Remembering the Other Human In Human Resources

Sound familiar?  

You started your day with one list of to do’s and didn’t get to any of them.  

You had to put out a fire or clean up someone else’s “mess” this week.  

You planned to take a lunch break, take your dog for a walk, or carve out time to exercise, but checked your phone as you were getting ready and got sucked into something (or checked your phone while doing the thing for yourself and didn’t enjoy whatever you were trying to do).  

You signed up for a webinar but didn’t make it, or multitasked so much you barely remember what they watched.  

I get it.  I have been in your shoes.  I’m often still in your shoes.   But today I am going to share stories of how I (and other HR leaders I have coached) have found ways to carve out time both for myself, and my development, and how that has shaped my partnership and leadership in my organizations.  I promise I am not going to use the same metaphors you have already heard and philosophically know.  We are going to have some real talk today, HR friend to HR friend, and you will walk away with three challenges to remember that you are also a human that you need to be supporting in your HR role.   

So as your friend, I am going to remind all of us that we have to start with the foundation of taking care of ourselves and knowing what we need at different times.

Last summer I was getting hit from all directions.   My company was going through a due diligence process.  We found ourselves having to move unexpectedly, and in a short period of time.   We were staying with my in-laws, who are lovely but can add stress to our marriage.  My boss, and mentor, was leaving the company, the same person that I had followed to this company many years ago.   And my side business continued to grow faster than planned and I had just signed a great contract to lead a manager training program for a company in-person.

So, needless to say I was burned out in every direction and my health was taking a toll.  But each one of those areas of my life needed me.  I couldn’t do the whole, “let one thing go in order to focus on something else”.   But what I did have to do was prioritize.  At work, if it wasn’t due diligence related, it didn’t get done.   I had to rely on my team, push back on requests, and work with my fellow leaders to deprioritize projects.   I had to let things go in my personal life and just focus on finding a new home.  We canceled trips and visits that we just didn’t have the time or energy to enjoy.  And my husband and I had to be disciplined to carve out time for ourselves, even if that was a trip to Walmart and Panera together, just to get a break.  And I had to say no to some things in my business, bring on a second coach to help me fulfill my current commitments with clients and leverage our program coordinator more to keep the business going.

But it’s in these tough times I also learned the most.  Focusing on that due diligence gave me new skills and brought me in on conversations I wouldn’t have normally been in.  I have more exposure to our new PE firm and board members than I did with the previous board.  Similar to the resilience we had to show during the pandemic, we were challenged in ways we never expected and had to think differently and build skills we never needed before.  But we also had to take care of ourselves because if not, we wouldn’t be able to be there for others in times we were needed most.

Here’s my first challenge for you.  What is one thing you can do for yourself this week to help you with boundaries, to only prioritize the things that have to happen, to give yourself space to breathe and learn?   It doesn’t have to be something huge.  Start with something small if you need to.  Something that you can accomplish and then you can build from there.  And who do you need to tell to make sure you have the support you need to do that thing?

Speaking of the people in your life that will need to support you carving out time for what you need at this moment, let’s talk about our amazing HR community.  My HR network has always been a source of value that I cannot even put into words.  As a theater nerd turned HR nerd, I didn’t know a lot when I started in this field.  But I quickly built a circle of people I could turn to when I had questions, uncertainty or just needed to vent (and share the – what the heck just happened – moments we all have in our roles!).  And I saw this community come together in a way that was inspiring over the last few years.  A community of people who were all trying to find their way in the dark but held hands to try to make it to the light.

Because here’s the thing, we don’t have to do it alone.  We are all trying to figure out similar problems, trying to think about a new way to influence someone who isn’t a great partner, to find, engage and retain great people.   Especially for those of us at smaller companies, and maybe just a team of one, we literally can’t do it all on our own.  Has anyone seen the episode of HIMYM when Barney is Ted’s wing man? Throughout the whole episode he keeps saying “Haaaaave you met my friend Ted?”.   That’s my favorite thing to do, be the wing man for my HR friends.  Connecting them to people they are trying to meet or people I think can help them in the moment.

During COVID, every email alias, slack channel, HR community, lit up with questions, offers of support, new ideas, stories and ideas, suggestions, resources and just people to talk to.  Friends started new HR groups, like TroopHR, to help people realize they were not alone.  But we should not wait until there is a pandemic.   We need each other, not just for support and questions, but to tap into the amazing knowledge base and expertise we all bring to the table, because we don’t have to go it alone.  

So my second challenge for you today is to find five people to reconnect with, schedule a virtual coffee, send an email to say hi, text them, and make a commitment (a date) for yourself to do the same thing next month.

In those conversations, talk to your peers about what is going on in their world, what is one new thing they are doing, one new tool they are using that helps them, one way they influenced change in their organization lately.  

Because this is our moment.  Over the last few years, we have been able to challenge the stereotype of the HR function, demonstrate the partnership we offer and directly impact business goals by supporting the teams through a lot of change.  We have had to be innovative about supporting teams going remote (and then the strategic decision to stay remote or go back to the office, or do hybrid, how to define hybrid, etc, etc, etc!).  We have had to challenge our own thinking and identify opportunities to speak up and finally get our companies to talk more about DEIB initiatives and implement tools and programs that help with mental health and burnout.  We have had to redefine compensation models to reflect different economic climates and geographic considerations.  All while teaching ourselves, developing our own teams and influencing our internal stakeholders.

My final challenge to you is to find someone in your organization who can help be your champion.  Everything mentioned above should not just be an HR initiative.   So who can be your advocate, partner and champion both for you as an individual and for your function.  Someone who will yell from the rooftops, “HR Rocks and Thank You for all you do!”   Because when we feel that impact of our work, we feel that recognition and we know we are making a difference, that elevates us, motivates us and energizes us….which all feels really good as a human.

Wouldn’t it be great if the next time I ask you if something “sounds familiar”, you are able to say yes to…

You took three lunch breaks this week (legit lunch breaks).

You met your friend for yoga and coffee Monday morning to start your week off strong.

You connected with a former colleague about a new tool you are considering and they walked through their own RFP and decision process.

You networked with an HR professional who can help you roll out a new training within your org since you have 5 other projects on your plate this quarter!

Your head of marketing mentioned in your last board meeting how your partnership helped them retain a key person on their team and close a hard to close role

You feel energized and excited each week about the work you are doing and the life you are leading.

Here’s a cheat to the challenges above, let me help!   Feel free to reach out to me to be one of those five connections, let me shout your awesomeness and tell me your boundaries and how to protect them.

Because, my friends, that is what we deserve.  And we can have that for ourselves when we remember that we are also a human we need to support and help in our HR roles!