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How Burnout Harms HR Professionals (and 4 Ways to Overcome It)

Country music star Dolly Parton once said, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Many of us work at least 40 hours a week. That doesn’t mean our jobs represent our entire lives. After all, work is something we do — not who we are.

Unfortunately, HR burnout impacts an overwhelming number of professionals. Within the last six months 98% of HR pros said they’ve experienced burnout according to a 2022 study from Workvivo, a workplace communication provider.

It sounds bleak, but it makes sense. HR staff endure a lot of stress spurred by:

You’ve certainly heard about burnout, and maybe even dealt with it personally. But does that mean it’s inevitable for everyone in HR?

It’s impossible to stop all stress. It is possible, however, to get ahead of its preventable sources and foster a place where HR pros find purpose — not regret.

We’ll start by defining burnout and its companywide implications. Then, we’ll delve into its causes and examine how the right tech reduces HR pros’ stress. Let’s get started.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” Burnout is often associated with work. We might experience something like it — such as stagnation or dread — elsewhere, but it’s not quite the same.

Think of it as discomfort and disengagement exacerbated by a specific place. WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome … resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s further characterized by:

  • exhaustion
  • reduced performance
  • negativity toward one’s job

For HR, burnout could lead to more mistakes and a weaker employee experience.

What is the burnout rate for HR professionals?

Again, Workvivo found almost every HR pro (98%) has endured burnout within the last six months. On top of this, 71% of pros don’t feel valued in their organization, and 78% are ready to leave their jobs altogether.

HR pros don’t enter their field because it’s the easiest gig in the world. They do it because they care about people. Unfortunately, widespread turnover and endless, tedious processes can dial up the pressure on HR pros. The resulting burnout keeps them from focusing on the human side of their work.

What causes HR burnout?

The exact source of HR stress varies across businesses and industries. For example, the lone HR pro for a startup company will have different concerns than the CHRO for a global enterprise.

But some sources of HR burnout are universal. Let’s look at five common culprits.

1. Large workload

HR pros juggle a wide array of skills. Over just one week, HR can manage:

  • recruiting
  • payroll
  • training
  • compliance
  • benefits administration
  • system implementation
  • employee relations

At the same time, effective HR departments can’t afford to stop learning. The versatility of their roles demand they stay on top of the latest HR trends, business needs and new employment laws.

Unfortunately, not every hat an HR pro wears plays into their strengths. Any given day, they could be analyzing data, diagnosing a payroll error and gathering feedback from employees over a new initiative. They often become so busy addressing the rest of the organization’s needs, it’s hard for HR pros to focus on their needs.

2. High turnover

HR pros have the same level of agency as any employee, including the ability to resign. According to a 2022 LinkedIn survey, those in HR left the profession faster than any other department. Between July 2021 and June 2022, 14.6% of HR pros quit their jobs.

Employees who remain pick up the slack and leftover stress. This could explain why HR turnover is picking up at an alarming rate. LinkedIn found the overall employee turnover rate between mid-2021 and 2022 was 11%. Proportionally, HR turnover is a harrowing 35% above the average.

Someone who enters HR doesn’t suddenly forfeit their professional needs. HR pros are crucial for a healthy business. They need to feel just as secure and empowered as any other employee. Those who can’t get their needs met can and will find something else, even if it means giving up on their current career.

3. Lack of resources

It’s one thing to have high turnover. Inadequate tools also stoke the flames of HR burnout. In the Workvivo study, 73% of HR pros said they don’t have the right resources to carry out their job effectively.

They need technology that makes their jobs easier, not harder. Endless stacks of paper and hard-to-use tools didn’t work well historically, and they definitely don’t suffice for today’s HR pro. To stave off burnout, HR needs software that’s as versatile as the department is.

4. Emotional exhaustion

HR puts other employees first. While this is admirable and often necessary, handling crisis after crisis emotionally drains HR pros. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, this exhaustion leads to:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • hopelessness
  • depression
  • and more

Emotional exhaustion also yields physical symptoms like fatigue and headaches. Almost all (97%) of HR pros said they experienced emotional exhaustion within the last year, according to Workvivo.

In this way, burnout is the signal they’re overloaded. Most in HR don’t have the option to quiet quit or dial back their responsibilities, leaving them with few options to protect their well-being. Having the right equipment helps, but they also need the same emotional support they give to others.

