By Angela Collis, SPHR, GPHR
A stress free workplace is one of those things that we envision as a dreamy, non-reality where we run barefoot through fresh cut grass and daisies, wind blowing through our perfectly tousled hair. Then, we open our eyes and are smacked in the face with reality. A laundry list of “to do’s”, employees crying in your office, managers demanding to know why we have to pay overtime to that employee who worked 50 hours last week (“I didn’t ask him to!”). A never-ending barrage of stress awaits HR professionals every morning as we walk through the door.
As a Knowledge Advisor, working in SHRM’s HR Knowledge Center, I talk with stressed-out HR Professionals every day. HR Directors trying to convince their CEO on a particular course of action, or an HR Manager who is preparing to have a tough conversation with an employee. I myself am all too familiar with this feeling in the pit of your stomach, as I had worked in HR for 10 years before coming to SHRM. I can remember a particularly stressful day where I had to fire a long time employee whom I knew was having some personal relationship issues. I remember thinking to myself at that time “I don’t think I can fire another person, I just don’t think I can do it.” Sometimes, it is more than we can bear, and I’d hazard a guess that it’s a large reason why HR Professionals move to other career paths over time. To put it simply, we burn out.
So how can we work to manage stress in our lives? I believe that acceptance and recognition go a long way here. As HR Professionals, we must accept that this profession can and often is very stressful. We are asked to manage volatile situations, make tough bottom line decisions; we are the first to be called when there is a problem. Now that we know and accept that there is going to be stress, the next step is to work to manage it.
One way to manage this is to take responsibility. This means recognize that you have the power to mitigate the stress in your work life to some extent. While we can’t control what’s happening around us, we can control our reactions to those situations. We can put activities into our lives that will help us manage this stress. This may include setting some boundaries with coworkers, establishing some “quiet time” at work with your door closed each day. Taking a yoga class after work, going for a jog, or just having some alone time are activities that can help you with this.
The next step is to recognize your hot buttons. Learn what stresses you out the most and work through ways to reduce or avoid if possible those situations in the future. This requires a close examination of your responses to stressful situations and calls for you to reflect on how that situation could have been handled differently or avoided altogether.
Finally, we must communicate. HR Professionals become accustomed to being the recipient of information, to listen and take the information in. We must force ourselves to talk. Tell people when you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Find someone you can talk to and vent out your frustrations of the day. If you are lucky enough to have a coworker to share this with, then great, this could also be a friend or someone at home.
Maybe the idyllic running through freshly cut grass dream is unattainable, but putting your feet up on your desk with a nice cup of coffee every now and then is certainly doable.