4 ways to combat burnout in HR teams

Charlotte Penny looks at the ways HR leaders can reduce stress in their people


Burnout at work can impact anyone, and HR and people teams are no exception.
One positive result of the pandemic is that 72% of HR leaders say it’s helped them demonstrate their value and increase understanding of HR’s role, with 59% saying they’ve become more influential as a result. However, this has left HR teams spinning more plates than ever. In fact, as many as 60% of HR leaders noticed an increase in their workload during the pandemic. This has put HR teams at an increased risk of burnout as a result, coined ‘pandemic burnout’.
More widely, a staggering 52% of employees experienced burnout in 2021, up 43% year-on-year. In reality, that means half of your HR team have already or are experiencing burnout. With your high-performing and most engaged HR employees being more at risk. 
57% of the C-suite still see HR as a purely administrative function
So it’s something that must be tackled not just because supporting employee wellbeing is the right thing to do, but because burnout can also impact overall productivity and business performance.
So, what is burnout and what can HR leaders do to remedy it in their own teams before it takes its toll?
What is pandemic burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pandemic burnout is burnout caused by factors relating to coronavirus.
If you’re ready to tackle burnout in your HR team, first you need to know the signs and be able to spot them. Some of these signs include:
General symptoms of stress and anxiety
Sleeping issues, such as exhaustion or insomnia
Social issues – including avoiding gatherings or meetings
Behavioural changes, such as a negative attitude towards co-workers
A decrease in productivity or performance
Low mood or emotional numbness.
While HR employees can take some time out to recover from extreme burnout, it’s also important to tackle the root causes.
1. Reduce the HR admin burden
One of the reasons HR experienced an increased workload during the pandemic was because their organisations simply weren’t prepared – and this included technology. In fact, 45% of HR leaders feel they weren’t fully equipped at the start of the pandemic, with more than a third (36%) seeing lack of technology investment as one of the most significant barriers.
As a result of the pandemic, many HR leaders are finally starting to invest more in HR tech, which is helping them transform their teams into a more strategic function. In fact, 82% of HR leaders say they had to scale their HR tech during the pandemic, so there’s certainly a much larger appetite for it as a result. However, just because HR now have more tech, doesn’t mean they’re feeling the full benefits yet. To clarify that, 63% of HR leaders say they’re not fully confident their technology is future-proofed enough.
If you’re planning on more integrated and future-proofed HR tech, this could help alleviate the admin burden further. To feel the full benefit though, it’s important to check your teams are skilled up and know exactly how this can help them to scale back on admin, so they can focus on what matters.
Ultimately, this will also support their wellbeing.
2. Make the remit clear
HR’s remit has crept up over the years and the days of it being a purely admin function is far behind us and this has been highlighted by the pandemic. However, there is still more education to do across the wider business about this more strategic role. Admin and strategic workloads have increased since the pandemic, according to 60% of HR leaders, yet 57% of the C-suite still see HR as a purely administrative function.
It means HR’s remit isn’t as clear as it could be, and the overwhelming amount of tasks the function is performing is likely contributing to burnout in the team. In addition, there seems to be some misalignment of understanding of the leading role played by HR by the C-suite. More than half of senior executives  say HR isn’t playing a leading role in operational excellence (62%), skilling and upskilling (55%) and company culture (54%).
Remarkably, HR leaders agree with the C-suite and recognise their own lack of leadership in these critically important areas. And, interestingly, senior leaders expect HR to lead more than HR themselves expect to, in all but two areas – skilling and upskilling and company culture – showing an expectation gap in the role of HR.
HR leaders must highlight to the C-suite and their teams the responsibilities they hold and defining these with the HR team is a good place to start.
By making the role of HR more transparent and by sharing the ways you support the organisation via a robust and clear strategy, it shows what HR should be responsible for and what sits outside of its scope.
Once this has been set out, it can be communicated, get the backing of the rest of the C-suite, and hopefully help to ease some of the pressure on HR teams.
3. Equip your team to become more resilient with the help of data
One of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace is change, which can lead to burnout. Over the past couple of years, HR leaders and their teams have faced so much change and have had to make quick decisions as a result to support their people.
Teams that had access to up-to-the-minute data they could trust were able to get insights faster, adapt more quickly and respond more speedily.
Ultimately, people data in HR drives both personal and business resilience in times of change. It gives HR teams the confidence that they have an accurate picture and equips them with the information needed to make decisions.
However, there’s still some way to go. At the moment, more than half (59%) of HR leaders don’t have the ability to spot future trends to help make future people related decisions. Gaining actionable insight from people analytics helps your team to be prepared for any changes and skilfully predict them before they happen. They’re key for helping both your HR employees and the C-suite make the right decisions for your people first time.
4. Increase awareness and recognition for your team
One of the major causes of burnout is feeling underappreciated. With 57% of C-suite executives seeing HR as mainly an administrative function, and only 34% of employees believing HR had become more responsive throughout the pandemic – it’s easy to see why HR may be feeling underappreciated right now.
HR leaders need to highlight their teams’ successes in contributing to the organisations’ people strategy. The team should feel rewarded and appreciated for their hard work and shouldn’t fade into the background when they’ve achieved so much for the organisation. Recognition could come through a specific platform, or when launching a new initiative, make it clear who led on it. Call out any rising stars during your leadership meetings with other C-suite execs to raise their profile.
Finally, sharing these successes in team meetings can be a good way to highlight their effort and show your appreciation. This is extremely important for a team that traditionally can stay out of the limelight but has such a big impact in the success of the organisation.
How else can you beat HR burnout?
Ultimately, HR employees aren’t immune to burnout. With the challenges HR have faced over the past couple of years, it would be completely understandable that HR are feeling burnt out – but it does need to be nipped in the bud. Burnout is personal to each individual and team and you need to ask people to find out what support they need from you and the organisation. As an HR leader, you’re better equipped than any other leader within the business to tackle burnout. Think about how you support employees through burnout outside of your HR team and what options are available to you as a manager to help them come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.
The statistics in this article come from: HR in the moment: The changing expectations and perceptions of HR 
Join the discussion on this important topic when TJ and Sage UK present a free webinar: Bouncing forward: How to support HR and people leaders build resilience and deliver results
Charlotte Penny is a content marketing executive at Sage People


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