There is no doubt that recent months have put a disproportionate strain on HR professionals and in many ways they have risen to the challenge. There have been and continue to be so many conflicting challenges for the profession. HR has to represent the best interests of both the business and the individual in the midst of changing working circumstances and new legislation. Despite the powerful metaphor that we should put our own oxygen mask on before helping others, the sheer pace of change brought on by this crisis may well have left little time for self-care or recharging our own batteries.
But is that really true? Or are we actually not very good at prioritising self-development compared to other professions? Ironic considering that learning and development sit within this profession.
Let me share some anecdotes that have made me question whether we all need to challenge ourselves. In particular, we should question if we are prioritising enough time to recharging our batteries? Both mentally and physically?
Many of you will know that I host a podcast called the HR Uprising which has built a loyal follower of listeners in more than 100 countries. On our first year anniversary I carried out some research into the most listened to episodes and noticed that those episodes on self-care and managing stress had far fewer downloads than many other topics. Another theme we noticed was that the more popular topics pivoted from strategic to reactive e.g. Building an HR Balanced Scorecard to Furloughing Facts and Fiction. Clearly time will tell as to whether interests return to longer-term strategic challenges. Certainly, the podcast will seek to provide relevant content on both. However, this really isn’t the point, the point is about our commitment to our own wellbeing/self-development.
Let’s take another example, it’s the CIPD renewal time of year again. Sadly for them, their systems force a crescendo of “Is my membership worth it” dialogue each June due to a calendar-based renewal system. Every year I see people saying how they get nothing from their membership. In response, I see a handful of people every year pointing out that you get out what you put in. They point out all the benefits the CIPD membership brings. From brand new e-learning resources to free research, the recent Covid-19 resources as well as conferences, helplines and branch events. But the reality is that the CIPD can only provide resources to us, they can’t force us to commit the time to actually utilise them.
It is my view that it has never been more important for HR professionals to prioritise their own development and wellbeing. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, everyone needs to recharge their own batteries after a period of intense stress. Arguably more in this profession than any other. Secondly, this is about leading by example, demonstrating to others in the organisation that wellbeing is important and self-development and learning as part of wellbeing. Finally, we know that HR has long been criticised for not being strategic enough. This is something that requires us to step back from the reactivity and consider all options. It may require us to gain new knowledge or skills. Perhaps we should make a concerted effort to press pause on the doing and invest in some thinking time. All the same, activities that would also nurture our wellbeing.
So why are we so poor at investing in our own self-development? There are many possibilities; we could be just too busy rushing from one crisis to crisis, we might be too busy juggling other family priorities or maybe, we just don’t think we deserve to invest that time on ourselves?
I hesitate to suggest this, but having recently read the excellent book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and in the context of being alert to discrimination, as an industry that is predominantly female is it possible that we are too busy carrying out ‘unpaid work’ to have any time left for ourselves? Is this why there are disproportionately more men in senior HR roles, not because they are naturally more strategic but because they find the time (have less unpaid work to stop them) to invest in themselves and develop these skills?
This is no criticism of male HR professionals, and I am not saying that female HR professionals are oppressed either. Instead, my hope is that this a wake-up call for many of us to recognise that we do have the right to how we spend our time. Particularly that investing in our own wellbeing and personal development is a legitimate option. Behaving as we have always done simply commits us to the same outcome. Will your behaviour lead to stress and exhaustion or fulfilment and growth?
Of course, there is the strong possibility that those who have read this far have already got this memo, in which case let’s spread the word. Let’s lead by example by committing time to activities that enhance our wellbeing and develop our minds and careers. We should encourage others to do the same.
HR deserves huge respect for the outstanding way that so may have handled this crisis. Very often, the unsung hero, this could be the ideal opportunity to deservedly blow the HR trumpet and point out just how vital this profession has been recently and will continue to be. We just need to stop being our own worst enemies!
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