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June 7, 2022 Nina Candido

What is Driving HR Burnout and How Companies Can Take Care of HR

Why is HR in Crisis?

HR is a brutal job­—why would anyone go into this profession? According to a 2019 study published in Human Resources, HR tops the rankings of most stressful professions, with 79% of HR professionals reporting unhealthy levels of job stress or anxiety. That was before the pandemic, which put HR professionals on the front line of businesses, having to provide support to employees who were struggling with personal, family, and work crises and stress.

A year into the pandemic and the results were even worse. HR leaders report soaring amounts of stress in a February 2021 article from Human Resource Executive, which reported that a staggering 90% of HR professionals said their stress increased from the preceding year.

HR professionals have always taken care of others before seeing to our own needs—it’s the nature of the job. We’re here to support our colleagues, who are often friends, through all kinds of issues. To be successful we have to know the struggles, issues, traumas, stress, and pain that our friends and colleagues are living with.

Examples of issues HR professionals deal with include:

  • Cancer diagnoses
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Loss of partner’s job
  • Car accidents
  • Infant deaths
  • Mental health challenges

Day after day—yes, this takes an emotional toll.

We also have the unfortunate job of telling our friends and colleagues awful news. Being “just the messenger” doesn’t make it any easier when facing the person and saying the words. Difficult messages include having to tell someone:

  • They’ve been laid off
  • They’ve been terminated (for cause)
  • They weren’t selected for the job they applied for
  • Their FMLA benefits are exhausted

Yes, this also takes an emotional toll; being the messenger is hard.

I remember terminating an employee because their F-1 visa expired, and they didn’t make the H-1B visa lottery.

We don’t have the luxury of doing what’s fair or what’s nice—terminating that employee was neither. But it was required because they were no longer legally able to work in the country.

I honestly hated my job that day. I have rarely felt so utterly helpless.

Is Stress a Job Hazard for HR?What is Driving HR Burnout and How Companies Can Take Care of HR - woman sitting in armchair with laptop on lap with hands on head looking stressed

Above are just two examples of the many things HR professionals are responsible for that drive stress and anxiety. But does that mean HR professionals experience higher stress overall?

Early in my HR career, even without a global pandemic contributing to the stress, I started to feel the cumulative effects of the emotional toll, especially because I had no outlet for everything I was working on. Most of what HR does is confidential, meaning I couldn’t talk about it even if there was someone willing to listen; I had no choice but to keep it all inside.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and when I first raised concerns, my manager was not surprisingly dismissive; my company had nothing to offer. I thought it was me.

Eventually, I sought counseling and was so grateful I did! In addition to successfully addressing my personal needs, I learned it wasn’t me—there are several terms to describe what I was experiencing:

  • Compassion fatigue
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Emotional overload
  • Secondary stress
  • Distress
  • Burnout

This is not unlike what counselors and therapists experience, and it’s why counselors typically have their own therapist. It also strongly suggests that stress is part of being an HR professional.

Fast-forward 20 years, there are many studies addressing this issue, and there’s a global pandemic compounding an already stressful job.

Human Resource Executive reported in February 2022 that HR burnout is fueled by, among other things, a significant increase in workload, some attributable to the Great Resignation, and several COVID-related issues such as vaccination requirements, return-to-work plans, and improving company culture.

HR leaders are also saying they don’t feel supported, which contributes to their overall stress. Is it any wonder burnout and resignations are rampant in HR?

HRD America’s article, HR pros experiencing widespread burnout in 2022, presents survey results showing that the stress and anxiety associated with working in HR are very real, and can no longer be ignored by companies. A few highlights include:

  • Less than 1/3 feel valued in their organization
  • 98% are fatigued and under pressure in the past 6 months
  • 94% felt overwhelmed
  • 88% said they dreaded work
  • 97% felt emotionally fatigued from work over the past year
  • 78% are open to leaving their job this year for new opportunities

How Companies Can Take Care of HR

I recently returned to counseling and renewed my work on many stress management tips and strategies, including some described in Nivati’s blog post which discusses stress management in HR.

This highlighted the reality that while HR leaders have been working so hard to identify and implement health and wellbeing programs in the workplace, we have done little, if anything, to take care of HR. This has to be seen as a call to action!

  • We need to educate both companies and HR professionals about stress and anxiety associated with the work done by HR and the risks of not effectively managing it.
  • We need to educate companies about how vital it is that they provide on-demand, easily accessible mental health support for HR professionals before they reach burnout.
  • For companies, with up to 78% of HR professionals saying they are open to leaving their job, the only question has to be: Can companies afford not to take care of HR?
  • We need to educate HR professionals about the value of taking advantage of ongoing mental health support services to ensure they are effectively managing stress and avoiding burnout.

For more strategies and insights on how company leaders can take care of HR, check out this post.

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By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Nina Candido

Nina Candido is a Sr. HR Leader with success working to achieve transformative outcomes in organizations experiencing rapid growth or M&A activity. She is a builder focused on unlocking individual and organizational potential and is passionate about creating environments where employees can thrive and grow beyond their own highest expectations.

Throughout the pandemic Nina turned some of her attention to identifying and implementing solutions for making remote environments conducive to employee engagement, growth, and learning.

Education Cornell University, ILR School—Master’s, Industrial & Labor Relations
Le Moyne College—Bachelor’s, Business Administration