CIPD’s Rachel Suff: ‘HR should role model self care for the benefit of the workforce’

Ahead of her session at the CIPD Scotland Conference, senior employee relations adviser Suff explains why it’s important for people professionals to recognise signs of burnout and to look after themselves

Credit: CIPD

People Management’s recent State of HR survey results found that there are clear signs of burnout among HR professionals: 79.5 per cent are working beyond their contracted hours;  43.6 per cent have reportedly experienced mental ill health as a result of work; and 62.9 per cent feel the profession is more emotionally taxing than people realise.

But do these findings come as a surprise?

Rachel Suff: No, in a nutshell. It has been a tumultuous few years, not least because of the pandemic, but all the events leading up to and after the pandemic, too – political uncertainty, fallout from Brexit , cost of living crisis and now increased levels of industrial action. I’m sure there are many people professionals thinking it has been crisis after crisis, and there is a definite sense that HR has been keenly feeling the impact of all of this on behalf of the workforce. Actually, research suggests that those with jobs with the greatest sense of purpose are most likely to suffer from stress or anxiety.

How can HR teams’ actions influence wider company policies and behaviour?

One way is role modelling. It really is about taking care of yourself before you’re able to take care of others. It wouldn’t make sense to implement employee wellbeing and engagement policies if you weren’t practising them yourself. It’s not about large, top-down initiatives, it is small behaviour changes that you implement over time that create a healthy workplace culture.

Most people who join the profession do so because they care about people and improving the quality of their working lives. All that care, emotional and mental endeavour you invest as a people professional can take its toll and it is important to recognise that. 

How do you personally practise self care?

For me, signs of stress or being overwhelmed come when I know I can’t complete a task in the available time. I know I am task oriented and like to tick them off once completed. But as well as work tasks, I have started ‘scheduling’ wellbeing and self-care priorities on my to-do lists, such as ‘walk at lunchtime’ or ‘swim after work’, so they are front and centre of my daily activities and become habitual. It’s all about creating healthy routines.

At the same time, I have to be realistic with my timings and set boundaries. If I can’t complete a task on today’s list, it is OK to move it over to tomorrow’s. Working from home and not having that separate physical space to switch off from work means physically shutting the laptop and turning off notifications at the end of the working day, and putting my work phone on silent.  

Employee relations and inclusive workplaces… more at the CIPD Scotland Conference

Join Suff at the CIPD Scotland Conference in Edinburgh on 30 March, where she will be hosting a workshop with Emma Mamo, assistant director of workplace and business development at SAMH, entitled: A healthy HR profession – prioritising self care to avoid burnout.

Lee Ann Panglea, head of CIPD Scotland and Northern Ireland, said the conference will provide insights into a range of issues that people professionals in Scotland are grappling with right now: "Topics will include: financial wellbeing; building trust and good employment relations through employee representation; the role for the profession in delivering net zero; shaping the future of work; managing a multi-generational workplace; and lots more. 

"We're looking forward to being joined by expert speakers from a range of local, national and international organisations including the Weir Group, Asda, Scottish Power, Offshore Energies, The University of Edinburgh, SSE and Black Professionals Scotland."

Find out more and book your place here.