Overworked and Overwhelmed. Welcome to HR Today.

Earlier this year, Lattice surveyed over 700 HR professionals to better understand their challenges and priorities. The resulting 2021 State of People Strategy Report found that 42% of HR teams cited emotional exhaustion and burnout as their top challenges. They also said that they’re feeling overwhelmed and understaffed. Considering how critical these teams will be in driving the economic recovery, results like these should give us all pause. 

Why HR Teams Are Burned Out

The pressure and expectations placed on HR have never been higher. Before the pandemic, HR teams were responsible for engagement, performance, compensation, and a host of other people-strategy focus areas — not to mention “owning” culture and the employee experience. Since then, HR leaders have become health and safety experts, mental-health gurus, and hybrid-work technologists.

All of that additional work, on top of HR’s existing responsibilities, has taken a toll. Indeed, 42% of HR professionals cited an overwhelming number of projects and responsibilities as the biggest challenge facing their department, and 67% said that the increased and unexpected workload was a driving factor behind team exhaustion. 

The Great Resignation Isn’t Helping Things

Early 2020 was a particularly difficult time in HR, with teams needing to administer layoffs and furloughs. But in a complete reversal, HR teams are now being asked to deliver unprecedented headcount growth while also curbing voluntary turnover.

And there is lots of turnover. Half of HR pros have indicated increased voluntary departures at their organizations. Specifically, 34% reported slightly higher turnover, while nearly 20% reported significantly higher turnover.Topping things off, many HR departments have been asked to rise to the occasion with too few employees, only adding to their collective burnout. Just under half of the professionals surveyed said their department being understaffed made their HR team’s exhaustion especially challenging. 

In other words, the team responsible for making sure other departments aren’t burned out and understaffed is, in actuality, burned out and understaffed. 

Remote Work Is Still Hard, But for Different Reasons

When Covid first hit, the shift to remote or hybrid work was sudden and unexpected, and many teams weren’t ready for the immediate pivot. As it stands today, for a majority of companies, that shift is permanent — 55% of companies plan to continue with a fully remote or hybrid environment moving forward, which presents additional challenges for HR teams.

Luckily, most companies have made huge strides in navigating remote and hybrid work and are in a much better position today to support their teams than they were in the early days of the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. HR teams still cite onboarding (41%), managing employee training (34%), and hiring (33%) as their biggest hybrid-related challenges.

Since last year, HR departments have implemented technologies and policies to ensure people remain productive — but concerns around engagement, culture, and belonging persist. Such concerns will likely continue in the long-term as companies try to make hybrid work a success.

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How to Support Your HR Team 

Given all the above, many HR professionals feel like they’re at the end of their rope. It’s up to leadership at organizations — including HR leadership — to step up and better support HR teams as they navigate ongoing challenges. 

Set boundaries for remote HR employees. HR teams across the board feel the impact of burnout, but for HR professionals who work remotely, where the lines between work and home are blurred, it can be even more challenging. That’s why it’s important for organizations to encourage their remote employees, including those in HR, to set boundaries around how much time they spend working.   

Ask them what they need. If you want to know what your HR team needs to feel supported, the best thing you can do is ask them. Consider holding focus groups or conducting surveys to better understand how you and the rest of the executive team can better support your HR employees and prevent them from burning out. If you hear that they’re understaffed, give careful consideration to expanding the team.

Invest in the right tools.  When asked to rate how well they were performing against their goals, of the highest-performing HR teams, 60% use performance management software, while 52% use training management software — compared to just 36% and 28%, respectively, in underperforming HR teams. So take stock of which tools or software your HR team needs to do their jobs effectively, and then invest in those tools and software to facilitate their best work.

The past 20 months have presented unprecedented challenges for HR departments everywhere, and employees are struggling as a result. For HR teams to be healthy, engaged, and move forward, it’s important to take the time to understand their struggles and then take actions to address them. Doing so will help set up your entire organization up for success as we enter this next phase of the pandemic, whatever it may bring.

Jack Altman is the co-founder and CEO at Lattice. He is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller People Strategy, a contributing writer for Forbes Tech Council as well as multiple HR publications, and a frequent HR industry event speaker.

Prior to launching Lattice, Jack was the VP of business and corporate development at Teespring, an e-commerce platform, and was also an early-stage venture capital investor. Jack earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton.

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