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7 signs your HR department is overwhelmed

By 19/02/2019November 16th, 2022Human Resources
Employee realising her HR department is overwhelmed

With a key part to play in employee engagement, experience and welfare, your HR department may well be attuned to spotting signs of stress or discontent among the workforce – but what if those signals come from inside your own department?

HR roles carry a notorious administrative burden, and it’s not uncommon for the strain of an overwhelming workload to damage the morale, productivity or even the mental wellbeing of your team.

Yet struggling HR staff might be the last people in your business to put their hands up and call for help. After all, they’re the ones meant to be playing the support role themselves…

So, how do you know when your HR department is overwhelmed? In this blog, we’ll identify seven common signals that could suggest your HR team is close to burnout and what impact this could be having on your wider business. We’ll then turn to what you can do to help redress the balance.

1 The paperwork keeps piling up

Most HR departments will be familiar with the concept of admin overload, but it shouldn’t be an accepted norm. An ever-growing pile-up of paperwork is a sure sign of overwhelm – and the backlog won’t just be affecting your team, either.

Indeed, if HR is struggling to stay on top of paperwork, it can have significant consequences for the business – with legal documents and contracts going unchecked, unsigned or even missing among the melee.

It could be affecting employee engagement too, with new starters not getting the onboarding support they need, or facing an anxious wait for their employment contract to be finalised.

2 Compliance takes a back seat

In certain sectors, it’s absolutely essential that your workforce is accredited to the latest industry standards – and maintaining workers’ certification is critical.

Falling behind on the latest standards could mean your business losing its affiliation with key industry bodies, but that’s exactly what will happen if your HR teams don’t have time to keep up to date with the latest requirements.

When workers start dropping out of compliance, or come dangerously close to it, it’s time to recognise that your HR department is overwhelmed.

An employee researching new industry trends to improve his knowledge as his HR department is overwhelmed. 3 An ‘Us vs Them’ mentality develops

Whether it’s laying down the law on workplace policy or undertaking disciplinary action against an employee, there comes a time when every HR team has to play the role of ‘enforcer’.

When this seems to become your department’s principal role, an unhealthy relationship can develop between HR and the wider workforce.

In an ideal world, the focus within HR should always be on the more positive aspects of the job – such as supporting new starters, building the business through talent retention or enhancing the employee experience.

If that’s not how your HR staff sees things, it’s an attitude that likely stems from not having the time to do the parts of the job they love.

4 Visible signs of stress

If your normally mild-mannered HR staff start getting snappy or agitated at work, it would be easy to put it down to problems at home – or maybe just not enough sleep.

And maybe you’d be right. But even so, those problems could well develop from being overworked, up-late responding to emails or a generally failing work-life balance.

HR staff calling in sick could be another warning sign. Whether for genuine reasons or not, it could point to their workload being just too much to handle.

5 Performance and productivity dips

Poor performance can be attributed to a number of factors, not least human nature – after all, everyone makes mistakes. But if a usually dependable member of the team starts making regular basic errors, it’s fair to assume they could be suffering from some kind of burnout.

That could mean they’re simply overworked, or perhaps not enjoying and taking pride in their work any more – going through the motions rather than being actively engaged in what they’re doing.

That disengagement could show itself in a lack of communication with colleagues too, or a reluctance to contribute to meetings and brainstorming sessions.

6 Cutting corners becomes the norm

If your HR processes are heavily manual and repetitive, it may just be a matter of time before you see a drop-off in discipline.

An overwhelmed employee will begin cutting corners wherever possible and likely fall behind on any non-essential admin tasks, such as record keeping.

Don’t assume it’s just laziness – it may well be that your team can’t find enough hours in the day to complete the processes to the letter.

Employee rushing their work on his desktop because the HR department is overwhelmed. 7 Cynicism and complaining

Last but not least, keep an ear out for the complaints – which is perhaps the most obvious sign of all that there’s disenchantment in the office.

Persistent negativity, especially from a previously positive and upbeat member of the team, is a clear signal that the stress of the job is getting to them.

Worse still, it will only serve to bring the rest of the team’s morale down too.

Spotted the signs? Here’s how to address the problem…

As an HR leader, it’s your duty to spot these signs early and take action and understanding when your HR department is overwhelmed, will allow you to take quick action.

So, what can you do to lighten the load and bring back the positivity to your team?

First of all, have the difficult conversations. If you’ve noticed a dip in performance, productivity or motivation, you need to find out why.

Understanding the employee’s personal circumstances could offer up a simple solution. Perhaps flexible working from home one day a week might help redress their work-life balance, saving them a long commute to win back some time, for instance.

The problem may stem not just from the volume of workload, but also from its monotony, and again, this is something which can usually be addressed.

More varied work can increase engagement and provide respite from the repetition – so even if a certain member of the team is best qualified to perform a specific task, perhaps another person could be trusted or trained to take some of the strain.

Or indeed, perhaps you don’t need another person to take on the repetitive tasks at all.

Investment in today’s HR technology would allow you to automate many of the paper-based processes that place such a burden on your team – cutting the stress that comes with the fear of human error and eliminating the monotony of day-to-day admin once and for all.