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Written By
Shang Trinidad

Self-care for HR professionals: Why you should “put on your own mask” first

Self-care for HR professionals
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Table of Content

Table of Contents

The industry and the way we work have evolved dramatically in recent years, shaped by factors such as digital transformation, the ongoing pandemic, shifting global growth patterns, and a new generation in the workforce. 

One of the biggest changes that we’ve seen is the evolution of the Human Resources function. Traditionally, HR focuses primarily on administrative, legal, and ethical tasks. Today, People Operations has also become a strategic business driver, looking into holistic employee experience and putting people at the center. Last year, in Singapore, awards were handed out to 12 companies for their efforts in promoting mental health in the workplace.

The role of HR in every organisation is more critical than ever, with emphasis on every employee’s journey and happiness while keeping the business going especially at a time of crisis and great uncertainty.

But, while HR is looking after their people during these challenging times, who is looking after our HR team?

HR professionals are humans, too

HR practitioners have been operating in crisis mode during the pandemic, going above and beyond to support our employees. For instance:

It’s easy to forget that we are also impacted by stressful situations too, being exhausted and drained from our own professional and personal responsibilities. Just like everyone else, HR is at increased risk of burnout, disconnect and decreased engagement due to the ongoing pressure of the amount of workload on their plate. 

According to Culture Amp, only 34% of HR practitioners feel that they are able to switch off from work to make time for rest. Data from Human Resource Executive’s annual “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night” survey also revealed that 86% of HR practitioners said that their stress has increased in the last year alone.

Self-care for HR professionals

When you’ve chosen a profession in Human Resources, you tend to put people first before yourself which in turn gives you less time to practice self-care. One of the lessons the pandemic has taught us is that we have to put the “human” back into human resources, and it starts with HR realising they are human too.  

As the popular saying goes, in an emergency you are always instructed to first put on your own mask and then help anyone else you’re with. The same goes for work—in the midst of everything, HR needs to put their mask first. We are able to do our job properly and take care of the employees if we take care of ourselves first. 

One of the challenges in our line of work is that most of the time, we may not have a designated point of contact to go to for support. Here are a few self-care tips on how we can take care of our mental health and wellbeing.

Set healthy boundaries (and stick to them)

As HR practitioners, it’s important to know personal limits and commit to them. 

Often, we may be doing things that are outside our job description, and it’s difficult to have an “off” button when you’re in the business of helping people. 

It’s best to have boundaries and overcommunicate in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and out of control. If you feel like your work schedule is unmanageable or people are messaging you after work hours and even during weekends, holidays, and when you’re on personal leave, you should definitely set some limits. 

Personally, I avoid looking at work emails after work hours or when I am on leave so I can focus on my personal life and have time for self-care. I also make sure to communicate these limits clearly and directly to people so that they are aware of my work hours or what constitutes an emergency or urgent matter when they need to contact me. 

Self-care for HR professionals

HR practitioners also need to set boundaries in terms of their work. It’s not unusual that we always tend to say “yes” to every meeting and to every new task or project. 

A practice that I have been doing to keep myself from saying “yes” all the time is pausing and taking my time to respond. It gives me a chance to check in with myself, my schedule, and even my capacity to get it done. 

I also practice the art of saying “no”. It may seem difficult at first, but I know it would be fair to everyone if I don’t over-commit. At the end of the day, we can always find better ways to compromise. 

It’s okay to seek help

As the heart and soul of every organisation, employees often approach HR to help resolve problems and issues—both personal and professional. We’re tasked to deal with handling heightened emotions and mental exhaustion, being the shoulder to cry on, and the dependable person to go to as confidantes. 

We may put on a brave face in every challenge and task that we’re handling. However, HR professionals also feel negative emotions that impact our mental health. When left unaddressed and unacknowledged, this is bound to take a toll on us. 

Keeping employees happy may be part of our job, but doing the same thing for ourselves should also be a priority. In worst cases, some of us may feel compassion fatigue or empathy burnout, and that is not good for anyone including ourselves.

The first step of self-care is recognising that as human beings, we, like everyone else, need help. We always hear the statement “it’s okay not to feel okay”, and as cliché as it may sound, this is true. HR are not robots—nobody expects us to be strong at all times. 

Being the problem-solver makes asking for help challenging and difficult. In my case, I needed to realise that there are people who are willing to lend a hand as well as self-care resources to help me cope with my mental health and wellness issues. 

Once I addressed my feelings of isolation, anxiety, and burnout, it paved a way for my journey to self-care and self-discovery. 

Find a support group

In research professor Brené Brown’s TED Talk last 2020, “The Power of Vulnerability”, she shared that those who thrived in life had a strong sense of love and belonging, and that their connection with others was fostered by a sense of courage, authenticity, and compassion. 

They also embraced vulnerability. HR practitioners often do not show vulnerability as we feel that we may not be understood or accepted. We fear that showing vulnerability may lead to us being judged, disagreed with, or retaliated against. 

That is why support groups are helpful for self-care. They provide a safe space for us to open up, and at the same time, hear others share their experiences and their coping strategies. It helps us realise that we are not alone.

Self-care for HR professionals

Personally, I have joined a lot of HR support groups in the past few years. Having other people around me is helpful, but they may not understand the intricacies of my job or have answers to questions and issues that are related to my work. 

That’s why I sought out communities of industry peers and thought leaders where we discuss common HR matters and how we can deal with them. Being surrounded by like-minded people in the same field really helped me to be open about opening up and drove me to practise self-care as these people are equipped to empathise and support one another. 

Taking care of yourself first is not selfish

As we continue to provide great service and support to our employees, it’s important to be mindful of self-care

More often than not, we are our own harshest critic. But self-care isn’t about being selfish. 

By recognising and acknowledging that we have a heavy load to bear, we make it a priority to look after ourselves before we look out for others. 

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