Back to Being Human: Tackling Burnout as an HR Professional

Back to Being Human: Tackling Burnout as an HR Professional

With employee burnout on the rise, HR teams are feeling additional stress, but prioritizing work-life balance and tackling stress at a personal level helps your team at-large.

Back to Being Human: Tackling Burnout as an HR Professional

As an HR professional, you are tasked with one of the most critical and rewarding roles of an organization: to care for your biggest asset, your people.

Job descriptions, expectations, and approaches vary, but the overarching reality is that human resource professionals create, manage, and sustain a work environment that puts your employees in a position to thrive in all aspects of their life.

We are equipped with an arsenal of tools to combat just about anything, but when it comes to burnout, for ourselves and others, a true solution is hard to come by.

Burnout is a widespread epidemic that has plagued our society for quite some time now, especially due to constant change within the years of the pandemic.

Initially studies focused on burnout experienced in the workplace or corporate sector, but the truth is that burnout doesn’t discriminate based on job title, status, or income.

With employee burnout high, HR teams are feeling the added pressure to managing team burnout along with their own.

With employee burnout on the rise, more pressure is put upon HR teams to absorb and find a solution. Even as HR managers help team members tackle and identify signs of burnout, it’s important to take a step back and prioritize your well-being too.

That starts with better understanding burnout and learning tactics to tackle it. Burnout’s ability to impact human beings and make its debut in every facet of life is what makes it one of most exhausting phenomena to tackle, both as an HR leader and as a human being.

So, what is burnout?

Burnout’s the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

American psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger characterized burnout in the 1970’s, by these 3 factors:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Decreased sense of accomplishment
  3. Depersonalization

According to the authors of the book, Burnout:The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, outline that burnout occurs when we get stuck in our emotions, or in other words, when we fail to complete our stress cycle.  

What is the stress cycle?

The authors break it down easily for everyone to conceptualize:

A biological process in our body with a beginning (triggered by stressors when a threat is perceived), a middle (when you do something with your body), and an end (where your body has received a signal that it is now in a safe place).

Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA go on to define the difference between stressors and stress:

  • Stressors are experiences that trigger our body’s stress response.
  • Stress is our body’s physiological response to your stressors.

Think of It Like This

You are running outside on a warm summer day and a lion appears out of nowhere. Your body and mind tell you that you have one of 3 options. You can either run away from the lion, play dead, or you can fight the lion.

You choose to run. When you run, your body uses all of the energy from the stress in your body that resulted from the stressor of the lion’s presence and you escape. Success! You got away from the stressor and you dealt with your body’s stress.

Simple enough right?

We are wired the same way when we perceive any kind of threat. When a stressor initiates your stress cycle, we must do two things: deal with the stressor and cope with our body’s response, the stress.

With HR burnout on the rise, learning the right stress management tactics and prioritizing personal wellbeing leads by example.

Let’s Apply This In Real Life

New situation: You get a last minute email from your boss telling you that you need to present to the Senior Leadership Team in 30 minutes on your most recent project.

Oh, yeah, and you have a scheduling conflict.

You recognize that this is a stressor you will deal with in 30 minutes, but you also realize that your stress cycle has been initiated. What can you do to prevent yourself from getting stuck in your emotions?

Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA give us several scientific and practical ways we can do this in their book, Burnout. You can explore those below, but keep in mind that you should pick what works best for you. Everyone is different.

engaging virtual teams guide

Tips for Stress Management

Get Movin’  

And no, we do not mean onto the preparing for the meeting.

Get moving and do something active that you enjoy. Signal to your brain that you’ve got this and that the stress you are experiencing has an outlet. Whether you go for a walk around the room or stand up at your desk to stretch it out.

Use up the energy from that stress to signal to your body the stress cycle is over.

Pause to Breathe  

Meditate, with or without your yoga mat. Sit and breathe along with a YouTube meditation or simply focus on taking a deep breath in-and-out for 30 seconds.

You can also encourage your team to regularly take on meditation with an online 7-day challenge to encourage others to embrace this mindful skill.

Yoga and meditation are great tools for stress management, giving employees and HR leaders a method to handle burnout..

Positive Social Experiences

Confide in a friend, compliment someone, or ask for the help you need from a trusted coworker. Community is powerful in feeling through both burnout as a whole and the stress cycle.

Laughter Is Great Medicine  

You may not find the situation you’re in comical, but perhaps you enjoy a good laugh from a TikTok trend or witty colleague. Either way, indulging in a moment of genuine laughter, can help.


Find someone you trust and give them a 20 second hug. Hugs have many health benefits— including building trust and showing support.

Let the Tears Fall Down

Crying is your body’s way of feeling through stress. If you need to, let it happen.

Express Yourself  

Take up art. Write a poem, doodle on a sticky note, create a meme about the situation you're in. Expressing yourself allows for you to take your pain and stress and remove it from your body.


The solution for burnout is doing the very thing you do every single day as part of an HR team. It’s the collective compassion, kindness and care for others, including yourself.

Helping yourself and encouraging your team with fun well-being activities like step challenges, or yoga, can educate them on methods to tackle stress and burnout.

May we recover from our burnout and journey back to being human together, reminding ourselves and others that we are human.

Our bodies are designed to help us navigate the very situation we are in. All we have to do is show up with love and compassion for ourselves and others.

Want to Learn More About Burnout from Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA?

Cooleaf is here to help your team tackle burnout. We work with you to understand your goals and prescribe programming.


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