Stress and HR Management

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In many organisations, those that are suffering of stress the most, are the people working in HR!
By Dominique Dierckxsens

Stress and HR Management

My job consists of assisting organisations in increasing their performances. The usual contact point for these processes is HR Management. After 30 years of collaboration, something struck me. It strucks me that in many organisations, those that are suffering the most, are the people working in HR!

So, I started wondering why?

stress and HR Management

There are the universal explanations for the ever-increasing stress-levels in organisations:

  1. Change: in an ever-changing environment, the need for constant adjustment is perceived as stressful by the individual employee.
  2. Automation has allowed to do the same work, with fewer people. The remaining people work harder though, often in “multi-tasking” mode.
  3. The striving for efficiency puts an extra burden on people. Their workload tends to increase.
  4. Identification with the organisation and values, appears to be an issue for a large part of the employee base. People are lacking purpose and meaning.
  5. Mergers and almost constant re-organisations, in an effort of improving the bottom-line, are known to be a huge source of stress for the people involved.
  6. Job-insecurity: jobs-for-life are history, and the trend is the creation of temporary jobs, free-lancing, hiring people as “independents”, interim-work,… There is a price to this, in terms of stress.
  7. Work-life balance: people are increasingly struggling with finding their capacity to manage their private and professional lives at the same time.
  8. Technostress: people don’t give themselves “a break” anymore. Always connected, permanently “prompted”, virus threats,..

But what is it that makes it even harder for the HR employees?

If we look at the list above, we could argue that some of the most common sources of stress affect them even more than others. They find themselves between a rock (top-management pushing for cost-reductions with HR being generally the first target, having to “manage” re-organisations) and a hard place (the employees of the organisation looking for help and support, knocking on the door of HR).

Thus, on top of the universal and increasing sources of stress that affect all employees, they seem to face additional sources of stress. And the consequences can be witnessed all-over: absenteeism, turnover, burnout, depression and anxiety are the highest in HR, compared to other departments, with exception of customer service (call center).

Another characteristic of the HR-role is the inherent “human role”, something an increasingly large portion of the organisation feels uncomfortable with. In fact, the typical HR-employee is a technician, trained in one or more aspects of the HR-process, except for dealing with human issues. The lack of the soft skills needed to face these – sometimes tense – human interactions, is by itself a factor of stress.

And the (small) group of HR people, specifically dedicated to dealing with the human factor, tend to succumb to the increasing demand on their empathy. There is only that much a human being can give, without feeling “drained”.

Given the above, the solution should be looked for in the following:

  1. In dealing with the pressure from above: HR should clarify its role. They cannot be assumed to deal with whatever (mostly human) aspect of re-organisations or cost-savings that is decided by top-management. The human factor should be taken into account “upstream”, involving the entire management. This might imply some additional coaching/training of the entire management team (including the lower levels) for them to learn how to deal with “human issues”. Basically, they’ll have to improve their soft skills.
  2. In dealing with the pressure from below: the typical reason for not taking a step back, and improve one’s human skills, is an already existing state of exhausting, and lack of time. In conclusion: a vicious circle. Personal/professional coaching should be provided to every HR employee, and for this time should be made available, not optionally, but mandatory.

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