Skip to navigation
Stressed employee working at laptop
6 Min Read

5 Reasons HR Leaders Are Struggling Right Now

Nicole Klemp

While incredibly rewarding, being a people and culture leader can also be a very tough job. But the last few years especially, the gig has been pretty… extra. Extra work, extra stress, extra uncertainty.

To better understand this uniquely challenging time for our HR heroes, we decided to dig into more about what you’re struggling with most, and uncovered five themes that show up again and again. 

So hop on the HR struggle bus with us and see how many of these reasons you can relate to.

Forgetting to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others

Our data continues to show that a staggering 60% of employees feel burnout. (The World Health Organization has even recognized burnout as an official occupational syndrome.) But while employees across the board are struggling, HR professionals may be feeling it even more than most. 

On top of trying to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing, you also have to be there to support all your fellow employees as well. Your own health and wellness might get put on the back burner, as you try to be strong and bear the burdens of everyone around you. 

As Jennifer Liu writes for CNBC, the burnout many people are feeling is especially acute for people in human resources. She interviewed Alison Stevens, a director of HR at a payroll services company. Stevens shares that she hasn’t taken a real break in 18 months.

“Part of the stress is that, by nature, HR professionals tend to take care of others before themselves,” she says. “It’s how we’re hardwired.”

From the lasting impact of the pandemic to a constant state of reactivity, HR professionals have been burning the candle at both ends, while trying to hold their teams — and themselves — together.

While many employers do offer mental health resources (that the HR team is typically in charge of managing and promoting) many simply don’t allow themselves the time to take advantage of what’s available.  

As Stevens said, “Now, HR professionals really need to lean into taking care of themselves. They need to make sure they’re taking advantage of the benefits they’re working to shape for their employees.”

The Great Resignation is a Great Frustration

According to SHRM, 2 out of 3 employers say maintaining morale has been a challenge since Covid, causing people to leave the workforce in droves. They estimate that 49% of people have thought about leaving their current organization, and sadly, 1 in 4 dread going to work each day. 

With millions more job vacancies than normal, it’s a talent-driven market and people’s expectations are high when choosing an employer. The pandemic has accelerated what was already a growing desire for more flexibility and control in our career choices. 

Attracting top talent has perhaps never been more competitive, with recruiters expected to pull out all the stops to fill vacant roles. This can mean talking to candidates and doing phone screens well past office hours, even into the night, to accommodate people’s work schedules.  

On top of that, retaining existing employees is critical, and company leaders often put the responsibility of employee engagement and culture squarely on the already weighed-down shoulders of their HR team.

Lack of professional development for emerging HR leaders

In our 2022 Workplace Report, we surveyed more than 1,000 employed U.S. adults and found that career growth, learning, and people development are among the most important factors for remaining at a company. Unfortunately, we also found that most employers (55.5%) don’t offer a clear path for advancement. 

While you’re busy advocating for and facilitating the professional development of employees across your company, you may be missing out on your own career development opportunities. 

According to SHRM’s Future Chief People Officers Report, CPOs in the future will need different skill sets and experiences from those they have today, and it’s important to accelerate the growth and development of the HR executives of tomorrow. Unfortunately, in reality, only about 35% are getting the training and development opportunities they’ll need to thrive as people leaders.

In their study, SHRM also found that CEOs have a more optimistic view about current professional development opportunities than CPOs, which suggests that CEOs don’t fully appreciate the development gaps that exist for the next generation of HR executives.

Running HR solo or with limited resources

Considering small businesses account for over 99% of all businesses in the U.S., it’s safe to say there are a lot of solo HR practitioners out there. Even for those that have a small team of people, many still struggle with limited resources and a ton of responsibility to go around.

When you’re an HR team of one, you have to wear a lot of hats. (It might feel like you could open a boutique with all those hats!) You’re being pulled in a hundred different directions and may feel like you’re caught between the needs of the executive team, managers, and individual contributors — who are not always on the same page. 

With a company’s greatest asset being its people, the heavy responsibility of recruiting, engaging, and retaining a great team often falls on you — even when it shouldn’t. It’s the cross you get to bear for having “human” or “people” in your job title.

When you’re a one-person show, this pressure can be especially draining, mentally and emotionally. And without a team of peers to lean on, it can sometimes feel lonely, too. 

A roller coaster of change and uncertainty

The last couple of years have been a roller coaster for pretty much everyone, but HR leaders have had to deal with the added stress of leading their teams through it all. The policy changes, health requirements, office closures, office reopens, moves to hybrid work, the list goes on… 

According to a recent report, 98% of HR leaders say the pandemic has transformed their role and 70% say 2021 was one of the most challenging years of their career.

You’ve had to deal with constantly shifting priorities, changing recommendations from the CDC (sometimes daily), and the challenges of new working environments, all while acting in the best interests of the employees and the business. 

And even as things “get back to normal,” it’s a new normal that we’re returning to. The way we work has fundamentally shifted, and people leaders carry a lot of the responsibility of shepherding people through the changes.

According to research by Gartner, 95% of HR leaders expect that at least some of their employees will work remotely after the pandemic. This massive shift to hybrid work presents a huge workforce transformation that HR leaders must be prepared to support.

Don’t struggle alone

Whatever your current challenges are, you don’t have to endure them alone. We’ve built a supportive community of HR peers who are always willing to give help and advice. Whether you’re a team of one or 100, an HR veteran or a young professional, you’re welcome to join our movement.

Join our HR Superstars Community