Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity in the HR Trenches

Working on the front lines of HR can be stressful. Life in the HR trenches means dealing with decisions about terminations, investigating sensitive issues and putting out workplace fires. During my time in corporate HR, I had days that were so busy that employees would wait for me outside the bathroom just to get a few minutes of my time to discuss a workplace issue as I walked back to my office. Here are my tips for maintaining your sanity in the HR trenches even when you feel like hiding under your desk.

Make Friends in HR

One of the challenges in HR is that we cannot always vent to our coworkers about our jobs. Doing so risks spilling confidential information. This is why HR friends are so valuable. At my last corporate HR job, I worked with an awesome team of people. When I was having a bad day, I knew I could close the door and talk to my officemate about what I was struggling with at work. There was no risk of breaking confidentiality because she was already in the loop about the tough situations we were dealing with.

I have friends who are teachers, and when they get together, they often exchange classroom stories as a way to relieve some of the stress of working in education. I think HR people are the same way, so it can be useful to have friends who work in HR at other companies, especially if you are a department of one. No one understands the stress of HR like another HR person, so build your HR support network. They are the people you can turn to when you need to vent or if you need a shoulder to cry on after a particularly difficult termination.

HR friends can also help us laugh and to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. HR people deal with some unusual situations, so it is also important to keep a good sense of humor and to not let the job get you down.

Take Time for Yourself Outside of Work

Find something outside of work that has nothing to do with HR. Pick an activity that will allow you to unplug, so you are not distracted by text messages from a manager needing help with a problem employee or an email from the company owner demanding turnover statistics. For me this is going for a long walk or getting lost in a good book. Such activities were my refuge on many a lunch break when I worked in the HR trenches. If you find it challenging to make time for yourself, schedule it on your calendar.

Figure out what activities help you recharge. I am an introvert, so the people-heavy nature of HR could be draining for me. This meant taking care of myself by sometimes saying no to invitations to social events after a long week at work, so I could spend a night by myself at home to recharge.

Exploring Other Options

It has been about two years since I left behind the corporate HR life and began working on building my own HR consulting business. A big motivator for me in making the transition was the level of burnout I was feeling in the HR trenches. The decision was not one I made overnight, and it took some careful planning with my business partner to make sure we were ready to take the leap. I am thankful now that I did it because I did not want to reach the point where I became ineffective in HR due to burnout.

Sometimes when we struggle with maintaining our sanity at work, and there is no remedy in sight, it is a sign that it is time to move on. While starting an HR consulting business may not be the right fit for everyone, there are plenty of options to explore and ways that HR skills can be applied to a variety of jobs. Sometimes we stay in a job much longer than we should because it is comfortable even if it is not the healthiest place for us to be. Change can be scary, but it can also be an important step in protecting your sanity.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

Reader Interactions


  1. Aasha says

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