HR PRos – Caring for Your Mental Health

Today’s employees come to you with increased stress and mental health needs. Many studies indicate that employee mental health challenges have increased over the past 5 years. In addition to all you do for others, you must now contend with how to support employees struggling with anxiety and stress. Savvy employers will concern themselves with this development. No employer wants increased recruiting because a minor employee mental health challenge was ignored and got progressively worse until they quit!

Trying to drag herself out of the doom and gloom

The following materials are excerpted from a PowerPoint presentation by Suzanne Benoit, LCSW, SPHR at the Central Maine Human Resource Association, August 24, 2023, #CMHRA

Realism is your friend

It’s not pessimistic or negative to acknowledge that HR work is difficult. HR is asked to fix or eliminate problems over which they may have influence but little real control. This influence is only as good as the leader who is listening to their HR pitch for more support. The entire job of HR is about influencing, observing and trying to corale human behavior! It’s a complex assignment and can be discouraging if you don’t recognize the reality within which you practice.

Special challenges of a lead HR professional

  • HR is emotionally difficult – it’s all about human behavior
  • Requests for emergency or just-in-time recruiting
  • Recruiting that’s never done
  • Insufficient staffing and budgets
  • Operational demands that drown out long term projects
  • Operational demands that discourage taking time off
  • HR Pros tendency to ignore their need for a break
  • Unsolvable problems & dilemmas
  • Leaders and peers who may not properly use HR performance systems
  • Leaders who do not hold their staffs accountable
  • Being asked to train away performance problems
  • Being asked to coach peers or next level up senior leaders

The biggest emotional drain – over-functioning

An emotional drain that affects everyone, regardless of their profession is “over-functioning.” This is when we work harder than those around us to solve a problem created by others. It sometimes comes from trying to rescue others from the consequences of their poor performance or behavior. Finally, it may mean taking on tasks that others should do but we either don’t trust them to do it or we see that historically, they don’t follow through. The practice of Human Resources is rife with opportunities to take on other people’s responsibilities. When a senior leader doesn’t coach their middle managers, HR folks see the negative consequence immediately in supervision failures, high turnover, etc. It’s so easy to step in and try to shore up poor manager behavior but it doesn’t solve the long term problem if their boss isn’t talking about it.

Control vs Influence

Here’s a list of tasks or issues that HR is tasked with fixing or implementing which they don’t really control

  • Company attitude toward employee mental health – primary responsibility lies with the CEO
  • Senior Leader poor performance – again, the CEO
  • High turnover – primary responsibility rests with any employee who supervises or coaches a team
  • Lack of manager attention to regular, respectful one-on-one meetings with team members – primary responsibility lies with their senior leader.
  • Human Resource budget and staff adequacy – while the HR chief makes their case for what’s needed, the ultimate approval lies with the CEO and CFO, typically not the HR leader.
  • Human Resource policy approval – while HR holds the power of the pen, approving HR philosophies and values lies with the CEO or senior team.
  • Application of HR policies – the HR chief may actually be empowered to apply policies but policy exceptions would be recommended to the CEO especially if there is a risk of precedence or ligigation.

The proportion of influence an HR chief has over these various tasks or dynamics varies greatly depending upon the CEO’s personal values on these matters and their understanding of the connection between people behavior and employee performance & retention. The greater this awareness, the greater influence the HR professional might have as long as they can articulate the need for change – sucess here depends upon HR’s ability to convey the connection convincingly. An HR professional might develop the world’s greatest performance evaluation system but the management team’s success will depend on many factors – implementation, the cultural values and norms on accountability, manager temperament and skill, etc. Finally it depends upon the managers boss’s ability to hold managers accountable for respectful and full implementation of the spirit of the performance management system.

Human Resource professionals are employees, employee wellbeing matters!

Six Dimensions of Human Wellbeing

  1. Basic or survival needs
    • Nutritious food, shelter, medical care and physical health, safety, transportation, exercise, sleep.
  2. Financial needs
    • Adequate compensation and raises, solvency, credit, retirement savings, planning, income security provided by insured benefits.
  3. Family and social needs
    • Childcare, eldercare, time off for family, social connections, community connections.
  4. Environmental calm
    • Clean, organized, adequate living space with amenities, storage, maintenance and safety.
  5. Time management
    • Balance of time between committments to work, family, friends, and self along with errands, shopping, etc.
  6. Mental and emotional health
    • Knowledge & awareness of healthy mental health, self-awareness, self-care, alone time, brain down-time, warning signs, access to services like therapy or coaching.

Know the stress and anxiety symptoms resulting from harsh workplace or lack of attention to self-care

  • Headaches, digestive issues, aches pains
  • Overwhelm, anxiety & depression
  • Lack of sleep – making anxiety worse
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory problems
  • Short temper, emotional reactivity
  • Worsening family problems
  • Increasing dissatisfaction at work

What HR Pros can do to improve their insights, behavior and voice

  • Accept the limitations of your role
  • Know your mental health trouble signs
  • Acknowledge your own self-care needs
  • Stop over-functioning, do it with grace
  • Speak up effectively when others’ under-functioning creates extra work for you
  • Advocate for supervision that focuses on your needs not just what’s going wrong in the company

Plan out self-care actions

  • Monitor your own wellness
  • Create a reasonable PTO coverage Plan
  • Plan ahead, announce coverage and take time off
  • Consider a stress reduction training or program
  • Find a trusted colleague for mutual sharing
  • Use MH tools – therapist, a mentor or attend a group

Finally, What you CAN Control

  • How realistic you are
  • Expectations you set for yourself
  • Whether and how you set boundaries
  • Whether you reach out when needed
  • The quality of your pitch to the CEO and/or senior leadership
    •  How HR can’t directly control poor leadership, coaching or performance

Support is available from Benoit Consulting, LLC

  • Free articles and blogs on HR support and topics that are a part of this website
  • Individual coaching and therapy by an HR-informed therapist – Suzanne V. Benoit, LCSW, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
  • Consultation on specific employee mental health situations that arise

Contact me


(c) Benoit Consulting, LLC 2023 all rights reserved

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