A Stress Survival Guide for HR Managers/Professionals

 | September 20,2010 11:50 am IST

In today's 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, it's 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!


Let's 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 yourself away.


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 organization.


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 that's not enough, he or she must be the organizational or interpersonal safety net or back up when there are breakdowns or problems with: -

Manager-supervisor-employee relations,

  • Re-organizational change, such as a downsizing,
  • Hiring crises,
  • Outdated or illegal policies,
  • Prejudicial procedures, etc.


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 company's "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
When the hub of the wheel, a potential danger is the belief that you are the center of the 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 supervisor's 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 everyone's operating system and sense of security. The HR Manager's standing as a leader is on the line, not just the supervisor's.

8. Ever-changing Technology and Policy
Like other corporate entities, The HR Department must keep up with new 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, let's 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.




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