Back-to-back Zoom calls all day, endless requests for support from junior executives, and ever-growing strategic mandates from the CEO—are you having fun yet? It’s the life of many executives all the way from middle management up. For HR leaders, however, the grind may be getting too much to bear—but that doesn’t need to be the case.

According to one recent survey, 41% of HR leaders say they are likely or very likely to consider leaving their current employer in the next year—that’s compared to 29% of business leaders, 22% of frontline workers, and 19% of knowledge workers. A big factor is the growing demand for HR leaders to not only handle the nuts and bolts of items like payroll and benefits but also play a more significant role in the business’s strategic objectives.

As a result, it’s all putting a tremendous strain on their ability to manage their personal lives—37% claim to have trouble balancing their work and home life. “Since COVID-19, there’s been little delineation between work and home—you go from the bed to the desk,” says Karen Joseph, a Korn Ferry Associate Client Partner and Executive Coach. “You would reach out to HR for help, but who does HR reach out to?”

“You would reach out to HR for help, but who does HR reach out to?”

Cultural Transformation

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At Korn Ferry, we’ve distilled three key ways that HR leaders can ease their burden and help HR do what it does best—for themselves.

Delegate early and often

Tasking junior executives with sharing your workload is crucial. One hitch, however, is the skills gap that often exists between HR leaders and their direct reports. “The biggest issue is when HR leaders don’t have anybody to delegate to because all of their subordinates are so far back from where leaders need them to be,” says Krista Mayor, a Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner in HR consulting.

Given that a reported 91% of employees want their training to be personalized and relevant, bridging this skills gap can be exhausting for leaders. Bringing in a coach, including team members on calls, and having them take assessments to identify blind spots are ways to develop this skill without expending volumes of energy. The dividends could be well worth it—one 2015 study showed that organizations run by leaders who effectively delegate authority grow faster and produce more revenue. 

Understand the root causes of burnout

From a neuroscience perspective, burnout often boils down to the three elements of emotional exhaustion, inefficacy, and cynicism, says Amelia Haynes, a research manager at the Korn Ferry Institute. With emotional exhaustion, for example, there is a huge benefit in simply having some form of emotional literacy. If you can identify the distinction between ‘I'm feeling angry’ that my colleague is undermining me and ‘I'm feeling jealous’ that my colleague received undue praise you're going to respond to that emotional experience in vastly different ways. “Being aware of your emotional state also provides the opportunity to reframe the narrative around an emotional experience,” says Haynes. “And change your relationship to the emotion itself.”

Feelings of inefficacy can be combated by being aware of your negative thoughts and writing out a list of the things you do to bring value to the company—e.g. executing on a winning succession plan, launching a successful employee mental health campaign, or delivering a key strategy insight to the board. Lastly, the antidote to cynicism is giving and receiving empathy. However, the C-suite can be a lonely place, so forming a peer group of people outside of your organization could be helpful, says Tanya Just, a Korn Ferry Associate Client Partner and talent management expert. This group would comprise senior level executives from other firms—ideally many of whom are CHROs themselves. “It’s important to have people you can talk with who are facing similar problems.”

Succession plan for success

If the talent pipeline dries up, it’s HR leaders who will experience the brunt of the blame—doubly so if a member of the C-suite suddenly leaves. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a well-designed succession plan in place for all departments across a business. Research from the Harvard Business Review estimates that better succession planning could increase company valuations and investor returns by 20% to 25%. If you don’t currently have a solid succession plan, finding an executive search partner is one helpful avenue, says Mayor. She adds that interim executives can be an invaluable bridge option in the case of unexpected exits. “There’s a psychological security in knowing that you’ve insulated yourself from sudden departures.”

Need more guidance on how you can help yourself and your workforce avoid burnout and stay committed for the long term? Talk to us.

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