Mass layoffs causing burnout for HR

While mass layoffs are causing turmoil in all sectors, they are particularly affecting HR professionals, who are at an increased risk of burnout.

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Layoffs are becoming increasingly common in today’s business environment, and can create a difficult and unpleasant situation for both the organisations and the affected employees.

While we all know that employees are at the receiving end of these layoffs, there is another group within the organisation that is significantly affected by layoffs — the HR professionals.

It is the HR professionals who are often tasked with communicating with the employees about the layoffs. This can be quite an emotionally draining exercise for the HR personnel. After all, these are the very employees they had helped select and onboard, and for whose welfare they have worked and designed various policies and initiatives. During layoffs, it again becomes the responsibility of the HR personnel to help support these employees with outplacements and processing their exit documents.  After months and years of working with and for these employees, the HR personnel find it challenging to do the dirty job of letting them know that their future is uncertain. This is far more difficult than it sounds given the immense pressure and stress  that the HR personnel bear during the entire process.

“They should have advised the management when they overhired, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with layoffs and end up experiencing burnout”.

Prasanth Gulur Bhyranna, group CHRO, First Steps Babywear

Many may argue that conveying news of layoffs and discussing the repercussions and severance is part of the work of the HR. For instance, Prasanth Gulur Bhyranna, group CHRO, First Steps Babywear, feels that it is the HR’s responsibility to forecast such situations and prepare themselves and employees for the same. According to him, “HR should have been more cautious. They should have advised the management when they overhired, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with layoffs and end up experiencing burnout”.

This is easier said than done. After all, it is not the HR that decides on the number of people to be hired or fired. The HR department is merely the executor. Just like the order for someone’s hanging is given by a legal authority, but the actual hanging is carried out by a hangman. In the case of layoffs, the HR personnel are like hangmen. We have never really heard of hangmen admitting that they enjoy tightening the noose around a person’s neck till the individual stops breathing.

Emotional pressure 

Despite the fact that layoffs may be a part of their job responsibilities, the emotional toll that it takes on the HR personnel can be huge. If they are not helped at the right time, it can lead to mental breakdown.

“It will definitely take a toll on the HR professionals because they also go through their emotional highs and lows.”

Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel

There are many social-media posts of employees who escaped the axe finding it unbearable to watch their colleagues breaking down on being laid off. They have admitted to losing the motivation to return to work. Imagine the effect on the minds and hearts of the helpless HR personnel who have to hand over the pink slips to employees and see them cry or break down. With their hands tied, the HR will still have to lend their shoulders to affected employees to cry on.

Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel, agrees, saying, “It will definitely take a toll on the HR professionals because they also go through their emotional highs and lows.”

Workload

Another reason for HR burnout during mass layoffs is the heavy workload associated with the process. Layoffs often require significant planning and coordination, including managing the exit process, communicating with employees, providing support, and handling legal and compliance issues. All this involves a lot of paper work too, and HR professionals may find themselves working long hours and under time constraints to get everything done.

Blame

It is natural for highly emotional employees to hold the HR professionals accountable for the company’s actions and layoff decisions. This can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. They may also be questioned by the remaining employees and the public, which may push them into a corner. Trying to defend the organisation and also being emotionally available to the affected employees requires quite a bit of balancing that doesn’t come easily.

What can the HR do to make it easier for themselves?

It is essential for employers to acknowledge the fact that mental breakdown or burnout can be suffered by even those who are tasked with preventing the same amongst employees, that is the HR. Therefore, they should offer the support and resources required to the HR personnel to prevent them from heading towards a burnout.

However, more than the employers, it is the duty of the HR professionals to ensure that they steer clear of a burnout.

Seek support

Just as they launch initiatives for the mental well-being of the employees, they have to take care of their own mental and emotional well-being amidst a layoff process.  They must seek support from their colleagues and superiors if, required. Just venting to colleagues can help an HR person feel light from the inside. If required, they can seek professional support or counselling so that they stop being riddled with guilt for being the bearers of bad news for their own colleagues.

“There should be tools, processes and regular interactions in place to help detect mental unrest in a person immediately, including HR personnel.”

Alka Mittal, former CHRO, ONGC

Long-term mechanism

Just a mere hug when an HR person is feeling low is not sufficient. Employers have to understand that a mechanism has to be introduced that will make a difference in the longer term. According to Alka Mittal, former CHRO, ONGC, “There should be tools, processes and regular interactions in place to help detect mental unrest in a person immediately, including HR personnel. This is the duty and responsibility of the organisation, especially towards its HR personnel”.

Mindset

Parur advises HR personnel to accept that not everything is in their hands. He rightly points out, “HR people need to differentiate between things they can control and things they cannot.” Once they accept this, they will not be stressed out. They have to develop the mental strength to carry out their duties. Handling layoffs is one of their duties, and there is no escaping it. Therefore, he suggests that HR personnel prepare themselves for such scenarios and build the strength to handle the stress that comes with such situations. “After all, they have to remain calm enough to be able to take care of the transition for those laid off, which is part of their responsibilities,” he points out.

Profile photo of Rishav Dev

“While deboarding or demobilising people, treat them with absolute respect and hear them out patiently.”

Rishav Dev, CHRO, Noveltech Feeds

Professionalism

While Rishav Dev, CHRO, Noveltech Feeds, admits that layoffs can be a painful time for the HR, he also states that the HR has to perform its duty.

The HR may be tempted to worry about the laid off people’s future, their families and homes. After all, they are also human. However, as a professional, the HR should not be overcome by emotion. They have to stay positive and calm, just as a professional ought to be.

The whole process has to be carried out with thorough professionalism. “While deboarding or demobilising people, treat them with absolute respect and hear them out patiently. Expect some reaction from those you are deboarding, but refrain from reacting yourself,” advises Dev.
According to Dev, while it is essential for the HR personnel to also feel the pain of the others, he or she cannot forget that there is a certain mandate to be followed.

He cites the example of a person whose gangrene-infected leg needs to be amputated.

The doctor doesn’t want to amputate anyone’s leg for fun. He does it when it is required to be done. So, when the patient is explained why the amputation has to be carried out, it becomes easier for the doctor to carry out the procedure and for the patient who is losing a leg.

To conclude, it true that mass layoffs can lead to burnout amongst HR professionals. The emotional toll, workload, and accountability that comes with such a situation can be extremely stressful. However, the HR personnel themselves can do a lot to prepare themselves better and stop from breaking down.

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