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HR Burnout Is Real - Why Are The Numbers Rising?

Behind all the statistics, data, and numbers, are people.

People who are experiencing Burnout. 

The number of people experiencing Burnout has increased significantly since 2019, and in three sectors specifically, Healthcare, Education, and HR.


2020 was, not surprisingly a tough and challenging year. Overnight people were forced to work from home or stopped working immediately, and this took its toll on our lives in many different ways.

HR was being asked to do more to look after the wellbeing of people across organisations, and it seemed, that for once, HR teams were actually being seen for the value they create, often behind closed doors.

Constant changes, the need to keep people informed and engaged, new policies and ways of working, and the ongoing pandemic, began to take its toll on everyone.

Many in HR were juggling all the home and school challenges, whilst working harder and longer to take of everyone in the organisation. 

Here in the UK, the government announcements about furlough and working regulations were announced at 5 pm on a Friday. This caused many HR Leads and their teams to work into the night, and over weekends, to ensure that changes were reflected in companywide updates, policies, and processes by the time Monday morning came. And for many HR Leads, these Friday evening government updates hadn’t even concluded by the time their phones and emails were flooded with calls and messages from CEOs, leaders, managers, and people all asking ‘What does this mean for us/me?’

In 2021, there was still unrest, nobody was sure of what the future would hold, but conversations started to take place about how much longer we could allow our people to work from home.

‘Back to work’ became the cry, but for so many people, they had been working, some more and harder than ever to keep their companies afloat and their jobs safe.

The number of people speaking to HR about flexible working, wanting to continue to work from home, not feeling safe traveling, not wanting to commute again, or recognising that they were more productive AND had more of a life balance with the current situation rose.

For others, one of my sons included, working from home wasn’t what they wanted.  They wanted to be back in the office, but ‘HR are saying no’.

Contracts weren’t being amended to reflect the new ‘office’ arrangements, expenses weren’t being updated and all of this was seemingly HR’s fault.

Yet more policies, more processes, more chaos, and a lot less clarity began to flood the workplace, and a lot of this was on the shoulders of HR.  The people who had finally begun to be recognised for what they do for people in their organisations were suddenly being the scapegoats, again.

Exhausted from the hangover of 2020, HR Leaders took on more and more responsibility as they saw just how exhausted their teams were.  But with little time or space to slow down and take stock, more changes, more support for people, and more crises took over the world, the news, and our people.

Add to this issues with recruiting, redundancies, global exhaustion, chaos, and devastation, and more and more issues were landing on the door of HR.

As leaders failed to get to the root cause of this thing that the media were calling ‘quiet quitting’ leaders started to call people lazy, some gave up on leading completely and just rallied the cries of getting everyone back to an office, and more and more landed at the door of HR.

HR Leaders have been crying out for more strategic direction from their senior colleagues. 

But perhaps, not surprisingly, as leaders are still in crisis mode, and shifting even more from collaborating and engaging with people to command and control, more and more exhausted people were lining up at HR’s doors, and HR was expected to find the ‘fix’ to make things better, to get people back into offices, and to do so whilst lifting the spirits, morale, and productivity of people.

Leaders spent more time focusing on where people were working rather than on what work they were producing, and with increasing costs, a lack of strategic direction, and continuing with the crisis ways of working, more and more pressure was placed on HR.  More restructures, more cuts, more surveys, less money, and longer hours.

HR Leaders and their teams, unable to plan anything because of all of the last-minute ‘business critical’ work that was landing on their desks and inboxes, finally realised just how exhausted they were.  Yet HR kept on going, because they wanted to be part of making things better.

Fast forward to the end of 2023 and HR teams were again, having more dumped on them than ever before.  They were doing their best to deliver on the strategic priorities, whilst at the same time being asked to do anything and everything that nobody else in the organisation wanted to do, and with leaders and managers afraid of speaking to their people for saying the wrong thing, all of the ‘fluffy people stuff’ is HRs responsibility. 

From September 2023, I could see that HR Burnout would be coming to a head in 2024 and into 2025 if something dramatic didn’t change, and that’s why I declared 2024 the year of the happy, healthy, and high-performing HR Pro.

So many HR Professionals around the world were telling themselves that if they just made it through to Christmas, and the end of year break, things would be better in 2024.

And they’re not.

For many, it is worse.

And HR Leaders and their teams are looking for new roles in higher numbers than ever before, or wanting to leave the profession completely because they are tired of being undervalued, undersupported, and underestimated.

The challenge though, is as Burnout takes hold, it takes a long time to come through the other side.


Burnout, as defined by the World Health Organisation is a workplace phenomenon. 

It’s chronic workplace stress.

In other words, high levels of stress that have been building for a long time. 

Burnout can take years to surface, by its nature its a slow burn under the surface, and if continually ignored, it will finally take hold.  When it does, it can cause long-term, and lifelong health conditions, a loss of confidence, a loss of self-esteem, it can lead to Mental Health issues, auto-immune issues, heart issues, high blood pressure, stroke, and more.

Burnout cannot be fixed by a spa day, a weekend away, or even a week at a beach.  If these things do instantly make you feel better, it isn’t Burnout.  You may have just needed a break.

Burnout impacts high-performers and those who are the most engaged and who want to make a positive impact in the workplace.

And the biggest cause of Burnout is still, toxic workplaces.


I speak to so many people every week, many of whom believed they were immune to Burnout.  I thought that about myself too.

But the truth is that none of us are immune to it.

Of course, it’s healthier for us, in the long run, to keep our stress levels to a minimum, to take care of ourselves daily, to get enough water, enough nourishing food, enough daylight and exercise and sleep, but with so many pressures and challenges every single day, and the fear of losing jobs and not being able to keep the roof over our heads and food on our tables, we all believe that if we just keep pushing harder now, everything will become easier soon.

And yet the ease just isn’t coming.


Burnout is a symptom of a much deeper cause.  The cause is that the way we are working isn’t working.

HR Leaders and their teams cannot keep being the scapegoats, who are unable to set boundaries, protect their time or energy, or do their role, instead of always picking up the pieces for everyone else across the organisation.

So how do we stop Burnout from continuing to rise in HR?

Fundamentally, we need this to start with leaders at the very top of the organisation.  Leaders need to stop, to breathe, and to ask:

  • Is what we’re currently doing working?
  • How do we move from surviving?

You see whilst leaders are stuck in crisis mode, they are also stuck in the primitive part of their brain.  The part that tells them that if they keep on working harder and pushing harder, they can keep on fighting for survival.

But this doesn’t work long term.

For our creativity and positivity to kick in, we need our stress levels to lower, and we need to be operating from the intellectual part of our brain.  From here, we make the right decisions, the right choices, and take the right actions.

Leaders need to stop focusing on trying to do all of the things, and instead concentrate on doing the right things.

In turn, this allows HR Leaders and their teams to define their role and responsibilities, set the all-important boundaries, and then take time to look after themselves. 

And when this happens, HR can better support leaders, managers, and people across the organisation to create happy, healthy, and high-performing workplaces.  Workplaces where people thrive, where customers are happy, and where profits rise.

Everyone is responsible for Banishing Burnout in HR. 

And the change starts with you.


P.S Not sure where to start? Join me for my Banishing Burnout in HR Workshop on 20th February

I'm Kelly Swingler, the Coach for HR Leaders at

Clients hire me to help them to transform the way they do things so that they can create health and high performance for themselves, their teams, and their organisations. 

I work with HR Leaders from around the world, empowering them to excel in their careers without reaching Burnout along the way.


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