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4 Strategies for Preventing Employee Relations Burnout

May 15, 2017
Deb Muller


Employee engagement: it’s what all companies worth their salt strive for. A recent study by Kronos Inc. has found the biggest threat to building an engaged workforce in 2017 is employee burnout. It seems that efforts to attain high engagement have turned into pressures to over-perform for workers at many companies, and employee relations professionals are not exempt from this.

Frustration can come from shrinking budgets, organizational shifts and being asked to do more with less. And the brunt of this frustration often hits the employee relations team, bringing high-pressure situations that can be emotionally draining. Add the need for employee relations professionals to walk the line between company spokesperson and employee advocate, and it is no wonder stress and burnout become serious issues.



According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, burnout shows itself in three ways: exhaustion, alienation and reduced performance. But it may also creep up subtly through symptoms like minor aches, frequent colds, sleep problems, poor concentration or just feeling that something is off balance.

Many try to overcome this unease through achievement. They come in early, work through lunch, tether themselves to email and cellphones and take in endless amounts of caffeine and sugar to keep energy levels up. But these solutions deplete rather than renew and may actually deepen feelings of futility. So how does one siphon off the stress? It starts with a firm grasp of the current landscape and its associated challenges.


Employee relations, like every business practice, creates a trail of data that can be collected and analyzed to determine the best course of action. The data is telling a story, and it’s critical to decipher how to use it for validating the right approach and steering clear of problematic processes.

  • For example, employee relations leaders can examine the types of issues they are seeing with regard to the geography and leader. Are there trends that need to be mitigated? In some cases, training can be provided on a local basis to rectify the issue and reduce volume of claims.
  • Look at the average timeline. How long does a typical case take to complete? Businesses can leverage their case management system to find bottlenecks of inefficiency, then work to solve the problem from there.
  • Consider other models for distribution of cases. The 2016 HR Acuity Employee Relations Benchmark Study discusses how other organizations deal with this issue. For instance, if your cases are mapped by business unit, it may make sense to map by case complexity instead.

Each of these examples shows how burnout can quickly become an issue for an employee relations professional that is catching complex cases too frequently or someone that is running into issues with a specific bottleneck in the process, causing a pileup of cases and high stress. Additionally, knowing which leaders, business units or geographies are more likely to lead to increased workloads can help leaders more adequately distribute the incoming cases in a way that makes sense. And yes, this is a shameless plug, but I can’t resist — if your case management solution can’t easily help you do this, or you don’t have one at all, check us out!

Understanding the data is just one step in the process, because despite the best oversight and management, the employee relations profession is one that sees higher stress than other roles. From investigating issues and smoothing over rough situations to making hard calls about someone’s employment status, there is an incredible amount of pressure on the backs of those working in the employee relations profession.

On a more personal level, there are other options for preventing burnout that can help to minimize the impact of the daily grind on someone’s performance.


In helping vocations, there is a strong sense of purpose, which often leads to self-sacrifice. Selflessness is admirable, but can also be depleting, so it is important to set boundaries:

  • Remember that you do not have to fix everything for everyone. Sometimes an employee simply needs to be heard. Allow them to own their issue by helping them come to their own conclusions and take the necessary steps themselves.
  • Encourage employees to avoid the blame game. Too much energy is dissipated through complaining and finger-pointing. Whining sessions just bring everyone down and sap energy, so stop them before they start.
  • Know when a problem is outside of your sphere. Perhaps the complaint is about a co-worker and should be handled with that individual rather than HR. Maybe the problem is best handled by the employee speaking with a supervisor. Or maybe it is time to engage the EAP. Have some alternatives ready and know when to use them.


It is easy to fall into the trap of long hours, caffeine and fast food during times of stress, but these habits only exacerbate problems. Maintaining work-life balance and physical health is critical in fighting burnout.

  • Don’t judge yourself by hours worked or response time to phone calls and company emails. It’s better to free a few hours for self-care and start the day with a clear mind than to be on call 24/7.
  • Avoid “energy boosters” like coffee, sodas and chips. Instead, keep nuts, dried fruits or yogurt for a pick-me-up. Never underestimate the power of a brisk walk, headphones playing a favorite song or a laugh with a co-worker for a mid-day mood boost.
  • Schedule a meeting with yourself. Put a sign on the door that says, “Meeting 9:00-10:30” to avoid interruptions and tackle a project. No one has to know the meeting has only one attendee!


There are several things you can do to keep your mind fresh:

  • Read, read, read. There is no better way to ignite passion and fire. One never knows where inspiration will come from — a Facebook post, a blog, an HR publication or a personal library.
  • Look for development opportunities. Attend a workshop or meet with a consultant. Nothing helps clear the head like getting away from that desk and getting productivity tips from experts in the field.
  • Delegate. With professional growth comes letting go. While this can be difficult, it helps to remember that delegating multiplies effectiveness. Rather than being a do-it-all martyr, cast a vision and enjoy seeing others latch onto that enthusiasm.
  • Ask for a sabbatical. Nothing beats time away to decompress and the company may just say ‘yes’ to keep a valuable employee.

The trap that is easy to fall into for employee relations professionals is in thinking that they have to be available to everyone at all times and in all circumstances. While this group of professionals must be accessible and accommodating, the goal is to maintain a healthy balance, clear vision and the ability to inspire others to give their best every day.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.