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Early-career HR professionals struggling more with mental health

Less experienced HR professionals are struggling more with their mental health than more experienced practitioners, according to research from the CIPD.

The CIPD's People Profession 2022 report found 51% of HR professionals with less than five years experience were able to describe their mental health as good, compared with 59% for people in the job longer than five years. 

On the whole, almost a third (31%) of practitioners said their mental health was negatively affected by their work. 

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Jamie Styles, director of people and culture at digital mental healthcare provider Koa Health, said an open dialogue around mental health will help HR professionals and employees.

He told HR magazine: “We’re living in increasingly turbulent economic and political times. People are still grappling with the mental health impacts of the pandemic and now face the worst squeeze on incomes since records began. Businesses must continue to encourage open dialogue about mental health.

"The benefits associated with these conversations allow us to better cope with challenges and boost resilience. Employee resource groups purely focused on mental health create a safe space for people to talk and share their personal experiences in dealing with their own wellbeing."

Rebecca Peters, research adviser at the CIPD and report author, said businesses have to make employees' mental health a priority.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “There could be many variables at play when it comes to the physical and mental wellbeing of practitioners. The findings do highlight that people teams should be considering the health and wellbeing of their own employees and having regular check-ins and take a holistic approach to wellbeing.

"We know that mental ill-health is one of the leading causes of sickness absence, so it’s not something that businesses can afford to drop off the agenda. People teams should practise good self-care, develop healthy work habits and design good quality jobs that supports an individual’s mental health.”

Michelle Reid, people and operations director at the Institute of Occupational Medicine, said the nature of the HR role can lead practitioners to feel isolated. 

She told HR magazine: "I can understand why people in the profession struggle. Mainly it’s because of the type of role we are in. When everything is going well everyone else takes the credit, when it’s not HR tends to be in the hot seat and has to pick up the pieces or get the blame.

"So at times it can feel challenging and isolating – but when you recognise that your contribution supports company success you are able to appreciate how rewarding your role can be.

"Reflecting on my own experience, having support in the form of other HR practitioners, a coach and mentor is definitely helpful. A safe space to talk, gain insight and bounce ideas off. Keeping up your resilience and not letting your inner imposter take over is certainly key."

Learning and development was seen as a major priority for HR professionals, with 89% engaging in some form of L&D in 2021. 

This lead to great personal development within the industry, as 61% said they had to upskill themselves; 34% did so in response to immediate business needs, while 22% said their development was focused on gaining longer-term skills.

Job satisfaction was high among HR professionals, as 79% said that their career expectations had either been met or exceeded. 

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese added: “People professionals remain at the centre of supporting their organisations through periods of immense challenge and change. During the pandemic, organisations relied heavily on HR to make tough decisions, and we find ourselves in yet more ongoing uncertainty with a tight labour market and the cost of living crisis.

"In the face of great challenges, people professionals have consistently stepped up. It’s fantastic to see the continued commitment to learning and development and the ongoing efforts around professionalisation, and the positive contribution to organisation’s overall strategy. However, it’s crucial we also take time to look after ourselves and our own wellbeing, especially in the current context we face."

The CIPD surveyed 1,496 people professionals in between April and May 2022.