HR leaders focus so much on employee well being, they often neglect themselves. So what happens when the HR boss is burned out?
More than 75% of employees experience work burnout, according to recent research from Spring Health. HR and other executives are employees, too – so there’s a good chance three-quarters of you are burned out.
We often overlook this occupational hazard – especially with the pandemic and remote work: HR and other executives often focus on employees’ well-being while overlooking their own. You might dole out health advice and resources but never use them.
“Executives are just as much at risk as their employees. Executives may face different challenges, but face the same risk of overwhelming exhaustion, detachment and ineffectiveness that others may face,” says Dr. Millard Brown, a board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and SVP of Medical Affairs at Spring Health. “The challenge of an unpredictable and disconnected business environment in a post-COVID world can generate an even higher risk of burnout.”
If you’re burned out, you can’t help employees avoid burnout. In fact, you can’t help anyone, with anything, at any time.
Recognize the signs
To avoid – or bounce back from – burnout, the first thing is to recognize and admit you’re suffering.
“As leaders, we can only serve and attend to the needs of those we lead if we are well-grounded, open to hearing feedback, and present in the moment,” Brown says. “We have the opportunity to lead by example in recognizing and taking the time to care for ourselves so that we can then lead others well with intention.”
Burnout becomes visible in three critical areas: Professional. Emotional. Physical. Look for these signs.
- Inefficacy – You’ve lost confidence and belief in ability to be effective
- Mental distance – You feel detached, negative and/or cynical about your work
- Mental drain – You feel tired of your work, demands and expectations, and
- Spinning wheels – You accomplish little or nothing working toward the same issues and concerns over and over.
- Feeling unappreciated, bored and/or resentful
- Impatience and irritability with colleagues, clients and/or family
- Feeling detached, isolated and lonely
- Feeling overwhelmed, disillusioned, apathetic and/or hopeless
- Excessive self-criticism and dissatisfaction
- Difficulties with concentration, and
- Anxiety and depression.
- Chronic fatigue
- Chest pains and headaches
- Appetite and weight loss or, on the other side, binge eating and weight gain
- Breathlessness, dizziness palpitations and/or feeling faint
- Frequent illnesses and infections from compromised immune system, and
- Withdrawal from social and professional situations.
5 ways to avoid burnout
The hope is you aren’t suffering from these signs, but the reality is, after nearly a year of operating a business and managing employees remotely, many leaders do suffer.
So even if you don’t think you’re stressed or burned out, you can prevent it with some of these tips. All the strategies will help you bounce back from burnout.
Get serious about self-care
It’s relatively simple to promote self-care, but not so simple to practice it. Executives get busy putting out fires, strategizing and staying focused on success for the good of all employees. So you put self-care on a back burner.
“Commit to practicing self-care with adequate sleep, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and maintaining social connections with others,” Brown says. “You may not be able to do it all at once, but you can pick one to start with and commit to a plan of action to build new practices in caring for yourself.”
That’s the key: Start with just one element of self-care that’s most important – and achievable – for you to accomplish.
Step away, every day
You want to purposefully step away from work every day.
Our CEO at SuccessFuel, the parent of HRMorning, talked early in the pandemic about his failure to step away from back to back Zoom meetings, online research and industry demands. Before he burned out, he committed to something he used to enjoy: Boxing. He got back to the punching bag in his garage and felt revived.
“Many leaders nowadays have found that a regular meditation practice is one ritual that helps them take care of themselves daily and protect against burnout,” says Jo Ilfeld, an executive coach with Jody Michael Associates. “But that’s not the only way; regular time outdoors, a spiritual practice, or a gratitude journal are all research-proven ways to help leaders prevent a downward slides toward burnout.”
Unplug (not as much as you think!)
We all know it’s important to unplug from our devices, but it’s so hard to do when it feels like someone or something on the other end needs attention.
Still, “research has shown us that leaders that completely unplug for one night mid-week – just one, folks! – were much more likely to look forward to going to work in the mornings and feel fulfilled at their jobs,” Ilfeld says. “Taking one night off a week is a small price to pay for continued energy, and it’s also great modeling and permission for your team so they don’t get burned out as well.”
Talk about your burnout
Feeling burned out doesn’t have to be a secret or a badge of shame.
You just want to approach the conversation with your boss with a plan. Ron Carucci, managing partner at Navalent, and author of Rising to Power, suggests in the Harvard Business Review you talk about burnout with your boss like this:
- Get over yourself. You help people. You don’t normally ask for help. But burnout is more real than ever. If you’ve always had an honest relationship with your boss, he or she will respect how you feel and what you need.
- Be honest, specific. Tell your boss you wouldn’t bring it up if it wasn’t critical to you. Explain that you’re uncomfortable with the situation. Then give specific details of what you’re experiencing – any symptoms from the list above.
- Take responsibility for anything that has suffered – work quality, your attitude, personal relationships. Don’t apologize for being burned out. Just recognize what being burned out has done to your performance or behavior.
- Ask for help. Be clear that you want help, what the solution might look like and how you want to be part of the solution. Avoid complaining or demanding.
It’s lonely at the top – and nothing proves that more than when you burn out and have no one to turn to for support.
You support employees. Who can help when you’re stressed or overwhelmed?
Harvard researchers suggest executives pursue workshops, peer support groups, retreats and professional organizations. Those can help you gain a fresh perspective and positive attitude. Don’t wait until you’re stressed, either. If you’re involved with similarly situated people, you already have a network of support.