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Finding Equilibrium: HR's Role in Employee Well-being

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Today, burnout seems to be an inescapable part of global work culture. The APA reports that more than 88 percent of today's workforce is experiencing burnout, with 60 percent experiencing burnout to a high degree. In fact, 40 percent of people surveyed by Asana said they view burnout as an inevitable part of success.

Burnout has only increased since the pandemic, with work-life balance suffering or even disappearing altogether. Although younger generations like Generation Z are new to the workforce, they are exceptionally affected by burnout. This is partly because the boundaries between work and home life are blurring and companies expect their employees to be available for work at all times.

To retain talent, HR managers must find new and creative ways to reduce stress and keep the workforce motivated and optimistic. And if Generation Z's tendency to openly discuss their emotions in the workplace is any indicator, there may be an increasing need to listen to personal problems and offer advice.

This can lead to HR managers and supervisors feeling like they are taking on the role of therapist in addition to their other responsibilities. So how can companies protect HR time and set appropriate boundaries while prioritizing employee mental well-being?

Consider the following strategies.

Set clear boundaries and expectations

Even as people-focused companies strive to be more empathetic and transparent, the fact remains that work is work and people are colleagues. It's important to communicate that while being open with HR and managers is a priority, it's still important to understand and respect boundaries.

Crossing these conversational boundaries with colleagues, managers, and HR can disrupt team cohesion and productivity. It can also contribute significantly to HR and manager burnout. This is why it's important to set concrete, written boundaries about what is and isn't appropriate in your company so that employees know what the company expects of them.

Create HR policies that clearly outline how boundary violations should be handled.

Codifying guidelines for setting boundaries is critical. It's easy for HR - and even some managers - to commit 100 percent to their teams. But interfering too much in employees' personal affairs can be unethical and represent a conflict of interest. Company policies can help HR and managers deal with instances where employees overstep their boundaries without losing sight of their needs.

Of course, there are cases that are clearer than others. If a team member reports abuse or misconduct by a manager (or a colleague towards a manager) to HR, the company is obligated to take action. This could mean a warning, internal disciplinary action, termination of professional relationships, etc.

The situation is different when someone repeatedly approaches HR or their direct supervisor to discuss non-work-related stressors. While it's important to talk openly about personal circumstances that may impact productivity or behavior, it's also important that employees understand that their workplace has limited ability to address personal issues.

The best guidelines make it clear which topics are not the responsibility of HR or managers. They also show what measures to take if such topics are raised in conversation.

Some possibilities are for example:

  • Explain that it is inappropriate to discuss the topic with a colleague or manager/HR
  • Explain why maintaining professional boundaries is critical to the success of the company and to maintaining a respectful work environment
  • Politely redirect the conversation to work-related topics
  • Determine whether it makes sense to refer the team member to health and wellness services, to psychological services

Leveraging employee wellness initiatives

With employee burnout becoming more prevalent, health and wellness programs are more important than ever. Offering robust mental health benefits can provide employees with the support they need from professionals who are appropriately trained, helping to reduce the burden on HR and maintain appropriate boundaries in the workplace. In addition, HR professionals and managers who are overwhelmed with their tasks can also take advantage of these services to reduce the burden.

Many companies have identified the following wellness and mental health programs as cost-effective and successful offerings for their employees:

  • More flexible schedules to promote work-life balance
  • Paid mental health leave that employees can take when needed
  • Paid subscriptions to meditation and fitness classes and apps
  • Mental health and self-care training, as well as dealing with burnout

Implement an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

While HR professionals and managers can't provide the support people struggling with mental health issues need, they can refer them to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is specifically designed to help people struggling with a range of personal or who are struggling with work-related problems, to offer solution-oriented support. EAPs can offer a variety of services including:

  • Counseling and therapy services
  • Referrals to outside resources such as mental health services, financial counselors, legal services, and other community resources
  • Crisis intervention
  • Support in balancing work and family, e.g. when caring for children or the elderly, time management and other personal and work-related problems

EAPs are a fantastic option because they allow people to get the help they need from specialists who are trained to do so. These professionals are also sufficiently separated from the organization to avoid a conflict of interest. This helps maintain appropriate boundaries and eases the burden on HR and managers while addressing team member issues head-on.

Become a leader in relationship management

As HR's role grows and its responsibilities expand, relationship management becomes a key function. Even when HR professionals are asked to take on the role of therapist, this is different from what they are trained to do (or what they should be expected to do), especially since it raises questions of ethics and conflicts of interest.

Instead, HR can set boundaries and work toward coaching rather than advising. This includes active listening and empathy while maintaining professionalism and respectful behavior. Clarifying your own boundaries and boundaries can set appropriate expectations and allow you to create a professional, yet open and supportive work environment, which is necessary in the modern world of work.

IceHrm empowers HR to navigate employee well-being with empathy and professionalism, setting boundaries while fostering support.

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