During times of upheaval, stress, and uncertainty, HR serves as a key source of support and guidance for employees in need. But who plays that role for HR?
A 2022 study by Workvivo revealed that 98% of HR professionals are grappling with burnout, a result of the major shifts in workplaces. Adding to this strain, 97% of those surveyed expressed enduring emotional fatigue as well.
So what went wrong? The unprecedented wave of the Great Resignation, combined with extensive changes in workplace structures and cultures, has left HR departments stretched thin and overwhelmed. To compound these challenges, the intrusion of office politics into the workspace has further worsened an already turbulent environment.
Despite facing these challenges and carrying the burden of heavy workloads, only a few HR professionals feel that their contributions are genuinely valued within their organisations. As a result, many have made the tough choice to explore new opportunities elsewhere.
While tirelessly advocating for their workforce during difficult times, HR teams find themselves drained before addressing their own professional and personal responsibilities. That’s why, it's a must to remember that HR personnel aren't immune to stress; to make thing worst they lack a support system.
Recognising the challenges faced by HR professionals, People Matters is dedicated to not only comprehending their struggles but also extending a helping hand. Hence, during our flagship event, TechHR India, the largest HR and WorkTech Conference in Asia, we deliberated on the well-being of HR leaders.
As part of People Matters' Big Questions series, Pallavi Verma, Senior Editor-Brand Reachout at People Matters, sat down with Renu Bohra, CHRO of DB Schenker, and Manu Wadhwa, CHRO of Sony Pictures Networks and delved into strategies to proactively address burnout among HR professionals.
Embracing vulnerability: A shift in HR leadership
In a society where strength is celebrated, displaying vulnerability isn't regarded as the best quality, especially in the case of HR professionals, whose role involves providing support and strength to others. However, embracing vulnerability entails fostering an environment of trust within the workplace and presenting oneself genuinely. This can encompass aspects like being open to criticism or acquiring new skills, or sometimes simply seeking assistance when needed.
It's important to understand that HR professionals often hesitate to reveal their vulnerabilities. They feel that as the drivers of organisational change, responsible for managing the entire organisation's well-being in a volatile and uncertain world, it's challenging to come across as vulnerable, shared Manu Wadhwa.
“But think about the safety instructions on flights. The flight attendants tell you to put on your own seatbelt before helping others. In case of an emergency, put on your own mask before assisting others. If you can acknowledge that vulnerability is a natural part of being human, you can effectively communicate this to your leaders,” she suggested.
But how to do it?
When Manu faced moments of breaking point, especially during Covid times, she approached her leader and said, ‘I'm shifting from being the CHRO to being an employee of the company. Please consider this conversation in that light.’ “By establishing that you're not just an HR leader but also an employee, you shed the hesitancy that comes from being in a position of power. This opens up a genuine dialogue because the leader sees you as a fellow human, a fellow employee. So, I hope we can all embrace this spirit of vulnerability,” she said.
Experiment with change: Tips for positive impact
Fear is an inherent part of being human — it's an emotion we all experience to some degree. The challenge arises when your fears trap you in counterproductive behavioural cycles, hindering your ability to advance and adopt new approaches that would propel your career and accomplishments. The CHRO of Sony Pictures Networks believes that the biggest factor that holds one back from taking control of a situation is fear.
To fight such your fears, Manu Wadhwa suggested two tips:
- Whenever you're afraid of facing a situation, dig deeper into why you're afraid. Make a Mind Map. It could be about job security, a promotion, or even how your boss sees you. Prioritise what's most important and find alternative solutions. For instance, in today's world, HR skills are highly valued. If your fear is about your job being taken by AI, search for alternative avenues where your skills are valuable. Overcoming this fear will help you step up and express vulnerability.
- The moment you let go of hesitations, your respect in your community grows. It's a test you can try. Most times, if you express your thoughts with respect, your reputation and credibility soar. I'm not sure if you can relate, but give these two tips a shot: pinpointing the root of your fear and speaking your mind, and see if it brings positive outcomes.
Coaching, not rescuing: Rethink HR's role
When you assume bigger responsibilities, the boundaries of your Key Result Areas (KRAs) might get blurred. In certain situations, this can even lead HR professionals to adopt additional roles and duties, stepping in as a last-minute saviour. While this might initially save time and address issues in your organisation, such habits can have adverse effects on your long-term well-being. What's more, they can foster dependency on you among others.
“I distinguish between the people leader's responsibility to manage their employees' careers and the HR leader's role in empowering them to do it effectively. The main source of stress often arises when we try to bypass the people leader. They might hesitate to deliver difficult messages like letting someone go or addressing poor performance. This stress comes because we fail to recognise that we're not fulfilling our role effectively. If you're a proficient HR leader, you can ease this stress by equipping the leader with the courage to handle tough conversations. This requires you to act as a coach, confidant, and advisor, rather than stepping in as a last-minute saviour to protect jobs. I'll let that thought linger with you,” said Renu Bohra.
Conquer FOMO, discover your USP
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) stems from a sense of dissatisfaction with one's current life situation, driven by the pursuit of experiences witnessed in others. In today's world, this is fuelled by social media. However, FOMO carries a negative impact and can trigger emotions of discontent, anxiety, depression, and an overarching feeling of being adrift in life.
CHRO of Sony Pictures Networks shared she has also gone through the same and highlighted that, “this fear might arise when your phone is off, when you're not checking emails constantly, or when you worry about being replaceable if you can't solve a problem quickly.” To combat such feelings, she shared a simple tip:
To be effective, maintain a balance of your individual value. It could be skills, emotional maturity, or unique attributes that the business relies on. “Imagine a seesaw at a park – on one side is your value, and on the other side is your reputation or rapport with stakeholders. If these are balanced, even if you occasionally miss out, people will value your input. Adjusting the balance doesn’t mean responding non-stop to emails, so it's important to focus on your unique value, your USP,” said Manu.
To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn. This special session was conducted at the 10th edition of People Matters TechHR India, Asia’s Largest HR & WorkTech Conference, on the 4th of August 2023 at The Leela, Ambience Mall, Gurgaon.