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.