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Should HR have supervision?  

As a profession, those of us in HR roles offer support, advice and compassion to anyone who needs it in the organisation, but when it comes to ourselves we can often struggle to find the same level of support. 

The pandemic has made this disparity even more apparent. It’s been hard to escape the ‘who’s supporting HR?' narrative on social media with many examples of people who have suffered exhaustion, burnout and left the profession over the last two years due to this lack of support.

With stress-related absence in HR reported to have increased by 70% according to a recent survey from absence management software developer E-days, is it time to look for a new way to support HR?

One potential solution that is often discussed in HR circles is whether HR should have ‘supervision’ in the same way that counsellors, therapists and coaches do?

So, what is supervision, and how can it help?

Unlike management supervision, in this context supervision refers to a regular meeting with a trained, often external, ‘supervisor’ to address workplace challenges in an impartial, confidential, and non-judgemental setting.

It provides a safe space for reflection on performance, for offloading and managing emotional responses to situations. The supervisor may offer problem-solving techniques, challenge limiting beliefs and thinking errors, and provide professional tools to sustain positive wellbeing and aid professional development. 

In healthcare, supervision is central to the provision of safe and effective practice and the prevention of mistakes and problems in the workplace. On an organisational level it has been linked to improved staff retention, higher levels of engagement and better mental health. 

In coaching, research suggests that supervision aids professional development, ensures ethical and professional boundaries are maintained and leads to better service delivery. The Global Code of Ethics for professional coaches has recently been updated to strengthen their stance, now stating coaches ‘will’ undertake regular supervision. 

So, what about HR? 

An increasing part of the work of HR is to support employee wellbeing at all levels in an organisation. We coach, we listen, we advise and step in where needed. We deal with high-pressure, high-risk situations with great competence and see people at their most exposed and vulnerable. Handling these situations sensitively and effectively is what many of us are very good at. 

We regularly deal with distressing situations, mental health issues, suicidal employees or even death in service.

We are then tasked with any arrangements and support required for the workforce. While this is part of our role, these situations do have an impact and may trigger an emotional reaction in us that can be difficult to manage. 

With an average length of service of less than two years, according to LinkedIn data and increasing absence rates, anything that can be done to support and retain HR professionals is surely a great investment, saving on recruitment, retention and absence costs in the longer term. 

If HR, as a profession, is to continue to raise its reputation and profile, regular supervision is not only a great starting point but could prove fundamental to supporting professional development, maintenance of ethics and boundaries and increased resilience. 

So, should HR have supervision? What do you think?  

Lisa Tomlinson is founder and CEO of the Limelight People Group