Wednesday, July 08, 2020
Monday, 12 March 2018 13:43

The Doctor's Kids: Keys to Healing the HR Professional

Written by Chris Altizer

Keys to Healing

IN FOOTBALL AND HR, THE 4TH QUARTER IS A tense time. The pressure is on, there’s tons to do, and the hits we’ve taken so far are adding up. So, let’s get prepared early – right out of the gate – to handle these hits! Like a team doctor, HR people, regardless of role or function, have been taking care of people – hiring, training, benefitting, paying, insuring, counseling, and sometimes firing. When you tell a non-HR person you work in HR, you get the usual jokes or Catbert comments. When you tell an HR person you work in HR, you share a subtle look that says more than an hour of venting. After 30 years in the field in some pretty big jobs, non-HR people ask me “why” I was in HR; however, the question HR people ask is, “how” did I take care of myself after first taking care of others?

If I had a perfect answer, I might not have had decades of blood pressure medication or stress-induced health issues, but lessons from karate, yoga, and mindfulness practices have served to keep me healthy enough to get to my career 4th quarter and provide these suggestions for HR professionals to practice early on so they’re prepared for their inevitable 4th quarter of 2018.

Take A (Deep) Breath

How many times have you told someone to (or wanted to), “Just take a breath!” Deeper breathing is one way to activate the parasympathetic “rest/relax/refuel” nervous system, as opposed to the sympathetic “fight/ flight/freeze” nervous system that fires when we are stressed. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system lowers your heart rate, releases muscular tension, and expands awareness and attention.

When you sigh, it’s the wisdom of your body making you breath deeper in response to stress. There’s no reason to wait for your body to remind you to breath to relieve physical, emotional, and mental tension. And, there’s no reason to restrict deeper breathing to stressful moments. Stress is cumulative and workplace stress is on the rise. Establishing a simple breathing practice, or “pranayama” as it’s known in yoga, is both prevention and cure. Don’t let the yoga term worry you – there’s nothing weird about breathing.

A Breath Practice

A simple internet search of “3-part breath” will take you to many websites and videos – and they are all essentially the same. If you are a smartphone app user, you will find several apps on pranayama. Whatever you use, try 3-part breathing three times a day to get the practice started. If you give this practice a few minutes a day, in a few weeks you will feel the difference, especially if you pause for that breath when someone tells you the compensation planning tool is down (again), or that a year-end performance meeting resulted in someone hiding in the restroom.

Meditation – Yes, Really

Interest in meditation and, more broadly, “mindfulness” is growing as the research is increasing and as businesses look for answers to employee burnout and leadership performance. Mindfulness meditation is clinically shown to reduce emotional reactivity and the effects of stress. Although there are few return on investment (ROI) studies of mindfulness in the workplace as of yet (just as there are few ROI studies of leadership or D&I training), from my own experiences, these practices not only have resulted in physical and emotional health benefits but also improved my insight quality and decision-making. When we hear “meditation” we often think of people sitting cross-legged, eyes-closed, and maybe chanting something. Meditation can be all or none of those things, and it can be practiced at work, at home, or at the airport for that matter. The idea is to find a practice that suits you and how you live. The hard part is the discipline of giving five minutes just to yourself. As HR people, we’re not used to that – which is why we need a practice to practice.

A Practice to Practice

There are many forms of meditation, and something as simple as five minutes each morning is a great start. My wife, Anne, and I describe some simple practices in our book, Mindfully Mobile, but we like to start with seated breath meditation. Like pranayama, you can internet search “seated breath meditation” and try any of the first ones you find. We coach our clients to start with five minutes a day, building to ten minutes, over eight weeks. You can also find all manner of smartphone meditation apps – and there are great free apps without subscription fees. It doesn’t matter which practice or app you pick – what matters is that you pick one and stick with it for eight weeks.

Fit & Fueled

“Don’t tell me what I’m supposed to do – I KNOW what I’m supposed to do! Tell me how I can do it with everything else I have to do!”

It’s something we all hear and often say ourselves. HR people, more than most, have to be available to others, which means planned gym time or a healthy eating options sometimes escape us. The problem, doctor’s children, is that no one is prompting us to care for ourselves but ourselves. Our physical wellbeing is directly related to our mental and emotional well-being, which are directly related to our ability to perform over time. Just like breath and meditation, we need a discipline of practice of simple things that we can do even in the midst of this year’s performance and comp planning, and next year’s budget and annual enrollment. It’s the little things that add up when it comes to being more fit and better fueled.

Simple, Little Things

Walk – simple as that. Whether you use a tracker or not, it’s the habit of walking that works. HR Guru Dave Ulrich walks 10,000 steps every day – and he’s busier than most. Try “walking meetings” or “standing meetings” to stay on agendas. When I worked in a Manhattan skyscraper, I realized that I could walk down four flights or up two flights of stairs faster than the elevator made it. The increased circulation improves mental and physical function, and movement is linked to creativity and innovation. Tell people you’re testing it – you’ll be surprised who might join you. You’ll be more surprised by how you feel after a few weeks.

Stop eating sugar. The research on processed sugar is overwhelming and conclusive – it’s bad for you. By the way, there are over 200 names for it, so labellooking isn’t enough. The boost we get from sugar – whatever the source – is short-lived and leaves you craving more. You already know sugar can contribute to mood swings and that it’s linked to obesity and disease. Further, while we might be tempted by sugar substitutes, if your goal is to drop a few pounds, they won’t help you do that. This advice is not easy to follow, but it’s critical if you plan to perform and be well over a career.

Stretch your body. As HR people, we have plenty of mental and emotional stretch going on. Unfortunately, sitting at a desk or table (or even commuting) reduces our flexibility and circulation to the point of discomfort, if not soreness. The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and others have great content on how to stretch right at your desk. Anne and I teach team stretching as a way to sustain and reinforce the positive effects of stretching and also to gain the benefits of office-appropriate physical contact, specifically trust and familiarity.

Heal Thyself

Whatever role you have in HR, you’re in the business of enabling performance and wellness. When I got into HR in the 1980s, we called ourselves the Doctor’s Kids because we seemed to be caring for everyone else but ourselves. In 30 years that hasn’t changed except there’s more to care about and the price of not caring for ourselves has only grown. Although there are many more practices than in this article, a key point is that we can care for ourselves and we can help each other do so as well.

Chris Altizer

Chris Altizer, MA, MBA, executive coach, yoga instructor and published author, has over a 30-year HR career served in many senior, global roles including Pfizer as SVP HR and as chief talent officer and as VP HR strategy & operations at Aetna. He is now an executive and team coach of performance and wellness, with his wife, of Altizer Performance Partners, LLC, based in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. Their website is