How to deal with stress, job burnout? Ask HR

It’s understandable that feelings of stress and burnout can show up in our workplaces. (Photo: demaerre / Getty Images)

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I work for a technology startup. The past year has been incredibly stressful, and I feel totally burned out. I don’t want to come across as not a team player, but how can I talk to my manager about this? It’s unsustainable. – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: There’s no shortage of challenges facing our workplaces right now – the COVID-19 pandemic and the events of the past year and a half have profoundly impacted our personal and professional lives.

First, I want to acknowledge and applaud your honesty. It’s understandable that feelings of stress and burnout can show up in our workplaces. In fact, many Americans report feeling mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the workday, and 41% of employed Americans report feeling burned out from their jobs.

That said, the first, and most important step, is to have a candid and respectful conversation with your people manager. Before you meet, I encourage you to try and identify the source of your burnout. Is it the volume of your workload or the nature of the work itself? The rapidly blurring lines of work and home life can also take a toll. Are there any reasonable changes that could help reduce your stress?

I also encourage you to be empathetic to your people manager – he or she might be as stressed as you are – if not more – so be cautious about framing the conversation as your stress alone.

I can’t speak to the dynamics of your relationship, but I imagine your boss would be willing to work with you to ensure you have the support you feel you need. After all, when workers feel valued and healthy, there’s often a boost in engagement, productivity, and collaboration, improving a company’s bottom line.

Additionally, I recommend connecting with your HR team. They may be able to offer resources such as an employee assistance program that often provides mental health services such as counseling.

And I’ll add this: Don’t forget to take time to recharge out of the office – every worker needs to take time away from their desk, even it’s at home. Whether it’s a walk, a personal day, or a vacation, investing in yourself and your well-being will pay off.

The challenges you have faced in this past year have been daunting. I hope you can work with your people manager and find solutions to create more balance in your work. Be well!

With more time on their hands, Americans read 73% in 2020 than they did in 2019 and 70% said it was a way to de-stress during the COVID pandemic.


Q: I recently interviewed for a job and I felt that the interviewer was asking inappropriate questions about my personal life that made me feel uncomfortable. Can I share my experience with HR? Should I? – Anonymous

aylor: I’m sorry to hear you felt uncomfortable during your job interview. The interview process can be nerve-wracking enough on its own, and inappropriate questions about your personal life have no place in a professional setting.

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I’ll say this: HR may not always be aware of the details of a job interview, including the specific questions asked. And while it’s not illegal for an employer to ask personal questions about things like religion, ethnicity, or your personal life, it is illegal for them to decide whether or not to hire you based on those factors.

That said, you should absolutely feel empowered to share your experience with HR. After all, a key part of their job function is to ensure the hiring process is smooth and professional – whether it results in a job offer or not. They can’t do this without feedback, be it from employees or external candidates.

It’s common for interviewers to ask you to share some information about yourself – including your work history, where you’re from, and your skills and experiences. Most of the time, this is a harmless and friendly conversation.

However, if you feel a question is invasive or inappropriate, I encourage you to try and steer the conversation back to your skill set, work experience, or job responsibilities. You’re not obligated to answer if you feel uncomfortable, but you could respectfully ask for more clarity on how a particular question aligns with the job at hand.

Ultimately, interviews are two-way opportunities. You should be interviewing and evaluating them as much as they are you. The bottom line is this: An interviewer should evaluate you based on the assets you bring to the position, not your personal life. Good luck with your career search!

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