There have been many headlines around the world about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the stress levels and anxieties of employees.

However, HR leaders themselves have had their own unique pressures this year and often struggle to allocate time for self-care.

In fact, new research has found HR leaders have felt more stressed in 2020 than ever before, according to new research by Reward Gateway.

In particular, this year has seen HR leaders feeling pressure to connect a remote workforce tasked with making more of an impact with fewer resources, less time, and less money. 

The global research included 751 HR leaders and 1,510 employees and found HR leaders report that 2020 has been the most stressful year in their career (71%), while connecting the workforce (69%) and keeping up workplace culture (71%) remotely, has been a big challenge.

The problem is that leaders often don’t have somebody to support them in the same way as employees, but are experiencing stress just like everybody else, according to Jenny Brockis, author of Thriving Mind, How to Cultivate a good life.

“While it’s important to look after the health and wellbeing of others, leaders need to follow their own strategies to reduce stress to a healthier level,” Brockis told HRD.


“Leaders need to check in on how they are currently feeling and notice the level of fatigue or exhaustion. They can then put into place those self-care strategies that are relevant no matter what your job description.”

For Brockis, it’s about making sure leaders are taking time out during the day to take breaks rather than “running straight into work and then collapsing in an exhausted heap at the end of the day”.

It’s about making sure they take a couple of other breaks during the day just to press pause, refresh and reenergize, so they can actually pay better attention to all the other things they will be attending to.

“When it comes to eating lunch, this is not about having a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar, or free glasses of wine. It’s about making sure they are including some healthy nutrition that’s going to maintain their energy, mood, and mental state because it has been shown that our choice of foods makes a big difference to how well we operate on a daily basis,” said Brockis.

“And too much food high in sugar can make us quite depressed. So, we end up in a worse state by eating the wrong food. That is something to be aware of.”

The Reward Gateway research also found that since the pandemic, doing more with less time had increased in importance.

Compounding the challenges reported by HR, 51% of employees said they are looking to move jobs, citing feelings of underappreciation and a lack of recognition (30%), a lack of support (26%), and insufficient connection to the company (23%), as their reasons for departure.

This aligns with the viewpoint amongst HR leaders, who reported that they believe their workforce is more stressed (59%), less connected to colleagues (41%), and their organization (32%) and less engaged (34%) since the outbreak of the pandemic. 

These data points also show that recognition, support, and communication have been key throughout the pandemic. Employees who said their company has handled COVID-19 well indicated they believe this is a result of their employer having the right workplace tools and technologies in place (42%), maintaining regular communication (38%), and taking steps to ensure employee wellbeing (35%).

Reward Gateway’s chief operating officer Rob Boland said HR leaders refocus their priories to create an exceptional employee experience during the pandemic.

“As found in our various research around the impact of COVID-19, it’s clear that as HR leaders continue to be asked to do more with less to connect and engage the remote workforce during the pandemic and into FY21, communication, support, and recognition initiatives remain at the core of a positive employee experience.”

In fact, when HR leaders were asked what is needed to better motivate and engage their workforce, they said employee reward and recognition technology (57%), employee wellbeing technology (50%), and employee communications technology (41%).