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HR Burnout — Causes and Solutions

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

The last 2+ years have caused immense confusion, stress, and disarray in many workplaces. Companies, and their internal teams have had to contend with managing a remote workforce, developing and maintaining company culture, and more, all while figuring out how to remain competitive in their market.

As a result, employees across organizations are reporting record high burnout. This is especially true of HR professionals, who most feel the brunt of enacting and managing major organizational change. Nearly 98% of HR professionals report feeling burned out according to a Workvivo survey in 2022, and 78% of HR professionals are open to leaving their jobs. In fact, many HR professionals themselves are [joining in the Great Resignation]. Why, more than ever, are we seeing increased burn out among HR professionals and what we can do to slow it?

What are the causes?

Remote work

Remote work has many benefits, but that doesn’t mean the practice is without flaw. According to this 2022 Zippia study, a reported 86% of remote workers feel burnt out at their current jobs, compared to 81% of hybrid workers and just 70% of in-person workers. One of the largest impacts of remote work is the isolation from coworkers. From the same study, only 36% of workers can keep up strong interactions with remote colleagues, and moving from full time office to full time remote work is reported to increase loneliness by 67%. Zoom calls and virtual icebreakers work well for increased productivity, but are not a cure-all. Company retreats are becoming more frequent to build and maintain company culture and coworker relationships once built through daily on-site meetings and run ins at the water cooler. It’s up to companies to find what works best for their employees to effectively implement strategies to combat loneliness.

The line between work and life becomes blurred with remote work. The implicit expectation to remain available at all times is a driver for those reporting burnout. For remote workers, 67% feel pressured to always be available, and tend to work more weekends and nights than before remote work became commonplace and 46% say they miss the clear boundaries that in-office work sets. Implementing set start and end times for the day can provide structure to what has become an increasingly unstructured way of work. Alternatively, [a focus on work-life integration], compared with work-life balance, may help employees live the life that they want creating a more sustainable, intentional lifestyle.

Mission Creep

The HR department typically serves as the first point of contact for any complaints, disputes or in-office disputes. In normal times, this leads to a wide scope of situations to contend with. Thanks to the pandemic, unforeseen new tasks like safety protocols, hygiene standards, and work-from-home policies have extended an already long list of responsibilities. Throw in workforce shortages and an increasingly competitive market, again it’s HR that ends up bearing the extra weight of tasks outside their typical duties. This mission creep, a common term in the non-profit space, is becoming more common in the corporate environment.

How can we work on preventing mission creep from overwhelming your team, leading to burnout? The non-profit world has dealt with this issue for a long time, and provides a useful framework to apply. The first step is to assess the resources available to the company. Take a deep breath and take stock of the business. Amidst layoffs, company restructuring, and hiring waves, this step is critical in adjusting for what has already happened and what may happen in the near future. Questions to answer include “What is the value of the work you are expected to do?” and “What was the scope of the role you were hired on to do?” If mission creep is happening, you will see a disconnect between these answers.

Next, prioritize the work ahead of the team, no matter how painful or difficult it may be. Your most critical items take priority over everything else. While HR may be the go-to for employee issues, it is necessary to draw the line at some point. Without boundaries, the HR team won’t know where to stop. This hurts their productivity and the organization as a whole. Ultimately, the company should identify and act on the item with the most out-sized impact.

Finally, communicate the plan to stakeholders, executives, and the entire staff. Demonstrating a clear business need for the change, especially considering the rate of burn out, should function as a leading point for all communication. There is no silver bullet for reacting to change. This process is a crucial first step toward exposing and reducing harmful mission creep, but just one in the journey toward organizational improvement.

A Way Forward

In 2022 alone, we have experienced mass

resignation as workers demanded better conditions, followed by the threat of an economic downturn and changing

workplace expectations. HR will continue to serve as a key stakeholder for the foreseeable future. Recent Gartner HR research identified the top 5 HR changes expected to enhance a company’s employee value proposition and drive business performance. In order, they are:

  • A move to more hybrid over remote work

  • A need for critical upskilling

  • The degradation of workforce health

  • A desire for better valued employees

  • An increased pressure for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce

Necessity is the mother of invention, and this is more true now than ever.

In the recruiting space, we have seen massive overhauls in the relationship between candidates and employers. The common challenge of fully vetting a candidate through a single interview is becoming a thing of the past. To reduce uncertainty and de-risk early talent hires, we’ve been implementing pre-internships for our partner companies at Internship on Demand. These 4–7 week custom programs recruit and train college students with the fundamental and technical skills needed to succeed at your specific company. Reach out if you are seeing these needs at your organization yourself!

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