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As an HR professional for 16+ years, I find myself immersed in a challenging and ever-evolving landscape that puts a lot of demands on my time, attention, and emotions.

I’m sure you can relate!

Here we’ll dive into the root causes of burnout and I'll provide practical strategies to address and overcome burnout in yourself and your team members.

What Causes Burnout In HR Professionals?

Over the years, I’ve encountered many cases of burnout to varying degrees. Really, it boils down to one of a few root causes:

  • Not using our abilities to the fullest
  • A work/life/reward imbalance
  • Lack of community and support
  • Personal matters becoming too overwhelming.

Sound familiar?

While life is not always a smooth ride, burnout can lead to serious health consequences and severely impact personal and professional life.

The good news is that, through consistent strategies, you can maintain your resilience and effectively combat burnout in yourself and your team.

How To Minimize The Risk Of Burnout As An HR Professional

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Setting Clear Boundaries

Consistency has been my guiding principle in managing burnout. I firmly believe in establishing clear boundaries to protect my well-being and sustain productivity, not just for myself but for my team and the employees I support as well. 

To achieve this, I adhere to specific working hours but make myself available for critical conversations during my commute to and from the office. For those that have a remote or hybrid working model, I also intentionally leave open availability throughout the week on my calendar in order to accommodate those critical chats.

These strategies ensure uninterrupted focus during my scheduled meetings while still addressing urgent matters in a controlled manner.

Balancing Organizational and Client Group Needs

One major cause of burnout stems from the delicate balance between the employee lifecycle and the sporadic needs of client groups—essentially, too much workload.

To help mitigate this, I’ve established recurring meetings with client group leaders. By gently reminding them to bring their concerns, challenges, and questions to these regular sessions, I can maintain my focus and workflow on regular HR responsibilities without being constantly interrupted.

Here are 5 steps and tips to help implement this strategy:

1. Identify key client groups. Start by identifying the client groups or departments that frequently approach you with concerns, questions, or challenges. These are the teams that are likely to benefit from regular communication and support.

2. Schedule regular meetings. Set up recurring meetings with the client group leaders or representatives. Depending on the workload and intensity of their needs, the frequency of these meetings can be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

3. Communicate the purpose. Clearly communicate the purpose of these meetings to the client group leaders. Let them know that these sessions are dedicated to addressing their concerns and challenges. Encourage them to bring their questions and issues to these meetings rather than interrupting the day-to-day with ad-hoc requests.

4. Collaborate and find solutions. Use these recurring meetings as an opportunity to collaborate with client group leaders, provide guidance, and find solutions together. Building a strong partnership with the teams can reduce misunderstandings and the need for constant interruption.

5. Evaluate and adjust. Periodically assess the effectiveness of these recurring meetings. Seek feedback from client group leaders and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the strategy is working well for both HR and the client groups.

Strategic Scheduling

The employee lifecycle refers to the various stages that an employee goes through during their time with a company, from recruitment and onboarding to development, performance management, and eventually offboarding or career progression. 

It encompasses all the touchpoints and interactions an employee has with the organization, starting from the initial contact as a job applicant to their departure or advancement within the company.

Conscious of the employee lifecycle and major business initiatives, I carefully manage my schedule to minimize clashes and avoid overwhelming periods. 

When significant business events like industry conferences or major sales initiatives occur, I prioritize individual or HR team-focused tasks below the scheduling requests from the business. This approach ensures that I am not spread too thin during critical periods.

To adopt the strategy of carefully managing your schedule to minimize clashes and avoid overwhelming periods, HR professionals can follow these 7 steps:

1. Understand the employee lifecycle. Gain a comprehensive understanding of the employee lifecycle specific to your organization. Familiarize yourself with each stage, the typical challenges employees may face, and the HR support required at different points in their journey.

2. Identify business initiatives. Keep abreast of major business events, such as industry conferences, product launches, or sales initiatives, that could potentially lead to increased demands on HR resources. Coordinate with relevant teams to be informed about these initiatives well in advance.

3. Analyze and plan. Analyze your HR team's capacity and workload, taking into account the potential impact of upcoming business events. Plan your HR tasks and projects around these events to minimize clashes and avoid situations where the team becomes overwhelmed.

4. Set communication expectations. Communicate clearly with business leaders about your HR team's availability and capacity during critical business events. Set expectations on response times and the types of requests that will be prioritized.

5. Delegate and collaborate. Delegate tasks within the HR team and collaborate with other departments to share responsibilities during demanding periods. Cross-functional cooperation can alleviate pressure on HR and ensure that business needs are still met.

6. Leverage technology and automation. Utilize HR tools to automate to streamline routine tasks and processes. This frees up time for HR professionals to focus on more strategic and people-centric initiatives.

7. Review and learn. After significant business events, conduct a post-mortem review to assess the HR team's performance and identify areas for improvement. Use this feedback to refine your scheduling and prioritization strategy for future events.

Pushing Back with Empathy

Every HR professional knows that managing the constant flow of requests can be a challenging juggling act. 

Every request might seem urgent, and the pressure to address them immediately can be overwhelming. One essential skill that can help navigate these demands is the ability to push back with empathy.

Pushing back with empathy means acknowledging the urgency and importance of certain requests while assertively communicating your limitations. It's about finding the delicate balance between being understanding and maintaining boundaries. 

By adopting this approach, HR professionals can effectively manage their time and energy without sacrificing understanding and partnership with their colleagues and clients.

For instance, when faced with a pressing request, instead of hastily accepting it and potentially compromising your schedule, you can respond with empathy and assertiveness. 

You might say, "I appreciate the urgency, but I'm most effective in the morning. Let's schedule a meeting for tomorrow so that I can approach it with a fresh perspective." 

This response shows that you understand the importance of the matter while also setting a clear boundary and suggesting an alternative solution.

By pushing back with empathy, HR professionals can maintain their focus and productivity, avoid overloading themselves with non-stop demands, and create a more sustainable work environment. 

This skill not only benefits the individual HR professional but also fosters healthier and more effective working relationships with colleagues and clients.

It sets the tone for open communication, mutual respect, and collaborative problem-solving, ultimately leading to better outcomes for everyone involved.

Harnessing the Power of Reflection

Research has shown that starting meetings five minutes past the half-hour mark allows time for reflection and preparation.

By embracing this practice, it creates valuable moments to gather my thoughts, evaluate previous discussions, and mentally prepare for upcoming meetings. 

This simple but powerful habit enables me to approach each interaction with clarity and purpose.

Finding Moments of Serenity

In the midst of a demanding career, it’s important to find the time to breathe.

Whether it's attending a weekly class, or simply taking a few moments to focus on yourself while doing your self-care routine, you deserve these moments of tranquility. 

By acknowledging my need for self-care, I’m better equipped to handle challenges with a clear and centered mind.

Scheduled Lunch Breaks

If you’re anything like me, you’re tempted to bring that yummt sandwich back to your desk so you can finish wrapping up that email. 

However, this temptation creates ill preparation for the serendipitous conversation you don’t know you’re going to have in the next couple hours. 

Recognizing the importance of self-care, I prioritize scheduling my lunches. Without this intentional pause, I would easily succumb to the demands of the day, neglecting my own well-being and depriving myself of the fuel needed for sustained performance in the second half of the day.

Teams: Ensuring employees are recognized for their work

Acknowledging the efforts and accomplishments of team members is a foundational aspect of fostering a positive work environment and boosting employee morale. 

If employees feel underappreciated or overlooked, resentment will start to build and people will mentally check out.

Therefore, recognizing and appreciating the contributions of our team members is vital in reducing burnout and enhancing overall job satisfaction. 

To create a culture of appreciation and reward, we can employ several effective recognition strategies:

1. Career Advancements. Demonstrating recognition by promoting team members who exhibit dedication and hard work showcases that their contributions are valued, encouraging career growth within the organization.

2. Development Opportunities. Offering specialized training and workshops not only enhances employees' skills but also communicates the company's commitment to their professional growth.

3. Fair Compensation. Recognizing employees' exceptional contributions with regular salary raises or performance-based bonuses reinforces the value placed on their hard work.

4. Public Appreciation. Publicly acknowledging team members' achievements during meetings, company-wide communications, or through internal platforms fosters a sense of pride and motivation among the entire workforce.

By implementing a comprehensive recognition program, we, as HR professionals, can address the work-reward imbalance and create a positive feedback loop that boosts team members' engagement, dedication, and overall well-being.

Related read: 20 Creative Employee Recognition Ideas

Teams: Regular Check-ins with Team Members

Regular weekly or bi-weekly check-ins play a vital role in preventing burnout and ensuring the well-being of our team members.

Establishing consistent communication channels and conducting one-on-one meetings offers numerous benefits:

1. Well-being Assessment. Regular check-ins allow us to gauge the health and well-being of team members, providing an opportunity to address any issues proactively and offer necessary support.

2. Providing Constructive Feedback. Through regular check-ins, we can offer feedback on performance, identify areas for improvement, and recognize achievements, fostering growth and development.

3. Direction and Coaching. Providing clear direction and coaching helps team members understand their roles, responsibilities, and career path within the organization, reducing uncertainty and burnout.

4. Building Trust and Engagement. Consistent check-ins build a foundation of trust between HR professionals and team members, creating an open and supportive environment where employees feel valued and supported.

5. Personalized Development. Through regular conversations, we can identify individual development needs and offer tailored opportunities for growth, enhancing employee satisfaction and engagement.

By incorporating regular check-ins into our HR practices, we proactively address challenges, maintain open lines of communication, and demonstrate a genuine interest in the well-being and growth of our team members. 

Ultimately, this approach minimizes the risk of burnout and fosters a more resilient and motivated workforce.

Related read: Essential Guide to One-On-One Meetings For Managers (+Template)

Consistency Is Key

My journey in overcoming HR burnout has been fueled by the power of consistency. By adopting strategies that emphasize balance, boundary-setting, and self-care, I have fortified my resilience in a profession notorious for its demanding nature.

Through recurring meetings, defined boundaries, scheduled breaks, empathetic pushbacks, strategic scheduling, reflective practices, and moments of serenity, I have unlocked my ability to thrive in the face of adversity.

Let us embrace the power of consistency to transform our HR experiences and foster a healthier, more sustainable profession.

If you have any questions or anything you’d like to add, feel free to leave something in the comments or join the conversation over in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.

Some further resources:

Felicia Shakiba
By Felicia Shakiba

Felicia Shakiba is the Founder, Podcast Host, and Leadership & HR Consultant for CPO Playbook. Former Head of Performance Management of the $12B multinational advertising and PR technology giant, WPP, she has led several international HR teams as the VP of People & Culture for clients in industries such as fintech, biotech, ad tech, and more. She has over 16 years of experience in people strategy and has impacted over 130,000 employees in her career.