This article was originally published in The Journal of The Law Society of Scotland.

Most of us will agree that, due to the nature of their work, HR and other people teams help keep many businesses in motion. Their role in developing a positive business culture, improving employee engagement and productivity is significant. HR teams are not a luxury – they’re essential. Anyone who doesn’t agree should give their whole HR team a week off and see what happens!

These teams have a lot of responsibilities, including disciplinaries, grievances, sickness absence management, personal problems, remote working, performance management, mental health, redundancy, salaries, annual leave, payroll, managing conflict, supporting managers and employees, diversity equity and inclusion (“DEI”), talent management, recruitment, learning and development, employment law…

Add in the global pandemic, and now the economic volatility and cost-of-living crisis, and it’s fair to say that HR leaders have been, and continue to be, tested like never before.

2023 expectations

Personally, I have found work incredibly emotional and hard to deal with at times. At other times, I am excited and optimistic about the many changes which are inevitably for the better. As we start a new year and continue with our already significant workloads, alongside adapting policies, supporting managers to cope with different ways of working, and looking after employees in these uncertain times, the expectations placed on HR professionals to make sure everyone is OK, or even thriving, are now higher than ever before. But who is looking after the HR team?

Despite some thinking to the contrary (there’s a Forbes list of “Ten reasons everyone hates HR”), your “people” people are the same as everyone else. We are not immune to the stresses and anxieties that others face. Although the very nature of our job means we tend to put others first, this can often be at the detriment of our own wellbeing.

Looking to 2023, some of the priorities from the last few years like employee wellbeing, DEI and flexible work practices will remain at the top of business agendas. A recent survey by Gartner of more than 800 HR leaders identified the top five HR priorities for 2023. Leader and manager effectiveness was number one, with change management, employee experience, recruiting and the future of work filling the other four spaces. HR professionals will therefore continue to play vital roles as these priorities evolve and businesses lean heavily on them to face another challenging year, with employee expectations in the spotlight. The responsibilities of HR continue to increase, but not always with a corresponding increase in the resources or time required to carry out such duties.

Support your “people” people

Just as our businesses and employees have changing needs, so too must we look at the changing demands on HR teams and the resultant impacts on them. CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work 2021 report found almost four-fifths of surveyed employees had taken a stress-related absence in the last year. Realistically, therefore, these issues will affect HR too. It is so important to look after your “people” people. So, how can you support these teams?

Regular check-ins

Senior leadership teams have a duty of care to keep their HR people from burning out. Check-ins to ask how they are coping with workload and personal responsibilities can help manage stress by identifying any issues early on.

Be consistent

If you have offered all employees job flexibility and remote working, offer your HR team the same. Giving them more control over their day and acknowledging their different roles and personal responsibilities – the same as every other employee – is invaluable.

Break the barriers

As demonstrated by the Forbes list, HR appears to have a reputation problem! Leaders and senior management teams who recognise the value of HR in their businesses and communicate that widely, help break down barriers between employees and HR. It’s always less stressful if you can do your job without thinking no one likes you or sees you as an obstacle.

Focus on strategic HR

HR should be actively involved with long-term business plans and work with senior leadership to develop, communicate and implement business strategies. Making them strategic partners offers huge benefits, not least to company culture, employee engagement and business performance. Showing your HR team it is highly valued demonstrates support.

Finally, one for the HR leaders and teams themselves – we are very good at advising others how to look after their mental health and wellbeing when things get tough. Let’s make 2023 the year we look after ourselves properly too.