What Have You Done for You Lately?

I ask you as a colleague and a friend – how much time off have you taken this year?

I ask for several reasons. First, I haven’t taken any in a while, and misery loves company. Second, I believe that HR professionals leave more paid-time-off days on the table than people in any other occupation. While I have no hard numbers to back up that statement, I know from working nearly 10 years in corporate America that, even in good years, there is no good time in HR to take a week or more off. There’s a constant grind of processes to be managed – performance management, succession planning, strategic planning, benefit design, enrollment and transition, year-end payroll, etc. Third, this recession has been harder than most, with some organizations having gone through four or five rounds of layoffs in the past 18 months. This translates to even more work for human resource professionals. All of this leads me to ask, “What have you done for you lately?”

According to The HR Anxiety Survey, conducted May 26-June 3 by Workforce Management, there were some pretty sobering findings for the profession. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they are somewhat stressed, depressed or anxious as a result of having to conduct layoffs, while 11% said they are extremely so. Fifty percent have experienced some sleeplessness, while 17% said they have experienced frequent to extreme sleeplessness.

In addition to stress at work, many of our brethren are exhausted by hearing from friends, family and even mere acquaintances about their own layoffs or workplace stress. My LinkedIn requests have doubled in the last year, and I’ve been asked to provide advice to numerous college students and new grads looking for that important first job. There seems to be no safe haven for HR professionals.

While the increase in stress is nearly universal, how folks are coping tends to vary. According to the Anxiety survey, almost 30% reported that they have occasionally to frequently used a substance (some legal and some not) to cope with anxiety from work. In a BusinessWeek report on the same survey, renowned thought leader Dave Ulrich noted that many staffs “are stretched to the risk of burnout.”

Why should organizations be alarmed? In a nutshell, burnout-level stress has a negative impact on productivity. As almost half of the HR managers surveyed (49%) said their increased anxiety has affected their job performance, one can deduce that the rest of the workforce is similarly affected. And surprisingly, less than 10% of the survey respondents said they are utilizing their organizations’ employee assistance programs (EAPs) to help them cope. HR is probably the most informed about these programs and benefits, so it seems counterintuitive that so few would take advantage of them. The ROI behind EAPs is to lower absenteeism, lower benefit expenses and increase productivity and engagement. But if so few are participating in the programs, organizations will feel the result in their bottom line as stress begins to chip away at their employees’ productivity. In theory, there is a risk of a downward spiral for employees first, and then their organizations.

What to do? HR should first look within and assess the well-being of its own teams.

What does this entail? Ensuring that folks are taking their paid time off, working reasonable hours, taking lunch away from their desk and having fun (within reason) at work. Senior leaders should also communicate the importance of their EAPs and encourage employee use of these services.

So what are you going to do to take care of you? We welcome your comments.