Causes and signs of HR burnout (and how to prevent it)

Causes and signs of HR burnout

Human resources leaders often have to manage multiple responsibilities, such as hiring, onboarding, engaging with employees, and developing workplace policies. In many companies, they're also the first point of contact for employees experiencing challenges or problems at work. With such a diverse and, at times, heavy workload, it's no wonder that many HR professionals say they feel burnt out. Read this guide to learn more about the causes and signs of HR burnout and some strategies you can use to prevent it from happening to you.

What causes HR burnout?

Burnout certainly isn't limited to HR professionals. The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey that found over 40% of employees in the United States felt burned out at work. However, over the past several years, HR professionals have experienced numerous changes related to recruiting, hiring, and employee retention, leading to increased levels of stress. Here are some common causes of HR burnout:

Increased workload

As many workplaces shifted to remote and hybrid work during the pandemic, HR professionals had to determine how to hire, onboard, and engage with employees in entirely new ways. They often received little or no support to complete their new tasks. Today, HR professionals experience increased workloads due to the growing demand for hiring and retention. Additionally, many don't have time to upskill or complete training that might be beneficial for their new workloads.

Reduced staffing

On top of increased workloads, many HR departments also face reduced staffing. As the workforce has transitioned significantly over the past few years, it's left many companies understaffed in HR. According to a survey by Lattice, an HR management software company, 41% of HR professionals reported understaffing in their departments. As the demands for recruiting and hiring increase, HR professionals often have to do more with less.

Compassion fatigue

As an HR professional, you know the job involves supporting and guiding other employees through challenges. Chances are, you often put other team members ahead of yourself. This part of the job can lead to compassion fatigue, a state where you become overwhelmed as you empathize and share in the struggles of others. Compassion fatigue often results in stress and burnout.

Signs of HR burnout

Burnout can present itself in various ways. Knowing the signs and symptoms of burnout can allow you to take proactive steps to minimize its effects. If you think you may be experiencing burnout, here are some signs to watch for:

  • Feeling increasingly tired or lethargic
  • Becoming physically ill more frequently
  • Experiencing constant negativity, cynicism, or dread related to your job
  • Withdrawing socially from colleagues, friends, or even family members
  • Noticing a decline in your performance or quality of work
  • Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Feeling defeated or helpless in your job
  • Being impatient or losing your temper more often

How to alleviate HR burnout

As an HR leader, you probably have experience helping others through challenging situations like stress and burnout. If you're now experiencing burnout yourself, it's time to take your own advice. Here are some ways you can alleviate burnout as an HR professional:

Delegate work to others

If you have other people on your team, find ways to delegate some of your workload. Even if you're the only HR specialist in your company, you may be able to ask other colleagues for help with certain tasks. When you can rely on others to take some work off your plate, it can provide immediate relief, reducing your workplace stress.

Prioritize your health

Burnout can significantly harm your physical, emotional, and mental health. Make your health a priority by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. Schedule a yoga class or block out time on your calendar to go for a walk each day. By focusing on your overall well-being, you can negate some symptoms of burnout.

Take a break

When you feel constantly stressed or negative about your job, make plans to take a break. Take a sick day or schedule some paid time off so you can spend time away from work. Use that time to do activities you enjoy, whether going to a concert, visiting a friend, or spending time at home without any plans. Whatever you do, make sure you fully disengage from work. That means no checking email or answering work-related calls.

Ask for help

You're usually the one who others come to for help. But in this case, be the one to reach out. Let another manager or a company leader know how you're feeling. Explain why you're overwhelmed and ask for support. If possible, prepare for this conversation beforehand and think of potential solutions you can propose. For example, you might ask for specific resources or additional training to handle new tasks.

"You're usually the one who others come to for help. But in this case, be the one to reach out."

Tips for preventing HR burnout

Sometimes, you may not know you're heading toward burnout until you're experiencing it fully. However, there are strategies you can use to prevent burnout in the first place. Here are some tips you can use to prevent HR burnout:

Take advantage of wellness programs

If your company offers a wellness program, take advantage of this resource. These programs may offer access to useful tools you can use to prevent burnout, such as mindfulness meditations or stress management courses. Physical programs, such as walking challenges, can also be a great way to manage stress.

Establish clear boundaries

You're only one person, so establish clear boundaries for what you can and cannot handle. When you have boundaries, it becomes easier to say no to tasks and projects that don't fall within your job scope. There are various ways you can work to set boundaries as an HR professional, but some ideas include:

  • Leaving work or logging off at a specific time each day
  • Not taking calls or answering emails after a certain time, such as 6 p.m.
  • Scheduling intentional breaks in your workday
  • Taking a lunch break each day
  • Explaining to others what your job responsibilities entail and what they don't
  • Taking the full amount of PTO you've earned

Set realistic standards

Burnout can occur if you — or others — have unrealistic standards about how much work you can do. Take some time to set realistic standards for what you can accomplish in your role. List your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and note how long they usually take. Then consider how much time you spend handling unexpected tasks during the same period. If you're regularly completing 40-plus hours of work each week, it may be beneficial to consider how you can adjust your workload to avoid burnout in the future.

Celebrate your achievements

As an HR leader with a never-ending to-do list, it may be tempting to start working on the next project as soon as you finish the last one. Instead, make time to celebrate your achievements. For example, you may treat your team to lunch after completing a department-wide training, or you may take an afternoon off after implementing a new onboarding process. By acknowledging your hard work, you can stay motivated to continue performing at a high level.

With all the changes in HR over the past several years, it's become more common for these professionals to report feeling stressed and burnt out. Knowing the causes and signs of HR burnout can help you take steps to relieve those feelings of stress. By using some helpful strategies, such as asking for help, taking care of yourself, and setting boundaries, you can work to alleviate burnout. As you do so, you can continue to find long-term success in your HR career.

More tips on managing stress and burnout:

If you're the only HR professional in the company, you can quickly feel overwhelmed. Here are some tips to succeed as a one-person HR department.

It's not just the HR department: Employee burnout is everywhere. Make sure you know the signs so you can help yourself and others overcome this challenge.

Taking care of your mental health can make a big difference in alleviating burnout. Check out these 10 ideas for supporting the mental health of employees (and yourself) at work.

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