5. Lack of appreciation

While HR is investing everything they’ve got to help workers, who helps them? According to Workvivo, 50% of HR pros don’t believe their organization supports them.

HR occupies an odd space. While necessary, the department isn’t often credited with directly contributing to profitability. Arguably, HR does the most to ensure every other team works toward the same goal, but even so, that impact can be hard to quantify.

As a result, HR pros often are tied to fixing specific problems, rather than recognized for how they help employees thrive daily. When everything’s fine or even exceptional, HR staff rarely receive praise. But even if their contributions are hard to measure, the work they do is still impactful.

How do businesses address HR burnout?

Every reason behind HR burnout has a way to address it. Unique issues require a deep look into your business, and may take some time to completely solve. Luckily, some forms of relief are more immediate.

Consider these four strategies to help relieve HR’s stress.

1. Conduct regular check-ins

Building a culture of feedback benefits every employee — including HR pros. Performance management tech helps employers set and track individual and team goals. And it lets HR receive real-time feedback about their work. These practices help remind people they’re safe to bring their whole selves to work.

Speaking of feedback: HR pros feel recognized when they feel heard. In the same way HR gathers comments from employees, a powerful survey tool can help business leaders identify what motivates and frustrates HR pros, too.

Frequent and transparent communication is the foundation for reminding HR pros that what they do matters.

2. Give recognition

HR’s impact might be hard to measure, but it’s not impossible. Every action they take has a result, even if it’s just to ensure smooth operations. Certain advanced software measures HR tech usage and calculates ROI. As a result, employee engagement — one of HR’s top priorities — ties straight to the bottom line. Tech like this doesn’t just help HR make a difference; it proves their impact.

From there, it’s easier to recognize HR’s contribution. But even in the absence of measurements, businesses should celebrate less-tangible impacts. Did HR conduct open enrollment without a hitch, or go a full quarter without a single retroactive payroll adjustment? Make a point to acknowledge those wins and let the entire organization know why it matters.

3. Invest in employee wellness

Preventing HR burnout means championing the department’s well-being. In addition to prioritizing general employee wellness, make sure HR has the opportunity to use helpful resources, too.

Benefits administration software can make it easier for them to understand and choose the right option for them. Go a step further and look for benefits that speak to HR’s needs. This could be:

  • on-site wellness counselors
  • telehealth visits
  • financial well-being courses
  • broader development opportunities
  • and more

The right combination could take time to sort out, but implementing it will help extinguish HR burnout and turnover.

4. Simplify time-consuming tasks

Stagnation isn’t far behind tedious, manual tasks. Automation clears the clutter and simplifies processes, so HR pros can pull themselves out of the weeds and focus on more impactful initiatives — such as building culture and improving the employee experience.

Payroll errors are particularly painful for employees and the HR pro who has to fix them. Employee-driven payroll automatically leads workers to find and fix mistakes before submission. This saves HR from spending needless hours retroactively correcting issues that can — and should — be caught in advance.

Recruitment is also tough to manage without HR tech. A streamlined applicant tracking tool helps HR quickly communicate with candidates and make the hiring process more efficient. And once a new hire starts, self-service onboarding software helps employees complete necessary tasks ahead of their first day — all without HR’s direct involvement.

HR is key to employees’ long-term success and satisfaction. The right learning management software makes it easier to deliver engaging training materials over:

  • compliance
  • new programs and initiatives
  • workplace safety and behavior
  • hard, soft and industry-specific skills

Finally, employees have the power to help HR accomplish more. An easy-to-use communication tool simplifies receiving, routing and categorizing HR questions. Plus, a self-service app gives employees instant access to the data that matters to them without requesting it from HR.

Explore Paycom to learn how else the single HR software simplifies HR’s work and reduces burnout.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.

About the author
Author picture, Jennifer Kraszewski
Jennifer Kraszewski
Jennifer Kraszewski, Paycom’s senior executive vice president of human resources, has more than 20 years of HR leadership experience, driving transformative, business-focused human capital strategies in high-growth industries to achieve efficiencies, compliance and employee engagement. Named by Human Resource Executive® magazine as one of the Top 100 HR Tech Influencers in 2020 and 2021, Kraszewski is a featured blogger and hosts webinars on HR topics through the Society for Human Resource Management, HR Daily and She is SPHR- and SHRM-SCP-certified.