the workday to be in a healthy headspace. This may include eating a proper breakfast—at the kitchen table, not at your desk—going for even a short walk outside, spending a few moments doing some deep breathing or meditation, journaling, and working out. 

    After a full day of listening to, empathizing with, and caring for employees, you could be carrying a lot of emotion, and there’s a good chance a lot of it isn’t yours. Intentionally create and commit to an evening routine that can help you shed some of that emotional weight.

    Be honest about how you’re feeling

    It’s okay to not be okay, and right now, so many HR professionals are not okay. And yet, day after day, they put on a smile because they think that’s what employees need. 

    Authenticity has become an indicator of high-performing teams, and these teams are more likely to express their negative emotions at work. 

    The reason? If employees aren’t expressing all of their emotions, including the negative ones, it means they’re suppressing them. According to the Harvard Business Review, this suppression is “cognitively expensive” and “leaves less mental firepower for doing the work.” 

    So, lead the way by being honest about how you’re feeling, when you’re stressed, burned out, and not okay. This can help you release them, open the door to asking for help, and create a  space for all employees to embrace this level of honesty as well. 

    Get your copy of this guide to learn the key changes you can begin making today to help your employees overcome burnout at work.

    About the Author
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    Shannon Maynard
    Certified Professional Coach

    Shannon is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Spring Health, and has 15 years of marketing experience. She is also a Certified Professional Coach, Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner, introvert, and HSP. She loves writing about introversion and mental health, and is a regular contributor for Introvert, Dear and Highly Sensitive Refuge.

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