As a Human Resources professional, your focus is often on the employee, how the workplace culture and environment support them, providing them with a psychologically safe place to work. Amy Edmondsen coined the phrase – psychologically safety – in an HBR journal article back in 1999, a term that means an absence of interpersonal fear. People feel safe to speak up about work-related content.

Yet it appears this concept did not really start to take hold until the pandemic. Since then, at Mohawk College Enterprise (MCE), we have seen it morph into a trend. In our work, we often find a blurring of the lines between DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), burnout, and psychological safety. Crises tend to do that, change the way leaders view their organizations and their cultures. The difference, with the Covid-19 crisis, is that everyone, in every organization, no matter their status or position was personally affected. Outside of the apparent stress of living through a pandemic and constant worry about their jobs, health, and family, people’s work lives were upended, constantly adapting to the multitude of changes coming at them. The relentless barrage of changes and stressors has resulted in extreme change fatigue and burnout.

Hence, the rising interest in providing a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels recognized, included, and supported. This is a good thing.

But what about you – the keepers, and promoters, of employee well-being? You, too, are affected by these changes, and in most cases, responsible for shifting the organization to a hybrid work environment and expected to perfect the art of managing your team both at the office and remotely, all while providing an equitable and inclusive experience for everyone in the organization.

To accommodate this new role, it is critical you take care of yourself first.

Are you experiencing stress or burnout?

‘Emotional labour’ comes with the HR job. HR professionals often suppress their own emotions to perform their job (e.g., always being focused on someone else’s needs) and have the added pressure of knowing their decision-making will have a direct impact on others. This emotional exhaustion is a key dimension of job induced burnout.

Think about the types of clients you have. No other organizational setting should cultivate the importance of compassion for its employees as much as the public service sector, which is expected to treat its clients—who often reach out in a time of need and duress—in a compassionate manner. Your organizations are workplaces where you are constantly subjected to emotionally demanding situations and thus, should also be considered as the recipients of compassion.

What are the effects on others if you are experiencing burnout?

Seek support to manage stress and build resilience.

  • Set Work Boundaries
    Just because others may be working long hours does not mean that you must. As you respect other’s boundaries, you should demand the same from them. There is nothing worse than receiving an email at 1 a.m. or end of the day urgent requests, with little time to complete the task.
  • Build a community
    We are all in this together, so show it! Speak openly about what you are experiencing. Empathizing with others and sharing experiences builds community and strengthens relationships between colleagues. Seek opportunities to connect with others in similar roles and be open to ideas, suggestions, and resources they offer.
  • Seek recognition and appreciation
    It is especially important right now to let others know they are seen. Recognition and appreciation go a long way in keeping morale high and demonstrating that individuals have value, and their work contributes to the greater good. Reach out to your supervisor, manage up, and ask for support and feedback, frequently. You might have to schedule one-on ones with them yourself, but this will provide opportunities for you to be open and honest about how you feel and what you need to feel safe.
  • Develop space to grow
    Dr. Timothy Clark says employees need to move through four stages of safety – inclusion, learner, contributor, and challenger – to feel free to make valuable contributions and challenge the status quo.

Once you feel in control, take on learning initiatives or start new projects. Design a future to look forward to, so you do not get bogged down in today.

Once you feel you have taken care of your personal situation, you will be better positioned to support others.

Donna Stevenson is an Instructional Designer and Facilitator who works with Mohawk College Enterprise to enhance the skills of clients in the area of leadership development.

  1. Harvard Business School professor
  2. Adapted from
  3. Timothy Clark, Dr., The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

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