The past year has been a time of change and uncertainty for all of us, and as someone working in HR, trying to manage the health and well-being of a rapidly growing team presented a unique challenge. My work commitment was to fully support my team members during the global pandemic. But simultaneously, I was also going through the same hardships as the 106 coworkers I was trying to help.
As the pandemic unfolded, it became clear that everything we knew went out the window. There was the obvious task of enabling our entire team to work remotely, while also keeping up with constantly changing state and federal guidelines and policies.
On top of the logistical challenges, we also had to confront the hard realities of supporting physical and mental health, safety, and wellness for an entire team.
With 76% of US employees saying they’re currently experiencing worker burnout, we tried our best to be proactive and anticipate the needs of team members while they took care of themselves and their loved ones
After a lot of thought and planning, we implemented new programs and benefits, including free therapy and guided meditation sessions, therapist-led "coping with covid" webinars, virtual exercise classes, monthly food delivery and home goods purchase credits, and a stipend to set up home offices.
We also looked for non-traditional ways to support and connect our employees. We hosted unique virtual social events, such as a plant propagation class hosted by plant Instagram influencer, Hilton Carter, and a sangria happy hour hosted by drag queens.
During the pandemic, we’ve kept an open line of communication to keep a pulse on everyone’s needs.
We set up random check-ins with team members, our senior leadership team reminded everyone to reach out if they needed to talk or share ideas, and we organized a support session with employees who were parents or caretakers to help them balance work and home life.
As HR director, I felt the need to stay positive and provide support to others during these hard times. Finding ways to prevent and alleviate pandemic burnout in my team became one of my top priorities.
But through all this time and effort spent focused on my team, I started to notice warning signs that I myself was on the road to burnout.
I preemptively reached out to the resources my team had worked hard to put in place for this very purpose. I spoke to my manager who led with compassion and empathy to understand my unique needs. She encouraged me to take quality time off and we collaborated on a plan to re-prioritize projects. I took advantage of our free therapy sessions, and I devoted more intentional time to my personal life.
I was able to find blocks of days that I could take off work. On one of my vacation days, I took my niece and nephew to the aquarium. It was an amazing experience and the two of them still talk about how cool it was that I took them to see sharks. I’m very thankful to be at a company that prioritizes mental health with a CEO who regularly messages the team to remind us to take time off in lieu of vacations, weddings, and concerts to go to.
As HR professionals, we spend a lot of time checking in on others, but I remembered how important it is to have someone checking in on me too.
I sought out other HR professionals in communities, working sessions, and one-on-one pairings. It felt great to normalize that no one had it all figured out, and that no one really has the "right" answer to any of the many unknowns that came up in the past year. We helped crowdsource ideas, approaches, and learnings to bring back to our companies and test out. It became a support network to share challenges and lean on each other for help.
Through all this, I’ve learned a few key lessons that HR professionals can leverage to help with pandemic burnout:
1. Adjust your perspective: Shift away from goals and objectives that were set in stone and be more communicative, empathetic, and timely in recalibrating on things with team members.
2.Keep an open mind: Because work and life converged into one, it’s important to give each other grace as we all learn how to balance things.
3. Prioritize "you" time: Invest in time to reflect on your day and carve out time on the calendar to break away from work. Draw a very clear red line in the sand between home and work.
4. Accept you don’t know all the answers: Admit when you don’t know the answer because more than likely few actually do during these times, accept that it’s okay, and figure it out.
5. Ask for help: Be honest about how you feel and what you need. Tell your boss if you’re starting to feel burnt out and ask for help developing a plan to get things back on track. Build a support network with other people in your industry going through similar challenges. Take advantage of the resources your employer provides such as Employer Assistance Programs that may be in place.
Pandemic burnout can sneak up on you and it can be quite tough to shake yourself out. My final tip is quite simple: be proactive about taking the steps I outlined above before you’re starting to feel the burn. If you’re unsure of the resources available to you at your organization, or if you have an idea for a new benefit, reach out to your HR team and ask – they’ll be happy to help!
Kim Nguyen is the director of people operations at Alloy, a leading identity decisioning platform for banks and fintech companies based in NYC.
Kim Nguyen May 21, 2021 at 10:39PM