· 2 min read · Features

To look after others you need to look after yourself


In the first part of his article on avoiding burnout during the recession, Dave Ulrich, HR magazine's Most Influential 2009 thinker, focused on how HR professionals should take care of themselves physically and emotionally. In this second part he looks at social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing

Organisations, by design, accomplish work by bringing together individuals into collective action. Socially, we need to surround ourselves with people we trust, with people who care about us and those who share our burdens. While it is tempting to cut staff meetings and forums because of time and cost pressures, sometimes coming together to talk about the challenges we face and hearing others' experiences offers not only ideas but a social support network for moving forward. High-performing teams start by being high-relating teams, where team members care for and nurture each other. HR leaders and professionals attend to the personal needs they see among their peers. They customise ways to connect to and support each other, by listening, using humour, or being a professional friend.

Taking care of yourself often comes from having friends at work with whom you can share burdens, successes and failures. The collective catharsis of common experience lightens the load by sharing it. We have found it is also very helpful to have strong social support outside of work where no one cares about your latest career successes or failures. I try to play basketball three days a week with neighbours who couldn't care less about my professional identity, and me theirs. We enjoy the social bonds that come from playing together without the burden of professional duties. Having family and friends who care for you means taking time to connect with people who do not work with you.

A chief HR officer who felt a need to rejuvenate his HR professionals, but was constrained by costs, held an all-HR teleconference for one hour. He was able to share with HR professionals worldwide how the company was doing; then there was about 30 minutes' training on HR transformation followed by a question-and-answer period. While not as impactful as face-to-face training, HR professionals felt cared for and they were able to learn from the teleconference how to deal more effectively with the challenges they faced.

Research shows that learning agility is a key predictor of leadership success. Learning agility comes from being inquisitive, experimenting and working to improve. As an HR professional, you might look for repeatable patterns rather than being bogged down in detail. Seeing how your work fits into a longer-term, big picture helps you understand why things are happening.  Managing your calendar (who you meet with, how much time you spend on issues, where you meet, how you meet) also helps you focus on what matters most. Maintaining a sense of your career options both inside and outside your organisation helps you have a sense of choice.  Simplifying your work by focusing on those activities that you can control and that have greater impact also helps you rationalise your work.

Finally, as you work it is important to have a sense of meaning or purpose from what you do.  Meaning comes when we see outcomes of our work that have an impact on others. We build on our strengths that strengthen others; we are more interested in other service than self service; and we find ways to give back rather than take.  

Sometimes a sense of contribution comes by serving others; at other times it comes by being clear about what matters most to us. Having a strong moral code based on values gives you comfort even when things go wrong.  Spirituality at work is not just about religious worship but about having a strong sense of values that overcome daily hassles.

Being a caregiver is not easy. It requires that you are able to serve others and help them through difficult times. But giving to others often starts with taking care of yourself. As you take care of your physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual self, you will find capacity to help others through the same processes.

Sometimes the most strategic HR roles begin with oneself.