HRM Five: Managing stress from the HR office

One of HR's key roles in the organisation is to make sure high levels of stress don't lead to employee burnout. But HR leaders may also need to manage stress themselves
By: | October 8, 2017

HRM Five offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


HR professionals know – probably better than anyone else in the typical organisation – the costs and impacts of stress on the workforce. But they can also be among the biggest victims of stress themselves.

With multiple hats to wear, and legions of stakeholders involved in every decision, the stress can pile on. In the short term, that is survivable. But sustained workloads and stress can make burnout a very real possibility, which leaves HR professionals – and the organisations they serve – in a precarious position.

This week’s HRM Five looks at the ways HR professionals can both recognise and reduce the stress in their professional lives.

1. Regular check-ins

Open communication is critical to leadership and preventing burnout, and HR is in a unique position to lead by example here. They should be sure to check in both up and down the line.

Check in with employees periodically and provide feedback — and ask for their feedback on HR in return. Be sure they can ask for help and are not afraid to speak up when things are getting too hectic.

At the same time, HR should also check in with their leadership on a regular basis. Discuss realistic workloads, deadlines and expectations within the HR team, because when expectations and directions are clear, work tends to be less stressful and more productive.

2. Flexible schedules

When looking at the causes of stress, it’s important to not just consider what happens at the office. A frustrating commute in and out of the city could also be behind that increased pressure on that key HR team member. Embracing flexible schedules, as well as working-from-home arrangements can eliminate a lot of the small, daily, stress-causing factors that can add up to a big burden over time.

Adopting flexible working within the HR team is also an ideal leading-by-example initiative that can highlight stress-limiting work practices across the organisation.

3. Cross-training

Stress often comes when an employee believes they are the only one that can do their job – and so anything that happens outside of their control weighs extra heavily. HR teams can limit this scenario by ensuring members are all cross-trained across more than one – and ideally several – HR functional areas. Why be limited to only recruitment, when you can also cover for the compensation specialists in exceptional circumstances?

Cross-training is not only a good HR strategy to ensure continuity in a crisis, it can help to build more engaged and creative HR staff across each of the functions.

4. Recognition

In another case of making sure HR professionals take advantage of their own work, formal recognition programmes are a fantastic way to reignite engagement and boost morale across an HR team specifically.

Feeling appreciated is a basic human need. But it is an all too common occurrence when the HR team that sets up an effective recognition programme that they don’t feel they are able to participate in it and reap the feel-good benefits themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A lack of appreciation leads to disengagement across all parts of the business. So, possibly the first formal recognition from a new programme should be to the HR teams that developed it.

5. Stress education

HR professionals will generally be including formal education and communication about stress into the broad wellness programmes for the overall workforce. This may be through scheduled “Lunch and Learn” events, or perhaps guest speakers who provide expert knowledge on the effects of stress and ways to manage it.

However, HR professionals need to go one step further and participate in these sessions themselves. They need to also make sure they also get something out it in the context of their own roles and ambitions.

It is HR’s job to deal with stress effectively across the workforce, helping employees to take care of themselves and limiting the damage that stress can cause – and it is always a good idea to start close to home.