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Leaders report burnout among HR staff. How can they right the ship?

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Burnout is up among HR staff, industry leaders shared in a recent survey — a problem that may make it more difficult to recruit and retain HR pros.

The issue reportedly stems from a workplace evolution: Today’s new world of work has burdened HR pros with new demands and “increased obstacles to effectiveness,” said Piers Hudson, senior director in the Gartner HR practice, announcing the firm’s Aug. 14 findings.

Nearly three quarters of HR leaders responding to Gartner’s survey said burnout among HR staff was more challenging than pre-pandemic. More than half reported increased difficulty in both retaining and recruiting HR employees.

To address new demands and obstacles that arise and drive burnout, business leaders often try to restructure their functions or ways of working, Hudson said. But those efforts alone won’t solve the department’s woes, he continued, “because they fail to recognize a shift in the role of HR in organizations.”

Gartner and Hudson recommended HR leaders focus on three areas for improvement.

  1. Participatory prioritization. Business leaders can adopt formal mechanisms to involve non-HR stakeholders and empower HR staff, while remaining able to anticipate business demand spikes and ensure priorities are not derailed.
  2. Business-enabling digitalization. Progressive HR functions are ensuring their digitalization moves beyond HR processes. HR needs to ensure its roadmap for digitalization is in sync with the organization’s other functions to provide a cohesive end-user experience.
  3. Augmenting HR expertise. Leading HR functions are cultivating internal skills while simultaneously incorporating non-HR knowledge into the function. HR needs to allow a more permeable movement of talent into and out of the function; this type of collaboration will help HR address novel workforce issues.

Gartner’s findings echo other post-pandemic research. Many HR leaders said 2020 was the most stressful year of their career — and the ensuing years didn’t bring much relief. By 2022, half of HR leaders said they were burned out; in another survey that included all levels of HR pros, that number came in at a staggering 98%.

In those surveys, large numbers of respondents said they were thinking about quitting. By implementing the above steps, Hudson said, HR leaders can find a way for the department to continue to own legacy HR tasks while also becoming a “convener and catalyzer” for the organization. That means bringing stakeholders together to make decisions and find solutions, while also leading them to find new ways of working, hopefully mitigating HR burnout.

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