A recent study conducted by Workvivo, an employee experience app that increases employee engagement, highlights the challenges human resources professionals have to contend with. The study surveyed more than 520 HR professionals in the United States and U.K. on burnout in the HR department. The results are concerning—and should create a call to action.
Gillian French, Workvivo’s expert-in-residence in employee experience, offers an in-depth analysis of the survey. French is an international veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as a chief people officer. She currently advises companies on human resources-related matters. French and her fellow HR professionals have a tough job. They endured an incredible amount of stress and pressure over the last two years. This cohort had to quickly figure out how to move their employees online and set up a functioning robust distributed workforce while dealing with a raging pandemic.
Many business leaders panicked in 2020. Government-mandated restrictions ordered many businesses to shut down, people were told to shelter at home, and an alarming stock market plummet in March 2022 put fear into company executives. Unaware of what would happen to the economy, millions of Americans were fired or furloughed. The unpleasant responsibility for dispensing the bad news was given to the HR department. If you’ve ever let a person go, you’d know how awful it is for the recipient of the bad news—but it also takes a huge emotional toll on the person delivering the message.
It took all their strength to juggle keeping people safe, delivering the necessary technology to connect everyone together under adverse conditions and providing psychological safety and mental health support. In light of the pandemic, HR has had to continually ensure employee well-being is intact and look for signs of burnout. Although it isn’t part of their job description, members of this group had to serve as de facto therapists, cheerleaders and leaders to maintain morale. These tasks were in addition to their core mission of recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retaining employees. They’ve had to make tough decisions around keeping a remote policy or enacting a hybrid or in-office model. No matter the choices, there will be people unhappy that they can’t get exactly what they want.
Here are some of the highlights of the survey:
• As a result of workplace transformations and the Great Resignation, 98% of HR professionals are burned out, according to the survey.
• A clear trend of employee burnout emerged over the past 18 months, as people dealt with remote and hybrid working transitions. However, this survey reveals that in the past six months, HR leaders have felt the brunt of this burnout, as they are left to shoulder these macro workplace issues—largely on their own.
• Of the HR professionals surveyed, 94% said they felt overwhelmed in the past six months, while 88% of respondents said they dreaded work. The magnitude of the Great Resignation and the large-scale transitioning of entire workplace structure and cultures has left HR departments under-resourced and under immense pressure. Some 97% of respondents said they felt emotionally fatigued from work over the past year.
• On top of these major transitional pressures, a further 83% of HR professionals said that office politics are disrupting the workplace, adding more strain to an already tumultuous period. Despite all of these pressures and heavy workloads facing HR professionals, only 29% feel that their work is valued in their organization. This has led to 78% of respondents saying that they are open to leaving their job this year for new opportunities, joining the swathes of employees already making career moves in the Great Resignation.
• Along with feeling undervalued, HR departments report being under-resourced with 73% saying they don’t have the tools and resources they need to do their job well.
Speaking on the severity of widespread burnout, French warns that without any significant changes, this situation will have an enormous impact on organizations and worsen the challenges they’re facing today. She called for HR and chief people officers to have a seat at the C-suite table. They need to be seen and heard. French believes that chief people officers should be paid better, commensurate with the important work and responsibilities they hold. “One thing I’ve noticed during my working life is that people who have a background in HR rarely make an appearance on company boards. If they do, it is generally post a corporate indiscretion or incident,” French said.
Her view seems obvious to many, but not all executives are on board. Workers are the lifeblood of an organization. If you can’t hire and field the best team of talent, the organization won’t be able to withstand the competition. If employees are not empathetically energized, they’ll become disengaged. They’ll go through the motions and look for new jobs, biding their time until they find the right fit elsewhere. Conversely, if HR can hire the best and brightest and find ways to keep them motivated, the company will perform well and revenues and profit growth will follow.
French pointed out a conundrum, “HR and internal communications are tasked with taking care of employees and ensuring that everybody else feels appreciated, recognized and healthy in the workplace. These professionals should also feel this in order to create a healthier workplace and solve internal issues–how can they do this when they don’t feel the same?” She added, “These results show a serious situation whereby only 1 in 2 feel like their organization values the HR function. Since the start of the pandemic, HR professionals have had to pivot, expand and step up at work in ways that they had never imagined and it’s taking its toll. These people have been at the forefront of the dramatic changes to the world of work and need support from their organizations.”
French advised, “If this situation continues without intervention, leaders will be looking at serious cultural impact and worsening problems around retention and the employee experience more broadly. Significant attention and focus is needed on the people function, as well as investment in the employee experience for all. In practice, this means committing to more people-friendly practices, like flexible working or increased annual leave, but a box-checking exercise won’t be enough to fix this. Organizations must examine their culture and truly listen to their employees about what needs to change.”
Forbes: Jack Kelly, CEO, founder, and executive recruiter