The human resource leader’s role is rapidly evolving with ever-changing technology. Many of the responsibilities which formerly fell to HR departments have become automated. Chatbots answer employees’ questions regarding company benefits. Employees may be responsible for enrolling themselves in health plans and tracking their own hours via online systems. Ever expanding recruitment technologies aid HR leaders as they seek to hire the best talent in an increasingly diverse talent pool.
Yet technological advancement does not mean the work of the HR department has become simpler. On the contrary, HR professionals have seen their responsibilities expand as they seek to manage these new technologies while retaining their primary role as employee advocate. Additionally, HR departments are increasingly serving strategic roles within organizations.
Human resources departments have a unique opportunity and responsibility to shape company culture. While financial strategy is the number one driver of the C-suite’s decisions, HR leaders play a critical role in gauging whether or not the talent can carry out the company’s goals. They are more attuned to problems within the organization; consequently, when executives fling out ideas for company policy, the HR leader has a sense of how the policy will play out in employees’ lives. If people are an organization’s most valuable resource, the HR team is indispensable in making sure the people who create the culture are functional, thriving, even.
In the role of employee advocate, it’s essential that an HR leader model emotional health and intelligence. If employees do not feel they can express feelings to their HR manager or team, the organization has a problem. A constantly-frazzled, at her wits’ end HR leader does not inspire confidence — employees must feel safe consulting with the HR team. So, today’s HR leader helps to drive culture strategy, and then must model it mindfully.
The responsibilities are endless and rapidly changing. Whether you’re on an HR team of 20 or you are the company’s sole professional, there’s a real danger of falling into “action addiction.” In her book The Mind of a Leader, Jacqueline Carter defines action addiction like this: An uncontrollable urge to be doing something and a discomfort with being still. These “somethings” may be: checking texts or emails, combing social media, mindlessly reading articles deemed “important” in the field.
The endless activity comes from an unreflective place, the “Monkey Mind” that tells us every second of the day must be filled or we are, somehow, falling behind. Yet this activity loop feeds on itself — busyness begets busyness. You are never “done.” HR leaders caught in this trap find themselves unable to catch a breath. In this state, it becomes impossible to hone in on the needs of others and think strategically about how to utilize employee talents and interests to move the company forward.
Take a focus break
How can this busy-ness be avoided? It’s incumbent on HR leaders to develop their emotional intelligence as the tasks pile up. There are simple strategies HR leaders can implement throughout the week in order to calm and declutter the mind, thereby sharpening focus for what’s most important. I love the concept of a 10 minute focus break proposed by Carter in The Mind of a Leader. The process is simple: set your timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably in your chair. Inhale, slowly, and count to 10; then exhale, counting backwards from 10. Repeat this process for the duration of the 10 minutes. Mental distractions are inevitable; when they arise, simply return your attention to the breath.
There are plenty of other tricks you could try. If there’s a task that requires all of your focus, set a timer for 40 minutes (just 40 minutes!) and give your whole attention to it, no distractions allowed. Outside office time can also have unexpected benefits for solving work problems. Insights may bubble to the surface when you’re on a long run. Perhaps engaging your creativity through trying new things, such as oil painting or learning to sew, can help you approach work scenarios from new angles. I’m a big fan of float sessions; amidst the stillness and sensory deprivation, my mind races with solutions and new perceptions.
Whatever practices you find helpful, it’s important to get into the habit of honing them now. Human resource leaders stand on the precipice of monumental change posed by the fourth industrial revolution. As companies transition to team-centric, non-hierarchical workplaces, as rapid evolution in AI presents continued technological disruption, the HR professional must lean in to her role as a culture driver and help employees and executives weather the seachange. Mindful, agile, emotionally intelligent leaders will bridge the gap from disruption to wholeness in the workplace. It’s an unprecedented responsibility — and opportunity.