Employee Motivation

6 Self-care tips for HR pros, leaders, and managers

Who helps the helpers? The people whose job is to make sure everybody in your organization is taken care of? 

We all know the old adage that you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping those around you. But when you’re in a role built around supporting others, it can be tough to put yourself first, or even realize when your needs aren’t being met. 

“It can be really really difficult to hold space for yourself and to show yourself the same kind of grace and kindness that I think we all really strive to offer to others,” said Allyson Tom, former VP of People & Culture at Blueboard, during a recent webinar about self-care for People leaders. 

People who work in HR are often highly empathetic. They care a lot about improving their colleagues' work lives. But constantly taking care of other people's needs can take a toll. A recent survey found that 98% of HR professionals say they're burned out, 94% have felt overwhelmed in the past six months, and 88% have dreaded work. 

On top of these disheartening stats, the sheer volume of crises HR has had to navigate these last few years is compounding those feelings of burnout, exhaustion, and even compassion fatigue

There's no getting around it: it's a tough time to work in HR. If everything here is hitting close to home, know there are steps you can take to make things better. 

To help you survive (and thrive) during particularly stressful times, we collected self-care tips and strategies from HR professionals in various roles, companies, and industries. We also pulled some insights from the recent webinar Blueboard hosted in partnership with Bravely on self-care for managers and People leaders.

You can watch that session on-demand here:

People professionals are particularly burnt out–and here’s why. 

Prioritizing their colleagues' needs over their own.

HR professionals are the "front-line emotional caregivers" in an organization. They serve as de facto therapists and cheerleaders, maintaining morale and helping their colleagues cope with stress. With all of this in mind, it's not surprising that most HR pros we spoke to said they struggle with prioritizing their own needs.

"I think it's pretty common for People professionals to put others first and not realize we're pouring from an empty cup," says Alyssa C., an HR professional at a mid-sized tech company.  

The sensitive nature of HR work can also complicate things.

"You are expected to be a pillar of strength for everyone," says Lauren M., a fractional head of HR for startups. "Matters are confidential and sensitive, so there's no one you can really confide in, especially if you are a one-person team working with executives who may not have time or have shown consent to being a vent person for you." 

Adds Penelope R., an HR professional at a small healthcare company: "It is difficult because we see so much confidential information, we advocate for employees behind the scenes, and it feels like a conflict of interest to advocate for ourselves. It is an awkward situation to be in."

Mass workplace transformation and global events.

HR pros have had to quickly figure out how to move their employees online while navigating the same transition themselves—in the middle of a pandemic and social unrest. Then there are the mass layoffs and exits. During the pandemic, millions of people were fired, furloughed, or quit their jobs, and HR has had to manage and respond to this rapid turnover. 

"The hybrid office setup is awesome, but it has complications," says Steph L., a senior HR consultant in the tech industry. "Employees want to work from all over the world, which is exciting, but also comes with more admin work, policy questions, and updates. There's a lot to figure out." 

Feeling pulled in too many directions.

No two days are the same in HR, so professionals often feel like they're doing two or three jobs in one. The constant shifts can make it hard for these folks to prioritize or focus. 

"A lot of people in HR/people do more than is 'expected' of them," says Victoria P., a director of people and culture at a small esports, betting, and gaming company. "There's a joke that if you're in HR, you're also a lawyer, a psychologist, an accountant, etc. The responsibility of HR to simultaneously advocate for the employee and represent the business is tremendous, and not everyone sees that."

"A lot of the HR clients I work with find themselves overwhelmed because they're the go-to for everything," adds Angela K., a Human Capital Consultant at a large technology and professional services company. "Often, questions or tasks are deferred to their department when folks are at capacity or don't know where to turn for support. It's hard to be the catch-all for everything."

Self-care for leaders: 6 tips for People professionals from People professionals 

For People professionals, meaningful, intentional self-care can be the difference between burning bright, or burning out. 

Have you heard the saying that if you don’t take the time tor rest, your body will pick it for you? This idea is critical to HR wellbeing. If you wait until you’re at your limit—or beyond it—to take a break, the professional and even personal consequences can be dire

But when you can build self-care into your daily and weekly routine, you can build resilience and ensure that you have the physical, mental, and emotional capacity to show up for your people when they need you most.

Here are a few real, albeit simple, self-care strategies recommended by our community of HR pros:

1. Set your boundaries.

Boundary-setting can take many different forms. It might look like logging off at a reasonable time, turning notifications off after work hours, or knowing when to delegate. "HR peeps are often asked to go above and beyond our roles, and sometimes there are tasks I'm happy to do. Other times, it's important to know when to set limits," says Bobby M., an HR professional at a large software company.

2. Take control of your calendar.

Blocking off time for deep work or setting no-meeting days can help you get into the zone and feel more in control of your calendar.

