Visualize leadership as your favorite muscle group—in my case, quadriceps. Under a certain amount of repetitive stress and pressure, in the form of difficult decisions and conversations, it grows and strengthens. Remove any stress and/or pressure for too long, and it tends to atrophy from disuse.
Unfortunately, too many leaders find handy excuses to continue doing just that. They avoid difficult conversations and challenging people-related decisions in favor of delegating these tasks to HR staff. And, while many HR professionals are incredibly skillful in picking up the slack, that habit doesn’t always serve them, their organizations, or the leaders they are picking up the slack for, well in the long run.
Consider that HR staff have been on the front lines for almost two years throughout the dual and unrelenting crises of the pandemic and our racial reckoning. Add to that, many have also found themselves dealing with The Great Resignation and a resulting rush of new job vacancies that are proving a lot harder to fill than they used to be.
All of this translates into the majority of HR staff, including the HR staff at your organization, being overworked and overwhelmed by competing demands at a time when our collective need for them to perform at their best is highest. People working in HR have always been at higher risk of experiencing burnout compared with many of their colleagues in other functions. Having worked in and around HR for many years, my theory as to why this occurs has to do with the often invisible and rarely acknowledged cognitive and emotional load HR staff routinely carries on behalf of others.
Every time a leader avoids making tough, people-related decisions or expects an HR team member to lead a difficult conversation on their behalf, it transfers an emotional and psychological burden to the HR team member.
Instead of you paying the bill, your HR team member is essentially picking up the tab for you.
And, if your go-to HR staff member happens to identify as BIPOC or LGBTQ+ and you do not, recognize that the toll they are paying often includes a hidden surcharge. This is one consequence of overlapping and intersecting systemic forms of oppression embedded in our workplaces. Unlike talent, privilege and the access to opportunity it creates are not distributed evenly within organizations. People holding one or more marginalized identities have already overcome and must confront more barriers on a daily basis to achieve similar access to opportunity and success than someone in the exact same job who is perceived to be more like a white, male, hetero, cisgendered, neurotypical and able-bodied person. If you want to learn more about privilege and leadership I invite you to download a free summary and assessment of your Privilege Quotient (PQ)™.
Regardless of how you or your HR staff members identify, if you’ve gotten into the habit of delegating to your HR staff the tough announcements and conversations you aren’t sure how to have with your team members—it’s time to hit the reset button.
Three actions you can take today to help you do that, are:
- Shift your mindset about HR. Try thinking of your HR staff or team as an internal boutique consultancy—one best utilized for advising you on strategy and problem solving, instead of as your outsourced service provider or concierge. Notice how shifting your thinking affects how you communicate with HR staff and what you expect your collaboration to look and feel like.
- Build your leadership skill set. Commit to learning and practicing the skills you need so you can stop delegating to your HR staff the tough announcements and conversations you aren’t sure how to have with your team members. A great place to start is by accessing our free download of the Learn Lead Lift Framework™ and related tools or picking up a copy of the book, Learn Lead Lift: How To Think, Act and Inspire Your Way to Greatness.
- Schedule a regular, recurring check-in meeting with your HR staff member. Use the time to review staff developments and identify how you can support one another in your work. Having regular check-ins scheduled in advance helps to minimize fire drills and will help you build a relationship with HR based on mutual support and reciprocity.
If you are a leader interested in learning more about how you can support your HR staff or an HR team member looking for advice or support, we are here for you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with us today.