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Over the past three years, the media has paid a lot of attention to how burnout and exhaustion have hit frontline workers, hybrid employees, and managers. Recruiters, human resources managers, talent acquisition leaders — the people responsible for identifying the best and brightest the workforce has to offer — are also feeling the burn.
According to a survey from Workvivo, an employee experience app, 97% of HR professionals have felt emotional fatigue in the past year, with 98% saying they have felt burned out within the past six months. On top of that, a survey from Manpower found there was a 69% deficit in new talent globally in 2021.
“It’s like the cobbler who has no shoes,” says Christine Geissler, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Reckitt, a global consumer goods company. “We know what we need to do to take care of our workers, but we often don’t do that for ourselves.”
We spoke to six HR and talent attraction (TA) leaders to get their perspectives on how the industry is affected by burnout. Here are three takeaways they shared.
Expectations for HR and TA are more nuanced and difficult to navigate than ever before
Anyone who works in the talent field is likely fighting a case of whiplash. Hiring is arduous for many firms, as workers reshuffle and renegotiate for better pay and work-life balance, creating a difficult landscape for recruiters at competing organizations hoping to win talent.
Data from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce shows that hiring is just harder now: 36% of businesses surveyed in Q4 2022 reported that a shortage of labour force would be an obstacle for their business over the next three months, and 37% agreed that recruiting skilled employees would also be a challenge. Certain sectors like accommodation, food services, and retail trade are the most greatly affected by talent shortages.
“It’s the best time to be in this field and the worst time to be in this field,” says Geissler, who has worked in human resources for more than 20 years. “Our field is being treated with more respect because leaders see human resources and talent acquisition as part of the solution. They want HR to have a bigger seat at the table, but there’s a lot of pressure that goes with that.”
In addition to the churn caused by the pandemic, long-term demographic shifts will make hiring harder as baby boomers leave the workforce. According to the 2023 Hiring and Workplace Trends Report from Indeed and Glassdoor, baby boomers made up a quarter of workers in 2022. But they’re retiring in droves — the youngest baby boomers will turn 60 in 2024. According to World Bank projections, the number of people who are of working age will continue to decline in many Western countries over the next decade. This means recruiters will encounter mounting difficulty as there will be fewer workers for open roles.
“What people expect of their future employers is so different from what it was five years ago. It’s about more than a paycheck now. The puzzle has completely shifted,” says Erik Kershner, Senior Director of Talent and Engagement at WIS International, a solutions partner for retailers and manufacturers. Speaking in reference to the statistic that 46% of workers say their standards for happiness at work have increased in the past year, he notes: “Recruiters can feel caught between the needs of their companies and the changing expectations of workers, which can lead to burnout.”
Today’s recruiter burnout will have lasting implications for tomorrow’s recruiters
Recruiting is tough work, and stress comes with the territory. But it’s important to note the difference between stress and burnout. A healthy amount of stress can motivate someone to work harder and thrive in new situations; burnout is a state of sustained stress and can have the opposite effect. People become uninspired and disengaged and begin to self-isolate. This drives people away from not only their jobs but the talent acquisition industry in general.
“It can feel like the work is never done,” says Jermaine Murray, tech recruiter and the founder of JupiterHR, where he helps people transition into tech careers. “In this environment it’s easy to burn out and not be considerate of your own feelings. There’s pressure from the climate itself, and also the pressure we put on ourselves.”
Some talent leaders fear an exodus of recruiters from the industry, which could reshape the next decade or so. “Given the high levels of stress and burnout within the talent acquisition profession, what will attract new professionals to the talent acquisition landscape? Where is the new talent coming from?” wonders Dr. Veronica Hawkins, vice president of human resources at Nixon Medical, which provides medical apparel to healthcare professionals. “What are we doing to make recruiting roles more attractive, especially leader roles? When I look at the time to fill talent acquisition roles, the numbers are not encouraging. It appears there aren't many people who want to join the ranks.”
Companies are recognizing that recharge and recovery need to be a larger part of the equation. When it comes to the successful recruiters of tomorrow, Hawkins believes things like work-life balance and mental health will be the default.
“These conversations are getting normalized,” Hawkins says. “Most people have a primary care physician, a dentist, and an eye doctor because people expect you to have those. Now I’m asking people, ‘Do you have a mental health professional as a part of your health hygiene routine?’ It’s about setting the expectation.”
Companies owe it to their HR/TA professionals to listen to them and be proactive.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Organizations can prevent burnout and help employees recharge by listening closely and taking stock of worker sentiment. It can be formal or informal, but it should be happening regularly.
“The key component for any organization hoping to position itself against burnout is communication,” says Tonya Moore, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Island Hospitality, a hotel management firm. “You need to check in with your people and have those important conversations, and it can’t just happen in performance reviews. As we move through this ever-changing future, how we support recruiters is going to look different.”
Company leaders will need to listen to recruiting professionals more, but those professionals will also need to listen to themselves. That means setting strong boundaries and taking care of their wellbeing.
“I recently blew out my knee coaching basketball,” says Joey Lee, Head of Talent Acquisition at Virgin Orbit. “I wanted to take my mind off my injury so I buried myself in work and wasn’t taking the time to recover. My team called me out and held me accountable because I wasn’t prioritizing my health. I wasn’t following the advice I give them.”
Kershner of WIS International also encourages those in the field to take their time back. Recruiters often juggle competing priorities with open requisitions for many different departments in their organization.
“It can feel like you don’t have control of your own calendar,” says Kershner, who often blocks out time in his schedule that belongs to him to allow deep focus. “You can designate that time for you and hold space for yourself. So when those priorities begin to conflict, you’re still a priority within that as well.”
Geissler of Reckitt makes time for herself by taking paid time off seriously. She feels we need a cultural reset around how we value rest and how we recognize the relationship between rest and productivity.
“I’m one of those people who vacations as hard as they work,” Geissler says. “And I’m not looking to work when I’m on vacation. My phone is tucked away in a beach towel, and I’m not checking for messages. I encourage my team to treat vacation in the same way.”
To continue to attract the best talent, leaders of organizations will need to find ways to incentivize and inspire their TA staff. These professionals are often entrusted with the enormous job of making everyone happy, so it’s important to ensure that their happiness and wellbeing is being protected too.
Geissler recalls a thank-you dinner a leader at her organization hosted for HR/TA employees, and how much actions like that matter. There are larger forces at work in the job market that HR/TA can’t solve on their own. But organizations that encourage gratitude, communication, and recharging will be the ones at an advantage.
“When business leaders make those gestures,” Geissler says, “it can go a long way.”