This week saw our first cross-sector HR Leader roundtable on the topic of “The Strategic Importance of the HR Leader’s Own Wellbeing.” Its intention was to create a forum to discuss a critical topic for the Human Resources profession that we know is present, yet we may not be addressing fully…

What has been the impact of the last few years on the role of the HR Leader, and the HR function, and what are the implications on organisations if the HR Leader community is suffering from overwhelm?

There was a fantastic turnout to the roundtable from across multiple sectors including financial services, higher education, civil service, retail, NHS, Government, start-ups and other private sector organisations. Our host for this roundtable was the prestigious setting of University College London. Hosting alongside me were Donna Dalrymple (Chief People Officer, UCL) and Siobhan Sheridan (Chief People Officer, FCA).

Much was discussed at this first roundtable of eighteen Chief People Officers, HR Directors and People Directors. Firstly, the group looked at their own experiences of wellbeing in recent times and how, as HR Leaders, they had developed ways to cope with the onslaught of activity over recent years. Many themes came to light and the discussion highlighted the continuum from coping in the HR Leader role to the feeling of overwhelm and the possibility of burnout if we do not act as a community. We recognised that we had seen others leave the profession recently due to the volume of transformational activity and “new” practices having to be understood and dealt with, whilst still dealing with the day-to-day operation of the organisation.

The conversation then moved into the strategic nature of the impact of lower levels of wellbeing in the HR Leader community. Using Schaufeli and Maslach’s definition of burnout as a reference and pulling from Amy Bradley and Katherine Semler’s book “Running on Empty,” the group started making the connection that HR Leader overwhelm can reduce the clarity of decision-making, self-confidence and sense of accomplishment of the HR Leader, leading to exhaustion and a vicious cycle developing. It was recognised that this can happen to any senior leader, yet there was agreement that, as an HR Leader, we usually deal with other’s needs before our own. As one delegate said, “we need to learn to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others,” an analogy to air travel safety instructions.

Time went quickly and the group felt that this was a topic that definitely needed more delving into, and all agreed that the roundtable should meet again soon, so we can decide how better to approach and act on HR Leader wellbeing. All agreed that the diversity of the group was a strength and more cross-sector collaboration was needed in the HR profession.

The group intends to meet again for another face-to-face roundtable in London towards the end of May. If you are a HR function leader and this sounds like a topic that you think needs our profession’s attention, then please get in touch with me ( and join us for the strategic importance of the HR Leader’s own wellbeing roundtable 2!