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9 December 2020

Are busy HR professionals damaging their health?

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Posted by: Katy Mcminn

Let me start this blog by asking you a question.  Have you ever given advice to your business or client, about the importance of self care, looking after yourself and saying no?

Now may I ask if you actually take your own advice? Or do you work as much as possible, take few breaks and little time out? Do you feel that the rules and guidance around staying healthy don’t apply to you, and somehow you will be OK? 

In HR, especially at the moment, if you’re not busy, something’s up. But what if busy didn’t always mean best? 

Social media is full of people broadcasting how ‘busy, busy, busy’ they all are. This is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy and, in my opinion, can be very damaging. Surely, we should be aiming for ‘responsive, healthy, effective’ instead, which might translate as ‘online, unavailable, scheduled activity’? 

Does the narrative around worth at work need to change to help combat this? 

It used to be the case that being seen in the office for long hours meant you were committed to your work and, as a result, worthy of greater things. With the move to remote and constant on-line working there is a real danger that everyone feels the default is to be available 12 hours, seven days a week. This often comes from a fear that they will be perceived as ‘slacking’ if they are not responding to every email straightaway, regardless of the day or the time. 

Every HR professional needs to update their personal narrative around ‘worth whilst working’ to encourage and recognise good working practices. More discipline is needed to establish good and healthy working practices when working from home, and this should include a clear differentiation between working and non-working hours where possible. This may include leading from the front and being clear that if they are responding outside ’normal’ working hours it is because they require flexibility to do other things including self-care and looking after their family during working hours. 

Our recommendation is for HR to look at suggesting practical steps for their teams to implement. For instance; no meetings between 12-2 so staff can get a walk outside during daylight hours; Setting targets for screen time that the whole company can focus on; Holding one another to account about speed of response when it comes to email; And finally, cheering one another on when they are open and honest about time management and finding time for self-care. 

If so, how can HR go about effecting a more positive change?  

Conducting ‘busy audits’ to spot cultural norms around language and reward and identifying any links to unhealthy working practices should be on every HR practitioner’s agenda. They must call it out with the leadership team and agree a step change. It has become standard to say you are ‘busy’ as a defence response and, frankly, it means nothing. HR have been aware for a long time that outputs are more important than activity. Never has this been more critical to focus on. 

Take control and make changes!

Only you can decide what steps you need to take to ensure you get enough rest, relaxation and respite.  Set boundaries and become less available.  This is the hallmark of successful people and if you want to be able to compete, you will do this much better if you are in good mental and physical health.

Author: Ruth Cornish, Co-Founder, HRi