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Are HR leaders blind to the burnout in their own back yard?

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While COVID-19 means that HR has finally taken its rightful place as a key function of any business, which is fantastic recognition for the profession, it is also demanding a huge amount from those on the front line.

They’ve worked wonders over the past year and three quarters, rising to a myriad challenges, but the pressure seems relentless. HR leaders, who are fully aware of the need to support their organisations’ wider workforce, can sometimes be blinkered from what’s happening in their own back yard.

Day-in day-out coaching and advising HR professionals, I’m seeing that those in more junior positions are simply not equipped to handle the stress and strains of the role, nor do they have the skills to deal with increasingly complex and unknown situations.

One standalone HR advisor recently said to me: “Everyone is looking at me to come up with the answers, but we don’t even know what the questions are.”


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HR professionals are telling me that they are working long hours, being expected to ‘just get on with it,’ while feeling under-equipped to manage the highs and lows of this rapidly changing environment – like finding their way in the dark without a torch, map or phone.

These issues range from the fluctuating questions about adapting to COVID restrictions in the workplace, remote working challenges, hiring from a shrinking pool of talent post-Brexit, managing complex employment disputes as tribunal applications continue to soar, navigating a spiralling mental health crisis, supporting employees through bereavement and managing the impact on colleagues of potential restructure and redundancy. They are so busy resolving the needs of other employees, that they may be forgotten about themselves.

I believe that the bottom line is all leaders have a responsibility to their junior people which is currently not being fulfilled. It is not acceptable that HR people are stressed and overworked just because ‘everyone in the profession is’.

There is a deep-seated problem here that urgently needs to be addressed. Without supporting our HR colleagues we are at risk of letting down the businesses at a time when HR can shine but more importantly not fulfilling our duty of care.

The old adage that no one can pour from an empty cup has never been so pertinent. How many times can a colleague say that they are too stressed, don’t have enough time or are working day and night before this becomes a genuine risk to both the business and more importantly, the individual?

While the challenges that the world is currently throwing at the profession may not stop, HR leaders need to create an opportunity to press pause and allow the junior HR colleagues to breathe, reflect and learn to ensure that they have the resilience to continue to support the human resources in their business.

By equipping more junior HR professionals with specific skills and resources they need and also continuously nurturing the resilience they need to cope with a whole range of unknown situations, we must ensure that HR lives up to the important new role with which it has been presented.

Sandra Porter is author of How to be an HR Superstar and managing director of HR Dept