Issue: HR specialists can become emotionally hooked on solving employees' problems.
Risk: Resulting emotional overload can sap your time, your energy and your ability to be a strategic player.
Action: Balance employee advocacy with commitment to top executives, and to your career.
You were probably attracted to HR because you want to help people. It's in your nature to do so. But be careful not to become too attached to helping employees; it can threaten your career.
How? Too much emotional involvement can drain your energy and spare time, increase stress, and damage your ability to perform objectively at a high level. You become less valuable to your organization and HR team, and less accountable to the senior executives who pay your salary.
The problem is rising as employees gain more ways to request help: cell phones, voice mail, e-mail, intranet, office walk-ins. And they aren't shy about asking. Requests tend to spike during layoffs, mergers, open-enrollment periods and compensation changes.
More than half (54 percent) of the HR people polled in a recent Towers Perrin survey say they feel more job stress these days. Much of that stress stems from too much emotional involvement with employee difficulties.
Use the following tips to maintain your emotional distance from employees' problems, while still remaining effective:
- Keep your door open and let employees know you will listen. But remind them, especially in new-hire meetings, that you can't fix all their problems. Such a strategy is especially important when you have to deliver bad news. Don't take it personally. Explain bad news from the business perspective.
Example: If your organization announces layoffs and upset employees flock to your office, don't effuse empathy. Listen and say that you understand how they feel, and explain the business rationale for the cuts.
- Empower managers to trouble-shoot
- Set aside time each day to work without interruptions. Shut your door and don't answer the phone. Spend that time on HR issues that don't stoke your empathy but focus on organizational strategy and growth. Your top brass will recognize these strategic gains, not that you listened to Fred's girlfriend problems for half an hour. Direct employees to your intranet site for basic forms and policy info.
- Delegate when possible. Don't become so emotionally attached to an HR project that you continue to manage the details of it long after you should. Plan a hand-off strategy when launching any such project.
- Cut the cord between work and home. Don't carry home feelings of guilt because you can't help solve every employee's problem. You're their HR person, not their psychiatrist. Realize that and try to leave HR worries in "HRland"; don't bring them home.
Final point: To know if "over-attachment" is a problem for you, assess how much time you spend at home dwelling on employee problems. If it seems excessive, map out a plan to draw a brighter line between being compassionate and being consumed.
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