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Creating Work-Life Balance in HR

It's becoming increasingly more apparent that HR teams are facing challenges that other teams just don't face -- challenges that are more emotional, complex, personally risky, and draining. So I spoke with the pros in the HR Swap this week to find out what they do to stay sane and keep going day after day. Here are their suggestions:

1) Create and protect boundaries

I've written quite a lot about boundaries, so I was happy to see them show up in this discussion. One participant said that from the very start it's important to be clear about how and when you're working, and how to contact you. "It's never going to be calmer than it is now, so put those parameters in place early."

What does this look like? It can take many forms, including some of these:

  • Educate your business partners on what constitutes an emergency. For example, just because you're excited about the open position we're recruiting for you doesn't mean that I need to vet the candidate during my off hours. Or, if an employee is in physical (or emotional or legal or [enter your specific option here]) danger warrants a phone call but wanting to talk about tomorrow's training session doesn't. (You get to set the rules about when they can email, text, or call, and then you have to maintain and reinforce those boundaries when they're violated.)

  • If you have a team of more than one person, set clear escalation protocols. For example, if an email comes into the HR address, what does it need to include for it to be forwarded to you, and how does it need to be tagged so you recognize its urgency? Should a text also follow? (You decide.)

2) Create distance, either physically or technologically

  • Participants strongly urged each other to have two phones. Merging work and personal on one phone makes it harder to enforce boundaries and puts the responsibility on you, not others, to decide what to respond to.

  • If you're working at home, create a space that is dedicated to work. Don't use your computer for anything else in that spot, and don't work in any other spots. Being able to walk away from work -- even if it's just two feet away -- makes a big difference.

  • Close your laptop at night, at a reasonable hour. If you need to be online after hours, use your phone or a tablet (if you have one) so you can stay away from all the work that will still be there waiting for you in the morning.

3) Take care of yourself first, before you need it

  • It's unlikely that anyone else will encourage you to take your PTO, so book it regularly.

  • Get exercise daily. Consider walking meetings if your schedule is too full to go to a gym or a class. The work you do is so emotionally taxing that it ratchets up the stress in your body. Exercise is like a mental shower -- it can rinse away some of the residual stress and reset your body (and mind) to a cleaner, clearer state.

  • Do the things that fill you up when you're not working. This isn't about watching tv or having a drink after work. It's about getting curious about something, starting a hobby, or connecting deeply with your loved ones. Use the form below to take an audit of your drainers (the things that suck the life out of you) and your boosters (the things that bring you energy and joy).

Drainers & Boosters
Download PDF • 54KB

4) Get support (even if you think you don't need it)

  • In HR we're so good at encouraging others to use the tools and structures that the organization has put in place -- the EAPs, the Gingers, the BetterUps -- but very often we act like the cobbler's children and go shoeless. Even if you're feeling ok, why not use the built-in supports that you recommend to others? If nothing else, you'll be better positioned to evaluate those resources when the contract comes up.

  • Network with other HR professionals, especially if you're a sole HR provider. Everyone at the swap agreed that it was validating to hear from people who understand their challenges. We laughed at the ridiculous examples people shared. And there was so much nodding as people were talking because the shared understanding was there. But it doesn't have to be the HR Swap (even though it should be, because it's magical). Find a local SHRM group or industry group with an HR sub-group. They're all over -- you just have to ask.

  • Talk to a coach or therapist. (I'd love to help!) Having a place to process some of the big emotions that come up in your work is critical. One participant talked about being the one who discovered an employee had passed away alone at home, and another talked about having to suspend an emotionally unstable employee who knew her home address - this is not writing a report or filing paperwork. HR work can be high stakes, and having a pressure valve is essential.

You do great work, HR. Please take care of yourselves!

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