Emotional Armor: How to Wear It at Work

Most professionals enter human resources and similar fields because they enjoy working with people. Since HR is often on the front lines of employee conflict, major life crises and other events, however, they often see people at their most toxic - and can suffer as a result.

In addition, HR staff are often the "face" of bad news from the company. For instance, HR may be called in to announce that an employee has suffered a tragedy, or that the company will be laying off one or more workers. Because they're the ones to communicate this information to staff, human resources teams may find themselves taking the blame for the information, even though they neither caused the events communicated nor can change them.

These job tasks can put HR professionals at risk of emotional and even physical burnout. Fortunately, HR professionals can take proactive steps to maintain awareness of these risks and to bolster their own reserves.

Build a Strong Routine of Healthy Habits

Stress can erode healthy habits over time. Overwhelmed by work, you may reach for a chocolate bar in your desk instead of eating a balanced lunch. Stressed by bad news you have to give your team, you may skip the gym so you can get home earlier.

The stronger your routine of healthy habits is, however, the more likely it is to support you when stress levels are high. If you're in the habit of going to the gym after work, for instance, it becomes more difficult to make a different choice when you're stressed - and easier to avail yourself of the stress-reducing benefits of regular exercise.

Focus on building a routine that includes consistent sleep, healthy meals, daily movement, and time set aside to simply relax. When stress rises, recommit to these habits to refuel your physical, mental and emotional energy reserves.

Embrace the Power of "No"

Setting clear boundaries is essential to keeping the stress and toxicity of work at work. Without boundaries, stress is likely to follow you into other areas of your life, taking over your ability to focus on family, rest or healthy habits.

To build stronger boundaries, begin by reminding yourself that stress is a result of the situation, not a personal failing. Focus conversations on the issues, and never participate in casting blame on others - even if you feel the urge to do so.

Many HR professionals develop a sense of guilt when they can't help every employee every time. Here, boundaries are essential as well. Remember that your job consists of both essential and discretionary tasks. Focus on ensuring the essentials are done well, and if you can't respond to every discretionary request, don't blame yourself.

Likewise, embrace the power of "no" when it comes to your own schedule. Human resources staff are naturally helpful types, so it's easy to overschedule yourself by saying "yes" to every opportunity that appears. By scheduling your healthy habits first, and then planning around those times, you add structure to your day, protect your reserves, and help yourself avoid overextension that can lead to burnout.

Recruit People to Team You

Team You is your personal team of supportive, trustworthy people you can fall back on when work becomes stressful.

Many HR professionals fall back on their family or their closest friends when things get rough. While these personal relationships are an essential part of your personal support community, Team You will be strongest if you include a wider range of supportive people.

First, build a community of fellow HR professionals with whom you can share problems and seek support when needed. These professionals may be trustworthy co-workers or mentors you find through professional networks. When you have a tough situation, your mentors can provide help.

Next, consider working with a qualified therapist or counselor whom you trust, particularly if stress is ongoing or if you find you're having trouble returning to a sustainable, healthy baseline after a particularly stressful event. Your therapist or counselor provides a neutral "sounding board" to help you sort through your feelings and develop more effective tools for managing them.

Finally, if you discover that your healthy habits, strong boundaries and caring team aren't enough to help protect your well-being during workplace stress, talk to your staffing partner. Staffing firms understand that your energy levels must be sustainable in order to build your skills and satisfaction with work. Your staffing agency can provide the support you need to stay focused on your highest priority work - and prevent the stress and burnout chronic overwork creates.