For a healthy HR profession: prioritise self-care to avoid burnout

Emma Mamo of Scotland’s national mental health charity SAMH, highlights the need for people professionals to care for themselves. 

Most roles have an element of pressure, such as targets or deadlines, but stress is when we feel that what is being asked of us is more than we are equipped to deal with. We may have the sensation that the demands outweigh the resources and time available. Stress can also relate to not feeling in control. In some cases, stress can affect our physical and mental health, and even lead to burn out.  

Pressure and performance

With little or no pressure, we may experience boredom, which can lead to very low or poor performance. If pressure increases to a healthy level, our performance can also increase, and there is a period where we might feel like we’re in our comfort zone.

If we move from our comfort zone and begin feeling stretched, we arrive in the zone where we can achieve maximum performance. Here, we are more energised and focused and ready to meet new challenges. But it is unrealistic to think we can remain in this stretch zone indefinitely; the comfort zone is where we can recharge batteries to sustain our performance longer term. However, when we're unable to get some respite and the pressure continues to grow, the pressure will have a debilitating effect.

We move to experiencing strain, and we begin to falter. The increased pressure can affect our performance, by affecting our concentration, our decision-making abilities and our effectiveness. When experienced at high levels for prolonged periods of time, this can place great strain on us.

If we continue to experience this strain, we may find the pressure unmanageable, our performance deteriorates, and we reach a point of crisis. This often means the pressure applied or perceived has exceeded our capacity to perform and is beyond reasonable performance levels. 

Stress and burnout

Long-term exposure can lead to stress, which can both cause and contribute to mental health problems. Therefore, recognising when the pressure is too great is key to being able to do something about it. Like taking a break or speaking to a manager or trusted colleagues for support. It’s always okay to ask. 

Burnout isn’t technically a diagnosis, but instead refers to a collection of symptoms. You may feel exhausted, have little motivation for your job, feel irritable or anxious and see a dip in your work performance. It can also affect your personal life. 

Managing stress

Work is increasingly complex – technology and new types of jobs have changed what we mean by work and workplaces in recent years. COVID-19 accelerated home and flexible working, which was welcome for some but has always been a paradox – it offers workers more control while blurring the boundaries between your work and home life. 

People are complex, and so is our mental health. Employers need to offer tailored solutions, which can only be achieved through managers having good conversations with their team members. 

Looking after yourself

The CIPD’s 2022 CIPD People Profession Survey found that three in ten people professionals felt that work negatively affected their mental and physical health – worse than for the UK working population in general.

For those working in the HR profession, taking care of your own mental health is important, as you cannot pour from an empty cup. Also, by demonstrating self-care and prioritising your own wellbeing, you can show colleagues that it’s important – and acceptable – to make time to look after themselves, too.

This might mean:

  • Setting clear boundaries – finishing work on time and not sending emails or work communications ‘out of hours’
  • Taking time to recharge – taking adequate breaks through the day and using annual leave to appropriately rest
  • Participating in wellbeing activities – often led by HR teams for organisations. Through engaging in these activities, your staff will recognise they have permission to invest in themselves during work time too
  • Boosting your wellbeing – making time to do the things that give you energy or give you a sense of purpose. The 5 ways to wellbeing are a good place to start
  • Understanding your stress response – when you feel stressed or mentally unwell, do you feel anger or frustration? If so, then doing something calming will help. If you experience a low mood then find something that energises you. If you find yourself ruminating, try practising mindfulness.

All of this is very individual so take time to regularly check in with yourself and assess how you’re feeling. You can then take the most appropriate steps to look after yourself, so you can look after others in turn.


Emma Mamo is Assistant Director of Workplace & Business Development at SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)

Emma will be speaking about self-care at the CIPD Scotland Annual Conference in Edinburgh on 30 March.