Comment

HR must look after its own mental health at this time of crisis

3 Apr 2020 By Annette Andrews

People professionals often don’t look after their own wellbeing. But they must prioritise their health to support their businesses, says Annette Andrews

Over the past couple of weeks I have felt like I am living in a parallel universe or on a film set. The world as we knew it has changed dramatically and is never going to be quite the same. 

For the first time we have a crisis that is truly global and will touch us all in some way. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or what role you have in an organisation – you will be affected. It is bringing us together in many ways. We have all seen incredible acts of giving and support, but equally we’ve seen some shocking behaviours. 

I have spent a lot of virtual time with HR professionals recently. Some are finding it all incredibly hard to deal with and are emotional; others are optimistic about the change and opportunity that these times will bring eventually when we are through the other side. We are only at the beginning of working and living in a very different way, and we don’t yet know how people are going to react and cope. There is a theme of working incredibly hard, doing what it takes in response to the crisis and trying to manage the personal storm too.

One thing we all have in common as people professionals is the importance of maintaining our own wellbeing – as individuals, for our families, and for our friends and colleagues. It all places an additional demand and expectation on employers, but also on us as HR professionals, as employees look to us for support and resources. 

HR professionals are historically not great at looking after themselves. We tend to put ourselves last and forget about the support we need, which ironically only increases as more demand is placed on us. So it’s time to prioritise looking after yourself and your teams and colleagues. You will only be able to continue supporting your business if you are fit and well, mentally and physically. Financial wellbeing is also an increasing worry for many, and this includes those within our profession.

As we go through the crisis, our employees will have changing needs. These have to be anticipated and provided for. We have reacted to the current circumstances and called on our existing resources, but more will be required, and on an ongoing basis. As part of this we need to take a look at the changing demands being made of HR teams: what support do they need? What skills are required and how can we ensure these are in place? 

Post-crisis, the world – and people’s expectations – will have changed, and things are not going to go back to the way they were. This will include the approach taken to wellbeing. As HR professionals, we need to be able to move out of crisis management (this is likely to be business as usual for a while), start planning for the future and pre-empt the change that will come, integrating it into the resources we have available.

Something for us all to reflect on going forward is that it is highly likely employees will be attracted and retained by the wellbeing approach their current or future employer takes. They will also have changed their perceptions and expectations of the support they want to see in place for both themselves and their families. The offerings will need to change from reactive to proactive and will need to be integrated as a high-profile element of an employer’s people strategy. It will be one of the most valued benefits and must be integral to an employer’s ethos, approach and culture.

The decisions we take now about how we manage and support employees during this time of crisis will also define brands and lay the foundation for the future. So it is critical we look after ourselves as well, so we are able to reflect and plan for what’s next. Our profession is shining in this current time of crisis, but more shining will still be required, so please take care of you too.

Annette Andrews is former chief people officer at Lloyd’s 

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