A Stress Survival Guide for HR Managers/Professionals:
Ten Stressors and Five Management Strategies
In todays 24/7, constantly changing, merging and consolidating, "do
more with less" work environment the letters "HR" could as easily
stand for "Hub of Reorganization" as for "Human Resources."
And, in fact, its the intersection of these two organizational dynamics
human exchange and systemic change that accounts for the inherent challenge
and performance pressure for the HR Manager and other human resources
professionals. When a person, over time, is confronted by high demands along
with rapidly changing requirements and responsibilities (especially related to
the welfare, safety, rights, etc., of others) and believes he lacks sufficient
control, authority or autonomy to deal with such high pitched and fast paced
demands the result is predictable: Chronic Stress!
Lets begin with a list of HR-related stressors:
1. Availability and Accountability. The stress factor is double-pronged:
While HR may be a separate department, it is hardly an island in corporate
waters; all company personnel believe they should have some representation
through HR. HR should be at the beck and call of all employees. And if the HR
professional totally buys into the rescuer role, taking every personnel problem
home at night
beware: Burnout is less a sign of failure and more that you gave
2. Objectivity. The challenge for an effective and widely accepted HR
department is to maintain some functional independence even when part of the
management structure. The HR professional must be somewhat detached from yet,
also, be an objective and concerned advocate for both management and employees
to be a robust problem-solving (not just numbers crunching) force in the
3. Multiple Roles. In light of his or her hub position, not surprisingly,
the HR manager/professional often plays many roles from coach and counselor
to cop and confessor. And, if thats not enough, he or she must be the
organizational or interpersonal safety net or back up when there are breakdowns
or problems with: a) manager-supervisor-employee relations, b) reorganizational
change, such as a downsizing, c) outdated or illegal policies, d) prejudicial
4. Disgruntled Personnel. Clearly, as outlined above, there are HR
demands and responsibilities aplenty. The proverbial icing, of course, is having
to negotiate problems with people who have a grievance with a supervisor, are
upset about pay, performance evaluation or promotion (or termination) issues.
Certainly, it can be emotionally and professionally rewarding helping rectify a
significant personnel problem. Still, chronically providing service to angry
customers can all to easily result in a case of "brain strain."
5. Transitional Glue. Especially in times of rapid or volatile change
mergers, downsizing or rapid startup or growth the HR Manager often becomes
a company cheerleader (or that stress confessor). He or she often must help
folks sustain morale in the face of an uncertain and possibly vulnerable future.
The HR goal: not allowing the companys "esprit de corps" regress
into an "esprit de corpse!" The HR Manager may become the messenger
helping employees and supervisors interpret reorganizational pronouncements from
the management mountaintop. Sometimes the HR leader must assume the Moses mantle
while the employee tribes wander for a period in the transitional desert. Anyone
for the training class on, "Parting Really Large Bodies of Water?"
6. Crisis Management. A potential danger in being the hub of the wheel is
believing you are the center of your corporate solar system. All organizational
life depends on your energy source. The HR Manager must realize when certain
crises are outside his or her sphere of productive "hands on"
influence; one must resist the "solo savior syndrome" role. When
downsizing trauma started evoking racial tension and threats the pulling up
of a KKK website and public playing of a Louis Farrakhan tape in a federal
government division, HR called for the Stress Doc. As a critical incident
specialist my role is clear: to stop the vicious cycle before it turns violent
and to lay the groundwork for productive conflict resolution and team building.
7. Privacy Requirements. An ongoing challenge for the HR Professional
interfacing with numerous individuals, departments and senior managers is
sharing critical information and upholding employees privacy rights. Another
stressor recently came to my attention: an HR Manager unsure how to respond to a
supervisors breach of confidentiality. This supervisor unprofessionally (if
not, illegally) shared with her employees that a colleague was hospitalized for
mental health reasons. Such a breach is like a virus that can contaminate
everyones operating system and sense of security. The HR Managers standing
as a leader is on the line, not just the supervisors.
8. Ever-changing Technology and Policy. Like other corporate entities,
The HR Department must keep up with new
human resources software and data processing systems.
Increasingly, having an internal website for sharing key information with
employees is critical. And invariably, to get up and running technologically
takes longer than anticipated. Glitch happens!