3. Invest in your own wellness.

Don't forget to care for yourself while caring for others. Exercise, therapy, massages, healthy eating, meditation, good sleep, and managing alcohol consumption were the most common top self-care activities our HR professionals mentioned.

4. Tune into yourself.

Being mindful of how your mind and body feel during the day can help you realize when you might be heading into burnout territory and intervene before it gets too late.

"Ask yourself: what practices or habits do I engage with when I'm feeling well? What are the warning signs when stress is creeping in? What does rock-bottom burnout look like? What practices and habits can I emphasize when I start to notice the slip?" says Alyssa C.

5. Prioritize personal time and hobbies.

“We are people outside of work and when we are at full capacity, the first thing that slips is our personal life,” said Charlene Molino, HR Generalist at Blueboard during the Self-Care for People Leaders webinar. Keep your cup full by carving out space in your day or week for personal time and hobbies. For example, some of our pros' personal time activities included fiction reading, time with pets, and gardening.

6. Find sustenance in mentorship and community.

Having a trusted person you can vent to or lean on can help you get through the hard days. This could be a manager, colleague, mentor, or loved one. “Investing in those relationships in times when you’re not in crisis is so important because it’s that support system that you’re gonna need to help nourish you and sustain you in the really difficult moments,” explained Erica Hansen, Coaching Program Lead at Bravely, during the webinar.

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How organizations can take better care of their HR pros, and set them up for success. 

Boost health resources and benefits.

HR pros need to take care of themselves to support their people, so increasing access or budget for physical and mental health care can go a long way. 

"We're lucky at our company to have really generous mental health benefits, and I think all companies would do well to give that coverage a big increase," says Steph L. For example, Steph points out that software company Kira Talent's benefits package includes a $5,000 health spending account.

Create mentorship opportunities.

Nobody understands what HR professionals are going through better than other HR professionals. More than likely, a mentor has been through what you’re going through or has navigated similar challenges and can share the tips and strategies that worked for them.

Connecting your HR professionals to peer mentors or senior staff or directing them to communities or professionals outside the organization can help them feel more supported and less alone during trying times.

Staff up People teams.

At a certain point, your HR team can only do so much. If you're seeing high levels of burnout or turnover in your HR department, it might be time to staff up— especially if your organization is in a period of rapid growth. 

If leadership is resistant to expanding your team, build a business case to hire more staff. Do an audit of your team's current performance to show that your department is at capacity and cannot take on any more work. Highlight the negatives of not hiring more staff (and the pros of expansion), and provide a clear picture of the types of roles you'd want to add to your team and why (e.g., job titles, skills, experience, responsibilities, collaborators, salaries, etc.). 

Better alignment with leadership.

A common thread we heard from our community is that HR professionals often feel misaligned with their leadership. People often criticize HR for being too reactive when the reality is that many HR leaders want to be more proactive with their efforts but struggle to get approval from higher-ups.

"We want to do something but by the time we get buy-in, we are doing damage control," says Vaishnavi R., an HR professional at a midsize consumer goods company. 

Adds Steph L.: "For most HR folks, the biggest support they need right now is not to have to fight with the CEO over HR initiatives. We don't have the energy for it."

Many of our HR professionals felt that having more trust, budget, and ownership over their work would give them some breathing room to be more proactive and strategic in their work and not just put out fires. 

"The best support would be a senior leadership team who understands the role of HR, gives us space to do our job, and also recognizes that we need support just as much as any other employee needs it," says Penelope R.

Encourage rest.

Last but certainly not least, HR pros need time to unplug from work. While it may not be possible to reduce the stress of HR work, taking regular breaks is a critical piece of self-care for People leaders and can help you feel less overwhelmed and make your job more manageable. 

Our community suggested allowing employees to take time off between projects or after stressful meetings. Additionally, implementing a mandatory or minimum paid time off (PTO) policy where employees have to take at least a certain number of days off from work each year or quarter could empower your employees to take a break before they're at or beyond their limit.

Also, it's important to note that there are different types of rest. While some of your employees might prefer to use their time off to relax at home, others might be craving adventure or creativity. For your employees in the latter group, an experiential wellbeing gift in the form of a yoga membership, pottery class, or family kayaking trip could be just what they need to feel rejuvenated. 

Caring for the carers of your organization.

The past few years have been really hard. At this point, we've all experienced various levels of burnout and exhaustion. But as you can see, there are specific reasons why many HR professionals—particularly People leaders—feel stretched thin. 

HR professionals are juggling so much these days, which makes it even more important to protect your time and energy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we hope this article provided useful steps you can take to feel more in control. Steps to take care of yourself so you can keep up the critical work of caring for the people in your organization. 

Most importantly, know that you don't have to go it alone or keep everything to yourself, even if you're an HR team of one. Of course, self-care is essential, but finding community and support—whether from your colleagues, HR communities, loved ones, or mentors—can be one of the best things you can do to make this work more sustainable and manageable.

Be well.

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