When Work Drains: How HR Professionals Can Keep Themselves Emotionally and Mentally Healthy
“I have zero desire to go into this office today’”, I would say over and over to myself as I somehow managed to force myself to go to work every day. I would sometimes sit in my car for a few extra minutes in the morning contemplating whether I was going to go to work or drive right back home without giving any notice. I didn’t feel like having to answer to selfish senior leaders who didn’t care about employees nor did I have any desire to spend another day trying to manage the messiness of office politics and gossip.
The long days seemed like they dragged on forever. As HR professionals, we deal with issues in the workplace that are sometimes downright scary. From workplace violence, to sexual harassment and everything else in between. So, I’m sure, you’ve had similar days like me where you think to yourself “Why do I even bother?”
When you’ve reached this mental state, I think it’s safe to say that you have become drained. Those of us in HR are in the profession because we love what we do but sometimes the daily issues can take its toll.
But there’s hope! Here are a few ways that HR professionals can keep themselves mentally and emotionally healthy.
When pouring into our employees and companies becomes draining, which happens often in the HR profession (and other high stress jobs), it’s tempting to believe the lies that pop into our heads that cause us to question our value and worth. Stress has a way of filling our heads with negative thoughts and when mentally drained, we have a greater tendency to believe the lies.
When work became draining for me, I battled a lot of inner negativity. I used to say to myself “What I am doing here?” “I’m not good enough, smart enough or strong enough for this job”, or my personal favorite “I will never be able to - insert whatever challenge I didn’t want to face”.
I have learned over the years that when HR becomes draining, instead of believing the lies that pop into my head about my value, I focus on what I know to be true. I learned to focus on the fact that I was hired for a reason. Somebody saw something in me that led them to believe that I can bring about positive change to their company. Reminding myself of the good I had already done empowered me to want to do more and to be my best self for my employees and the companies I was serving.
I also learned to remind myself that my worth is not defined by my work. I am a whole complete, and valuable person with or without a career.
Lastly, I sought wisdom through counseling (insert plug or employee assistance programs) and strong friendships. Having people around me who knew me well helped me to start focusing on the truth and get back to doing what I love.
As HR professionals, it can sometimes feel like we have the weight of the workforce world on our shoulders which can leave our mental, emotional, and physical energy tanks on empty if we’re not careful. It doesn’t help that some of us have adopted the habit of taking our work home with us. We’re sometimes awake until late at night answering emails, reviewing policies that we couldn’t get through doing the day and more.
When work becomes draining, the worst thing you can do is bury yourself in more work. When you’re tempted to take stressful work home, it’s time to take a step back and unplug. Finding a hobby or activity that brings you joy and do that after work. For me it’s playing soccer, reading Agatha Christie, having dinner with friends, taking a long walk in the park, or binge watching cartoons (Scooby Doo, Spongebob, Looney Tunes, etc. I have no regrets).
Nothing has helped me recharge after dealing with draining situations at work more than stepping back to enjoy the best parts of life. And the best parts of life can’t be found in the employee handbook.
Cry if You Need To
Contrary to popular belief, crying is a healthy and sometimes necessary emotion when work becomes draining. How many times have we as HR professionals, consoled tear filled employees in our offices? How much more do we as the caregivers of the workforce, need to allow ourselves to express healthy emotions when it all gets to be too much? When work becomes draining but you’re the one trying to keep everyone’s head above water, sometimes you just need to shut your office door, take a walk or sit it in your car, and let the tears fall.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t be your best self for your company or your employees if you don’t have good emotional intelligence. I’m a firm believer that necessary crying is a sign of good and healthy emotions. Crying shows that you care about the work you’re doing and the people you’re serving. Obviously, I’m not telling you to go sobbing over the cubicles of your employees. But letting out a good cry sometimes can be a healthy release that can clear your head.
Rediscover the Joy in HR
Despite the many difficult situations HR professionals find themselves having to manage, there are so many wonderful things about our work that bring us joy. For me, it’s having the freedom to create new HR programs and seeing them come to life from the beginning as well as building up HR functions from scratch. Focusing on the things about HR that gave me joy not only gave me the energy I needed to be my best self, but it also allowed me to focus on the things that I was really good at and excel.
Sometimes when work is draining, it can help us do some soul searching to think about what it is that really gives us joy. Draining situations at work only last a short time but when they become on-going it may be time to reconsider your priorities. But rediscovering the joy in why you do what you do, can shift our focus and keep ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy.