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Workplace Stress and the Human Resources Professional

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The careers of human resources professionals are hardly happy-go-lucky. For one thing, non-HR employees often view human resources professionals as little more than gatekeepers, the people you meet only during entry to and exit from an organization. Human resources professionals are thus often viewed as people who make contributions that cannot be measured and are therefore of highly questionable utility. Managers hailing from non-HR backgrounds can also carry this negative perception about human resources functions, and will often take it with them to strategy tables. People impressed by numbers find it hard to favor the human resources department because most contributions of the human resources department cannot be quantified.

Coupled with these woes comes the resistance to change shown by human resources staff members themselves. Most find themselves unable to adapt to new roles for human resources and try to cling to traditional roles and procedures, thereby diminishing further the chances for HR departments to adapt to changing circumstances. In short, any human resources professional faces multiple challenges on the job and has to find strategies to address them.

Key stress factors in human resources jobs

The factors and issues that human resources professionals find themselves most stressed by are:
  • Insufficient power to implement objectives: Human resources professionals often have to provide services to persons who are much higher up in the organizational hierarchy. For example, to implement any strategy concerning the sales department, the human resources professional first has to satisfy the top sales manager, who traditionally has more authority and responsibility in the organization. Consequently, the human resources professional finds it much more difficult to get heard and is more often than not entirely ignored.

  • Dual allegiance: Trying to be of service both to the managers and blue-collar employees can put enormous stress on the consciences of human resources professionals. If, by chance, adversarial relationships exist between the two groups, then the human resources professionals may get scorned by both sides and viewed as inefficient meddlers.

  • People with negative perceptions of the HR function: This is a frequent problem with people from non-HR backgrounds who may view HR’s role as “superfluous.” Reactions vary from resisting the suggestions of human resources professionals to ignoring or rejecting them outright. These people are skeptical of the contributions of the human resources department and view HR as a necessary evil that needs to be suffered in order to comply with the implications of several statutes.

  • The specter of job loss: The prospect of being laid-off is always hanging over the heads of human resources professionals. Budget slashes and headcount reductions are quite common in HR departments. The aforementioned lack of perceived value of the human resources function within business organizations makes the human resources department a prime target for implementing cost-cutting exercises.
As you can see, the frequent misperceptions of non-HR coworkers and the consequent job stress often leave the human resources professional quite overwhelmed. However, this sense of being overwhelmed can often bring about a healthy desire to do something about it. Human resources professionals devise several strategies to cope with these stress factors. Chief among them is the adoption of the same strategies that human resources professionals often suggest to their clients: learning new skills, leaving the comfort zone to initiate behavior change, and developing new relationships with people both internal and external to the organization.


William M. Kahnweiler, "Sustaining Success in Human Resources: Key Career Self-Management Strategies," Human Resource Planning 29, no. 4 (2006).
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 projects  stress  resources  procedures  resources department  objectives  organizations  professionals  sales managers  human beings

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