‘We can invest a lot of emotional energy getting caught up in other people’s problems’
HR professionals must manage their own energy levels in terms of what they take on and what they do on behalf of other people, according to people management specialist Karen Gately.
“We can invest a lot of emotional energy getting caught up in other people’s problems, concerns and challenges,” Gately told HRD.
“That can obviously undermine our health, strength and spirit over time.”
Gately said it's also important to understand that HR professionals can have a lot of different challenges coming at them at once.
“All of a sudden every man and his dog is up in arms about something and challenges come along which means the peaks and troughs can be really difficult to manage,” she said.
“So that takes a lot of personal discipline and structured approaches to the way that we manage our day.
"Getting on top of busyness is as much about choosing what not to do as it is about what to do.”
Gately said it’s important to learn to say ‘no’, to leave managers jobs with them, coach them, help them to get things done, but to not do everything yourself.
“You can’t get between the employee and the manager anyway to be effective, so create capacity in your world by getting people to go and solve their own problems for themselves and advise them on how to do that.”
According to Gately, burnout generally is a significant issue in society and it is certainly true with HR, but there is a huge emotional cost when they’re people that care.
“Sometimes we are doing things like making people redundant or terminating their employment, and even though that’s a fair decision it can still be very taxing and draining,” she said.
“People like to blame HR if things didn’t work out for them in their employment, especially if they are not ready to take accountability for themselves."
Gately added that HR operates in a difficult world where it can be hard to please everybody.
“So again that overtime can cause burnout and sometimes can lead to health issues like depression, anxiety, etc, but it can also lead to empathy fatigue where you just get to a point where it’s like ‘I just don’t have it in me to care anymore’," she said.
“When I know I’m burning out that’s when I need to create space for me to get back on top of my energy levels.”
For Gately, burnout is particularly a big issue for an introverted HR professional.
In particular, having to constantly engage with people day in, day out, can be a major drain on energy.
“So for most introverts it’s critical to have focus times to work through priorities. Introverts don’t enjoy unanticipated interruptions, for example, to the same extent that extroverts do.”
Gately said that extroverted HR people often like to get out there and seek lots of different situations, they like to juggle and they like to multi-task.
“Whereas introverts are more likely to enjoy a structured focus approach to their day, so it’s critically important that you are able to create that time and space to work in the ways that actually suit you and energise you,” said Gately.
“So we can find ourselves hidden away, taking an introverted approach and therefore not necessarily looking up, observing what’s going on, reading the vibe of the place, and getting out amongst it to be able to influence whatever outcomes we need to."
Gately said there are HR professionals who have come up through perhaps the policy, the government or the risk management side of HR that are more likely to be introverted and they are more likely to be analytical in what drives them.
“But there is another side of HR where people are really drawn to it because they are nurturing or they want to influence people or, dare I say, control people,” said Gately.
“It is all about engaging with others and those people are typically extroverted.”