As a person responsible for HR or benefits, you’re on the front lines, helping to take care of employees every day. You’re problem-solvers for tens, hundreds, or thousands of employees. You constantly give your mind, heart, and energy to create, innovate, and implement products and services to help your people thrive and grow.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, your job has become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. In part, that’s because 98% of organizations have expanded their benefits packages to help employees cope with the pandemic. Almost a third (32%) have increased their investment in mental health benefits. You’re handling the Great Resignation and now the Great Onboarding. Maybe you’re figuring out how to manage a safe return to the office or how to navigate hybrid work indefinitely.

Is it any wonder that you’re stressed out?

Who takes care of you? Who gives you the space to have a voice of your own? Who asks how you’ve been doing? Who worries about how you’ve been struggling through these chaotic times?

These are questions that we need to ask. And they’re ones that were recently raised during our Engage 2022 conference by Julie Turney, the founder of HR@Heart Consulting, the DisruptHR leader for the Caribbean, host of the HR Sound Off podcast, and author of Confessions of an HR Pro.

To address the stress that we all feel, Julie suggested five ways that HR and benefits professionals can improve their engagement.

1. Take collective mental health days

Julie observed, “The mental health and wellbeing of HR and benefits professionals are just as important as that of everyone else’s. You’re employees too. A lot of times we forget that the mechanisms we put in place to support the workplace can also support us and give us the help we need.”

One way she suggested that we take a break is by taking time for ourselves. Mental health days, she said, can help you reflect on yourself, unwind, destress, and help yourself heal. The best way to address mental health, she suggested, is collectively. When everyone takes a day off work, you won’t get emails or Slack messages in the wee hours and feel compelled to respond. In these moments, Julie suggested that colleagues should find ways to support each other, such as by going out for dinner or drinks or taking a yoga class. Whatever you choose, she said, “It’s important to find different ways we can take care of ourselves.”

2. Focus on employee recognition

HR tends to be good at recognizing and supporting the people they serve, but their own work often goes unrecognized. That’s a miss, according to Julie, because employees who are recognized are more likely to repeat positive actions and stay in their job.

So, Julie asked:

“What have you done in the last couple of months to show that you really appreciate your HR team for all the work they’ve done over the last two years? More importantly, What have you done for yourself to show that you are appreciated and feel that the hard work you did mattered and made a difference and kept people whole and together?”

Julie recommended different ways that organizations can recognize their employees:

  • Financial incentives (e.g., end-of-year bonuses, hiring commissions, etc.)
  • Peer recognition (e.g., shoutouts during weekly calls or on social media, award nominations, etc.)
  • Extra PTO
  • Lunch or coffee for a job well done
  • Professional development opportunities

3. Be transparent about career pathing

Many HR professionals feel stuck, according to Julie. “My clients often don’t feel like they’re being fulfilled in their careers. That happens when you don’t know what’s going to happen next or don’t know what to do next.”

She suggested that organizations need to be transparent about promotion and compensation opportunities for their HR teams. Setting measurable goals and timelines can improve employee retention. Julie asked, “If there isn’t room for upward movement, is there room for lateral movement? How can you help your team members find more meaning in their work and deepen their careers?”

4. Set clear and reasonable HR goals

These days, working in HR and benefits can feel like the Wild West. We’re playing whack-a-mole trying to keep a million priorities afloat, so it can be hard to know where to focus, which can lead to burnout. So, make sure you’re clear with your team about what your priorities are for the year ahead, and set clear goals that you can measure with metrics. 

Confirm that those goals are reasonable too. For example, most organizations probably have a hiring goal right now. But with such a volatile job market, you don’t want to set goals that are so lofty that your team gets discouraged when they fall short.

5. Do regular wellness checks

HR and benefits professionals are so busy that they may lose perspective. This is why building a supportive community is so important, especially for small HR and benefits teams.

Julie advised that there are great communities available where HR and benefits people can share what’s happening in the workplace. And when they find a community, they’ll have more of an opportunity to collaborate and learn from others while having some fun.

New ideas to boost HR and benefits engagement

Julie closed out the session by offering several ideas that may help organizations better understand the needs of their HR teams.

  • Ask people how they feel. Steph Yiu, the Head of Customer Success at WordPress, starts meetings by asking whether her team members feel red (poorly), yellow (meh), or green (good). She requires people to answer as a human (the kids are driving me crazy!) and not as an employee.
  • Use simple surveys to take stock. Tom Vranas, the Vice President of Innovation and Culture at Everywhere Wireless, moved away from employee satisfaction surveys to simple, daily emails that ask employees how their day was. He’s careful to distinguish this question — which is personal — from a question about his employees’ workday or the struggles they faced in their work. He’s trying to make sure people feel supported and have an outlet.
  • Schedule stay interviews. Aaron Levy, Founder and CEO of Raise the Bar, said it’s imperative to schedule these meetings, which are the opposite of exit interviews, to learn about your people and the skills they want to develop so you can better support their development.
  • Offer office hours. Colleen Curtis, the Chief Community Officer at the Mom Project, holds regular office hours. Sometimes they’re one-on-ones, and other times there are larger groups that she’ll divide into Zoom breakout rooms, but people always feel it’s a safe space to share feedback.

Interested in hearing more ideas for addressing HR and benefits burnout and improving HR engagement and motivation? Watch Julie’s full presentation.

Watch all five sessions from Engage 2022.

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