And, of course, there are ever-changing policy requirements or cultural
diversity/gender issues whether mandated by Congress or the EPA. Also, lets
not overlook the rapidly changing or constricting dictates from corporate
headquarters to field operations. All these systemic forces can undermine a
sense of control of everyday HR functioning.
9. Training Demands. The HR Team cannot provide individual handholding
with employees for all personnel issues. Depending on company size, HR must have
enough time and staff to provide classroom orientation on HR-related matters. An
HR manager often needs to delegate the training function to a subordinate. A
manager who cannot delegate is a manager who cannot survive. Individuals must be
encouraged to do reasonable data gathering or research or else HR will be
enabling inefficient, if not dysfunctional, dependence.
10. Office Space-Time. Finally, the HR Manager/Department must discover
that elusive balance between reasonable physical access and protected space for
productive energy. Feng Shui rules even in Corporate America. (A good friend
sent this Encarta definition: FENG SHUI ("fung shway" = wind
and water) is the study of environmental balance. The system studies people's
relationships to the environment in which they live, especially their dwelling
or workspace, in order to achieve maximum harmony with the spiritual forces
believed to influence all places.) A department without some "closed door
time and a closed meeting space for the HR team invites both productivity and
morale problems from actual privacy violations to free-floating privacy
anxieties amongst employees.
Here are five survival strategies:
1. Balancing Interdependence and Autonomy. The HR Manager and Department
must strive to project both an image of operational objectivity and a defender
of privacy while performing its overall management function. The HR professional
must also develop a capacity for "detached involvement," that is,
being sensitive to personnel issues and individual employee concerns while
resisting the rescuer role. If youre always taking work home literally or
emotionally your personal/personnel boundary is starting to erode. See #2.
2. Reaching Out to Specialists and Consultants. Whether taking things too
personally, feeling overwhelmed processing a significant downsizing of staff or
stressed upgrading a computer system, dont be that lone Rambo or Rambette.
Reach out for expert support. Especially with seriously disgruntled or
dysfunctional employees, whenever possible, collaborate with an Employee
Assistance Program counselor. And as mentioned, for widespread department
tension consider using a corporate change/critical intervention consultant.
3. Balancing Administrative Work and Human Relating. Beware becoming a
solitary HR numbers cruncher sequestered in your IT fortress. Dont lose the
human touch. Periodically, walk around your shop. Swap stories with folks on the
workfloor. Be the HR bridge between management and employees. And, perhaps most
important, rotating different hats will help you follow that Stress Doc maxim:
"Fireproof your life with variety!"
4. Encouraging Independence by Setting Boundaries. These three
boundary-setting strategies will enable the HR Manager to successfully juggle
various roles and responsibilities.
a. Delegation. Clearly, giving others a chance to demonstrate their
skills and expertise while you monitor (not micromanage) their performance is
vital. Balancing "The Triple A" Authority, Autonomy and
Accountability is a critical management and stress management tool.
b. Education. Another key stress manager is helping others not be so
dependent upon your indispensable knowledge. Training for employees and
supervisors on HR-related procedures, negotiating information on websites, and
encouraging self-initiated employee data gathering, etc., is vital in todays
time- and task-driven environment.
c. Separation. Finally, generate the space-time dynamics for optimal
performance for HR. Balance accessibility and boundaries with "closed
door" time; design a form and function layout that allows for vital
interdependence between HR and employees. One HR department installed a
dartboard on a back wall for stress relieving fun and friendly competition.
Model the stress management mantra: "Giving of yourself and giving to
5. Maximizing Team Meetings. For the HR Manager and his or her staff,
productive team meetings are essential for sharing a logistically and
emotionally demanding workload. Meetings need to be more than time- and
task-driven staffings; build in a fifteen-minute "wavelength" segment
for group brainstorming and venting around emotionally tough personnel issues
dealing with pink slips, reorganizational uncertainty, turf battles with
other departments, and cultural diversity tensions, etc. Let a staff member
acknowledge sources of work pressure; as a group, assess the strengths and
roadblocks affecting solid team coordination and cooperation. Perhaps even
rotate the leadership of these meetings amongst your HR staff. Learn to wear
both team member and manager hats.
Recognizing the ten stressors and five strategic interventions will lighten your
personal load while strengthening your leadership hold. And it will enable you
and your entire HR team to
Practice Safe Stress!