Managing Burnout For You and Your Team as an HR

Princess Obazee

Published on Noveber 1, 2022

3 min read

Dealing with people daily can be taxing for an HR. Setting up remote working operations, preparing a hybrid work environment, monitoring health and safety procedures, and recruiting and hiring amid the massive wave of employee departures commonly known as ‘Japa’ in Nigeria or ‘the Great Resignation’ in other countries are just a few of the challenges that many HR professionals are dealing with and that can contribute to workplace burnout.

According to the 2021 Global Workplace Burnout Study, 34.7% of people are experiencing burnout. So, what is burnout? How do you as an HR professional spot the signs of burnout in your team and in what ways can you help?

What is Burnout?

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It is classified as an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It is not a synonym for being stressed. It happens when you experience emotional exhaustion, and an inability to handle ongoing expectations. You start to lose the enthusiasm and drive that initially motivated you to accept a particular role as the stress mounts.

Telltale signs of Burnout

Burnout doesn’t just happen, it builds gradually. Some early signs and symptoms appear mild or natural but having all these symptoms at the same time can lead to burnout. These symptoms are:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Energy Depletion and Exhaustion

Most of us experience days when we feel helpless, overwhelmed, or unappreciated; days when we have to muster the will of a thousand men to go to work. We understand what it's like to work extremely hard and eagerly anticipate a few days off to recharge. However, the type of exhaustion linked to burnout is more chronic. It does not disappear after a vacation and has the effect of dragging you down both mentally and physically.

Reduced Professional Efficacy

Mental distance from one’s job or Negativism or Cynicism

This involves feeling detached and separating oneself from a job or even becoming cynical about it. This feeling can manifest as avoidance, irritation, forgetfulness, lack of attention, tardiness or leaving work early, and difficulty completing tasks. You can start to lose interest in your work or wonder about your organization's goals and objectives. What once inspired and motivated you at work no longer has the same impact.

The third symptom of burnout is a performance drop in work. This could be delays in finishing important tasks, a lack of interest in continuing education and improving skills, and working on other projects while at work. Perhaps you used to be excellent at your job and are now noticing a decline in the quality of work. Alternatively, you may be maintaining the same peak performance but at a higher cost: it now requires more work, concentration, and effort than before.

How You Can Help as an HR

Because of the many consequences associated with burnout, HR professionals must deal with this immediately.

Embed wellness as part of the organization’s culture

Experts have agreed that addressing burnout must begin at the top because it is not an individual problem but a problem with organizations and society. Workplaces have an important role and responsibility in ensuring the necessary conditions for well-being at a societal level. Adopting wellness initiatives ensures that structural changes and organizational cultures are made to tackle the root cause of burnout: workplace stress.

Leverage HR Technology

HR teams need to leverage HR technology to effectively manage their workload. According to the 2021 State of People Strategy Report from Lattice, “The most successful People teams invest in HR software and analytics”. Having the right HR Software should make their jobs easier. From recruitment management systems to people management platforms, there is a tool for every stage of the employee life cycle. This will enable HR teams to work efficiently and avoid spending all of their time on tactical work.