Pace Yourself – Preventing HR Burnout

Updated: Sep 11


Pace yourself.  Enough said, right?  Not hardly.  HR professionals have been running in overdrive since mid-March.  In addition to the normal day-to-day responsibilities of employee relations, benefits, government compliance, FMLA, ADA…we have now been tasked with FFCRA and CARES Act compliance.  

We are used to the role of counselor, or sometimes psychiatrist when an employee is having a tough day, but now we are also the school nurse, checking temperatures and looking at a list of symptoms to determine if our employee might have COVID-19.  We have also taken a greater role in safety, created new leave policies and helped our staff work remotely…and did it overnight.

I have heard some question, where does it end?  When am I going to get some relief? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a respite is coming anytime soon.  So, what do you do?

Over the course of my 25+ years in business, I discovered that there are only 24 hours in a day.  Shocking, I know.  Despite my best efforts of time-bending or revving up a flux capacitor, I haven’t been able to add more time.  Instead, I have tried, not always successfully, to manage my time wisely and make better decisions with what I am going to do each day.

The first way to prevent HR Burnout is to realize you might not get it all done. 

Whether it is today, or ever, and despite our best efforts, it may never happen.  Now of course there are certain things that must be done.  Payroll is one.  Compliance.  Safety. New government-mandated leave (FFRCA).  We need and do find the time to do these things.  However, there are other choices that can be made that we sometimes fail to consider.

Here are four questions to ask yourself about each task.  By asking these questions, we may discover we are adding unnecessary burdens to our workload that make it tougher – or crush our spirit all together.

1. What is the driver for this task?

(Put another way - Why is this something that needs to be done?)


Sometimes this can be broken down into needs versus wants.  Is this task something that needs to be done, i.e., Payroll, Open Enrollment, COVID-19 screening?  Yes – we have to do it and we must find the time to do it.  However, other times the answer may be – it would be nice to revise our performance management training, but no – it doesn’t need to be done – at least not today, this week, or this month.  In this case, we might keep it on the radar, but put it into a Someday folder.

2. Am I the best person to do the task?


It’s just easier if I do it myself.  I have uttered these words more times than I can count.   And more times than I can count, I have been wrong. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.  As the head of HR in a company I needed to balance my time and use it more effectively.  This meant finding the best person to do a task.  In one growing company I hired an HR assistant to handle what I thought was only going to be paperwork.  In the end, she took on new employee onboarding, benefit enrollment, recruitment advertising and so much more.  

As things got busier, we also hired a recruiter and a trainer.  These were all things I could do, but by assigning tasks to others, it freed me up to focus more on growth strategies for the company and improving the management abilities of the leadership team.  While my workload didn’t change, it was much more focused, and because of this, my burnout factor was reduced.

3. What happens if it doesn’t get done?

  Today, tomorrow, ever?

Have you ever looked at the clock and realized it was 7 pm and this was the third day in a row you have been at work for more than 12 hours?  Yet despite all that time, the to-do list is still there and seemingly growing by the hour.  At some point, you have to say enough is enough.  The work will be there in the morning.  

A practice I have tried to adapt is the hard stop at the end of the day.  Now it doesn’t always happen based on deadlines, requests, and how the day progressed, but it is happening more than it isn’t.  This was a big step for me.  Here’s how it works:  At the beginning of the day determine what time you want to head home, and what time you need to head home.  The need time is your hard stop.  What’s done is done – and your most important work should have been done earlier in the day. The rest will still be there in the morning, but you need time to reset.  Pushing yourself too hard will not make you more productive.  The opposite result is true.  Study after study shows that without downtime which allows your body and mind time to process and reset, the level of productivity and quality will continue to suffer.  

These hard stops should also apply to meetings you set with others and tasks you are working on.


4. Is perfection really needed,

or is good enough good enough?

How many of you are members of PA?  Perfectionists Anonymous.  We aren’t going to be satisfied until it is absolutely, positively perfect.  I used to think this is what was needed…for everything I did.  I wasn’t perfect, but I would certainly spend more time on a task than was necessary even if it meant blowing past a deadline or having something else suffer because of it. Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  We can edit and revise and rework forever.  And while that new policy or employee memo might be a little better because of it, do we really need to continue to edit it for three hours?  Have someone else review it after your pre-defined hard stop.  Is it clear?  Are there holes?  Does it communicate your message effectively?  Yes.  Great – put it out and move on. 


Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating sloppy, inconsistent or bad work.  But honestly, good enough is often good enough.

We can always get better at using our time wisely.  When we set an agenda for the day and we never get through the whole thing, it is demotivating and demoralizing.  We need to fix our thought process on how we set our agenda.  When I conduct leadership training, I ask the following questions:

  • How many of you have a to-do list for the day?  Almost everyone raises their hand.

  • How many hours of work would your to-do list take to accomplish?  All 8-10 hours of our day.

  • How many of you spend a good part of your putting out fires or dealing with things not on your list every day?  Almost everyone raises their hand.

  • How many hours of fire fighting do you do each day?  3-4 hours

  • How many of you schedule the unexpected fire fighting you will inevitably have to do each day?  Silence

Here’s the thing.  If we know we will have interruptions and things come up that were not planned, but we don’t schedule them into the day, we are already setting ourselves up for failure.  We know going into the day that we will not be successful and the events will drive our day, not our planning.  We can fix this by changing ONE thing.  Schedule the unexpected.  If you know it’s going to happen and suck out 25% of your day, only fill your to-do list with 50-60% of the time.  But Chad, that doesn’t add up to 100%.  I know – because we are also really bad at estimating how much time we are spending dealing with the unexpected. Worst case – you have extra time to get something done that wasn’t on your to-do list, and you can leave at the time you want to leave, not the time you absolutely need to leave. 

Sometimes, no most times, burnout is a mental game.  If we take a little time to think about how we are going to attack the tasks at hand, and which tasks we need to attack today, the end of the day will be filled with accomplishment, not dread about what is still hanging over our heads.  We need family time.  We need down time.  We need time with our friends.  We can only push at 100%+ for so long.  Just like your car, if you push in the red too long or too often, eventually you will breakdown.

There is a saying by Minnesota businessman Harvey Mackay that says “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.” What are you going to do with the 24 hours given to you today?