4 Ways HR & People Leaders Can Combat Burnout In Their Teams

Burnout is not something that is simply going to disappear. It has been around for a long time and following the pandemic continues to soar.

At BHI, we work proactively with our clients to understand what is underpinning burnout, understand their biggest risk factors and work with them to create and implement strategies to address the causation and resolution.


Burnout at work can impact anyone, and HR and People teams are no exception.

One positive result of the pandemic is that 72% of HR leaders say it’s helped them demonstrate their value and increase understanding of HR’s role, with 59% saying they’ve become more influential as a result.

However, this has left HR teams spinning more plates than ever. In fact, as many as 60% of HR leaders noticed an increase in their workload during the pandemic.

This has put HR teams at an increased risk of burnout as a result, coined ‘pandemic burnout’.

More widely, a staggering 52% of employees are experiencing burnout in 2021, up 43% year-on-year. In reality, that means half of your HR team have already or are experiencing burnout. That’s huge.

Also, your high-performing and most engaged HR employees are, in fact, more at risk of burnout.

So it’s something that must be tackled not just because supporting employee wellbeing is the right thing to do, but because burnout can also impact overall productivity and business performance.

So, what is burnout and what can HR leaders do to remedy it in their own teams before it takes its toll?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pandemic burnout is burnout caused by factors relating to coronavirus.

If you’re ready to tackle burnout in your HR team, first you need to know the signs and be able to spot them. Some of these signs include:

  • General symptoms of stress and anxiety
  • Sleeping issues, such as exhaustion or insomnia
  • Social issues – including avoiding gatherings or meetings
  • Behavioural changes, such as a negative attitude towards co-workers
  • A decrease in productivity or performance
  • Low mood or emotional numbness.

While HR employees can take some time out to recover from extreme burnout, it’s also important to tackle the root cause.

Our research series, HR in the moment, shares some revealing findings around the challenges HR leaders face today as a result of the pandemic.

Let’s take look at some of the challenges HR teams are facing and how you could combat them to support your people to avoid and reduce burnout…

One of the reasons HR experienced an increased workload during the pandemic was because their organisations simply weren’t prepared – and this included their tech.

In fact, 45% of HR leaders feel they weren’t fully equipped at the start of the pandemic, with more than a third (36%) seeing lack of technology investment as one of the most significant barriers.

Thankfully, this has now changed.

As a result of the pandemic, many HR leaders are finally starting to invest more in HR tech, which is helping them transform their teams into a more strategic function.

In fact, 82% of HR leaders say they had to scale their HR tech during the pandemic, so there’s certainly a much larger appetite for it as a result.

However, just because HR now have more tech, doesn’t mean they’re feeling the full benefits yet. To clarify that, 63% of HR leaders say they’re not fully confident their HR tech is future-proofed enough.

If you’re planning on more integrated and future-proofed HR tech, this could help alleviate the HR admin burden further.

To make sure you feel the full benefit though, it’s important to check your HR teams are skilled up and know exactly how this can help your HR team to scale back on admin, so they can focus on what matters.

Ultimately, this will also support their wellbeing.

HR’s remit has crept up over the years. The days of HR being a purely admin function is far behind us.

HR has so much more to do these days, which has been highlighted by the pandemic. However, there is still more education to do across the wider business about this, and HR’s more strategic role.

Admin and strategic workloads have increased since the pandemic, according to 60% of HR leaders, yet 57% of the C-suite still see HR as a purely administrative function.

It means HR’s remit isn’t as clear as it could be, and the overwhelming amount of tasks HR are performing is likely contributing to burnout in the team.

In addition, there seems to be some misalignment between HR and the C-suite in the leading role HR has.

More than half of the C-suite, for example, say HR isn’t playing a leading role in operational excellence (62%), skilling and upskilling (55%) and company culture (54%).

Remarkably, HR leaders agree with the C-suite and recognise their own lack of leadership in these critically important areas.

And, interestingly, the C-suite leaders expect HR to lead more than HR themselves expect to, in all but two areas – skilling and upskilling and company culture – showing an expectation gap in the role of HR.

As their HR leader, it’s up to you to set the leadership direction and strategy in your team.

So it’s important to highlight to the C-suite and your team exactly what HR is responsible for. Defining this with your HR team is a good place to start.

If you can make the role of HR more transparent by sharing the ways you support the organisation via a robust and clear strategy, it’ll highlight exactly what HR should be responsible for and what sits outside of scope.

Once this has been set out, it can be communicated, get the backing of the rest of the C-suite, and hopefully help to ease some of the pressure HR teams are feeling.

One of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace is change, which can lead to burnout.

Over the past couple of years, HR leaders and their teams have been faced so much change, having to make quick decisions as a result to support their people.

Teams that had access to up-to-the-minute data they could trust were able to get insights faster, adapt more quickly and respond more speedily.

Ultimately, People data in HR drives both personal and business resilience in times of change.

It gives HR teams the confidence that they have an accurate picture, and equips them with the information needed to make decisions.

However, there’s still some way to go. At the moment, more than half (59%) of HR leaders don’t have the ability to spot future trends to help make future people related decisions.

Gaining actionable insight from People analytics helps your team to be prepared for any changes and skilfully predict them before they happen.

They’re key for helping both your HR employees and the C-suite make the right decisions for your people first time.

One of the major causes of burnout is feeling underappreciated.

57% of C-suite executives see HR to be a mainly administrative function, while only 34% of employees believe HR had become more responsive throughout the pandemic – so it’s easy to see why HR may be feeling underappreciated right now.

As their leader, highlight your HR employees’ successes.

Think about what they’ve done to contribute to the People strategy – whether that’s an increase in employee net promoter score (eNPS) or a new initiative to support employee experiences.

Your team should feel rewarded and appreciated for their hard work and shouldn’t fade into the background when they’ve achieved so much for the organisation.

You could recognise them via a recognition platform, or when launching a new initiative, make it clear who led on it. You can also call out any rising stars during your leadership meetings with other C-suite execs to raise their profile.

Finally, sharing these successes in team meetings can be a good way to highlight their effort and show your appreciation.

This recognition should make them feel more appreciated. It’s extremely important for a team that often traditionally can stay out of the limelight but has such a big impact in the success of the organisation.

Ultimately, HR employees aren’t immune to burnout. With the challenges HR have faced over the past couple of years, it would be completely understandable that HR are feeling burnt out – but it does need to be nipped in the bud.

While there might be things we’ve discussed that resonate, burnout is personal to each person and team.

You may be able to guess what is causing burnout within your own team, but you need to ask them in order to find out what support they need from you and the organisation.

As an HR leader, you’re better equipped than any other leader within the business to tackle burnout.

Think about how you support employees through burnout outside of your HR team and what options are available to you as a manager to help them come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.