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  • Lisa D. Anderson

HR Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

HR professionals make a career out of helping others. Sometimes, however, we need to be reminded that we are better able to help others when we first help ourselves.

Airlines warn of this on every flight.

“In the event the aircraft cabin experiences a sudden loss of pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. If you are travelling with someone who requires your assistance, secure your own mask first, then assist the other person.”

How many HR professionals remember to put their mask on first?

Most of us decided to pursue a career in HR because we wanted to help others. We focus on building and developing talent, assisting employees and managers with problems and we get to directly contribute to growing an organization. But how many of us get so caught up in the daily grind that we look up and years have gone by? Suddenly we realize we can’t breathe; our career seems stagnant. Where’s our oxygen mask when we need it? Who helps us?

Some HR professionals are hesitant to ask for help. Some of us feel asking for help is a sign of weakness when we’re in an organization exhibiting boldness and confidence. We tend to look outside the organization for mentors and colleagues that can support us. Many of us look towards HR certifications, which are rewarding goals to accomplish, but the process is intense and rigorous. And even after becoming certified, there might still be gaps on the road to professional success.

Examples of gaps in knowledge or experience even after certification include:

· establishing credibility

· building relationships

· developing and supporting a team of HR professionals

· commanding an executive presence

· gaining the respect of the leadership you support

So how can HR professionals narrow the gap on these things?

1. Focus on personal development – This doesn’t necessarily mean taking classes on HR topics to gain technical HR knowledge, for that is considered professional development. Rather, take charge of your personal development. Have candid conversations with your managers (in some cases the CEO) regarding what you need in order to grow. For example, if you’re working on building a relationship with a colleague, let your manager know this and then ask for the opportunity to work with that colleague on an initiative that would give you the time to get to know that person. Hopefully your manager will support your efforts when the opportunity presents itself (or they can create that opportunity for you). Personal development can also mean taking an assessment to get a baseline on where you stand with competencies in order to develop a plan to improve upon them. For example, if you would like to upgrade your organizational skills, develop a game plan that will assist you in developing better organizational skills by being very intentional and deliberate in relation to developing this skill.

2. Evaluate the work culture – Are you working in an organization that supports your personal growth? If you are – great! Being in a supportive culture means your organization and its leaders stand behind your desire to grow, and welcome the opportunity to help you in any way possible. If you are not working in a culture that’s supportive of your personal growth, it’s probably time to take a hard look at the pros and cons of what you bring to the organization and what the organization is giving you in return. Depending on your goals and what you are trying to accomplish, it may be time to develop an exit strategy.

3. Develop clarity on your next career move - Working on personal development is difficult when you don’t know where you’re headed. It’s time to get clear on what you want both in your career, and from your career, and then develop a roadmap that clearly defines your endgame and the steps it will take to get you there. This means taking an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and developing a personal development plan that works toward your goals. Consider developing one-year, five-year and even a ten-year plan and then work consistently towards those goals while keeping in mind some modification along the way might be necessary as your needs and desires change.

As HR professionals, people come to us for advice on their career and professional growth, and we know how to advise them. But sometimes we need to take a dose of our own advice. It’s time for us to focus on us, the HR professional. I truly believe if we invest in ourselves and take control of our career development and learning, anything is possible. All things can be achieved. It’s time for HR professionals to put on our oxygen masks so we can better help others!


Lisa D. Anderson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a HR professional with over 20 years of HR experience. She is President of Positively in Pursuit, LLC. She coaches HR professionals and women on career and leadership development.


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