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Wellbeing: Rear view of a woman meditating during evening at the beach.

Why HR professionals must put their own wellbeing first


As an HR professional, heading up a company wellbeing initiative involves much more than delivering the strategy, implementation, communications and follow-up work. Even more important is your responsibility to lead by example, embrace what you're advocating and, above all, put your wellbeing first.

4th Jan 2021
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Being in HR is unlike being in any other function in a business. No one wonders whether the company’s FD prefers Excel or Google Sheets for their household financial projections. No one cares whether the Head of Logistics has calculated the most efficient route to and from the office every day. People aren’t speculating on whether the canteen staff wear those little blue net caps at home to prepare family meals. 

When you’re in HR, however, you’re expected to be a walking, talking model of everything your department espouses, both inside and outside the business. 

Launching a ‘Meditation Week for Stressed Execs’? You’re expected to have your own daily mindfulness practice. Running a conflict management course? Everyone wants to know how you resolve conflicts with your kids using these methods. Just lost out on the promotion you went up for? Everyone wants to see how you handle rejection with grace and maturity. 

Of course, they’re right, because HR isn’t just a job. It’s a vocation. 

You are more than your expertise. You are also a coach and counsellor for the organisation. 

HR professionals must walk the talk

As I’ve said many times in previous articles, any change you’re driving in the business whether that is around culture, policies and procedures, recruitment, leadership, teamwork or wellness, has to start with you. 

You cannot credibly advocate for change if you and your team have not already embraced that change. 

First, until you try it yourself it’s just a theory – you won’t be aware of the kinks. Going through your own journey with a policy, procedure, system or concept allows you to understand resistance and guide other employees over the humps with more empathy. You’ll also hold them to a higher standard because you know that you overcame the barriers so why expect less of them? 

Second, unless you’re doing it too you have no credibility. Relying on your job title to convince people to embrace change will not work. You can’t just flash your HR badge and insist. You have to influence, collaborate, coach and partner if you expect others to influence, collaborate, coach and partner. 

Third, why not if it’s good enough for everyone else? If you truly believe in the initiative you’re introducing why wouldn’t you want it for yourself too? 

You are more than your knowledge

In addition, you are more than your expertise. You are also a coach and counsellor for the organisation. 

Your contribution is different. You need to be a great listener, an enabler of others, a challenger of conventional thinking, a confidante and a coach. You don’t just succeed in HR because of your technical knowledge but because of your personal qualities. 

The irony of launching your company’s Wellness Week tipping you over the edge because it’s STRESSING YOU OUT so much will not be lost on anyone. 

I am something of a Star Trek fan, particularly Next Generation, and that is partly because of the role Counsellor Troi plays on the bridge. She sits to the left of Captain Picard offering a very different perspective on encounters with alien lifeforms. She speaks from her intuition, looks beyond face value and is concerned for the mental wellbeing of the Captain and the crew. She’s not afraid to challenge assumptions and preconceptions. 

All of this comes at a price

If you really embrace this triple role – to be a subject matter expert, a guinea pig for your own initiatives and a wise counsellor in the organisation – you need to be on top form. 

The irony of launching your company’s Wellness Week tipping you over the edge because it’s STRESSING YOU OUT so much will not be lost on anyone. 

You need to look after yourself...

  1. Take your own medicine. Meditate, take breaks, turn off your email out of hours. You’re not expected to be perfect but you are expected to try. Even partial success will lead to better mental health for you and your team and greater success for any initiatives you’re launching. 

  2. Create a strong and supportive team within HR. You might spend most of your time not working with your HR colleagues because you’re out ‘in the business’. But your HR buddies are your safe place. Be each other’s shoulder to cry on, coaches, thinking partners and friends. Work intentionally to create this environment in the HR function.

  3. Get a coach or counsellor. Most coaches have a coach. Most therapists have a therapist. If you spend your day handling the stresses, anxieties and cultural dysfunctions of your organisation you need time to think and guidance about how to cope. Don’t expect yourself to be superhuman. 

  4. Have fun. Find aspects of your work that fill you up and make sure you set aside enough time for them. Enrich your life outside of work and prioritise friends and family or hobbies and interests. When you’re required to be the sensible wise one at work you need opportunities to release the other sides of your personality. Don’t forget to let your hair down from time to time.  

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