Dave UlrichGuest AuthorLeadership

HR’s Vital Role as Caregivers

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

Caregiving, the act of regularly looking out for the welfare of others, matters more than ever in today’s volatile world.

In recent years, we have come to appropriately regard first responders as heroes. When disasters (fires, floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes) occur, first responders risk their personal safety to rescue others and offer physical and emotional support to those in need.

Likewise, organizations undergoing rapid and disruptive change need first responders. A business leader recently had to make a strategic choice. When she analyzed the data, the choice seemed obvious; but as she started to move forward, she met enormous resistance. Those impacted by the change felt emotionally unsettled, and all the analytics could not assuage the psychological trauma associated with the change. When inevitable change dramatically affects us, we need support from caregivers who provide understanding, empathy, and hope.

Business leaders and HR professionals act as first responders, heroes, and the front line support to employees who face professional and personal disruption by helping them understand and manage the inevitable challenges of change.

What can business leaders and HR professionals do to become effective caregivers to help others understand and manage change?


When clients face depression, psychologists often recommend taking care of the physical body including nutrition, exercise, and sleep (in addition to other remedies). In any type of demanding situation, caring for the body is easily ignored. Long work hours, personal financial loss, and stressful work duties often mean avoiding time for the body.

“Physical caregiving ensures that employees have a lifestyle that enables both attendance and productivity at work.”

HR professionals can become physical caregivers who encourage employees to care for their bodies through encouraging healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and regular medical attention. This may include providing health care and benefit programs, sponsoring corporate events attending to health (annual physicals, fitness center activities, smoking cessation workshops), and encouraging the physical basics (getting sleep, avoiding addictions). In addition, HR can establish healthy work environments that might include ergonomic settings, resources to promote wise personal finances, and employee control and flexibility over work time demands. Physical caregiving ensures that employees have a lifestyle that enables both attendance and productivity at work.


Many of us have taken the stress inventory where we accumulate points for stress-inducing life events that we’ve recently experienced. The researchers suggest that scoring above a certain point level is likely to lead individuals to have a health breakdown. In the current economic times, many have far surpassed this stress level, feel emotionally drained, and should probably be admitted to the hospital.

HR professionals become emotional caregivers by helping employees play to their strengths and match skills to jobs, learn from past successes and failures to improve for the future, provide empathy by listening to employees’ concerns, and work in an affirming and positive setting. These resources build reserves that employees can draw on in emotionally demanding circumstances. Empathic leaders and HR emotional caregivers ensure that employees feel understood and valued.


As social beings, people often find joy through relationships where they share common experiences and feel cared for and understood. Having best friends both at work and in personal relationship networks outside of work helps people manage the stress of change. When I have had personal or professional disappointments, a social network where I can share and feel supported renews me. Loneliness (social isolation) is one of the greatest liabilities and risks of the digital age.

Organizations, by design, accomplish work by bringing together diverse individuals into collective action. HR professionals can become social caregivers when they create a sense of community and belonging where people feel committed and attached to each other. This belonging may come from sourcing and developing relationships with trustworthy and competent people, high-performance teams where team members care for and nurture each other, and the right internal culture to match customer expectations so that the organization wins in the market place. Community leaders and HR social caregivers instill a sense of belonging that is central to succeeding in the emerging experience economy.


Research shows that learning agility is a key predictor of leadership success. With learning agility comes the ability to create a future, anticipate opportunity, adapt quickly, and learn always. Individuals who turn personal curiosity into organizational innovation are enthused, not threatened, by evolving market opportunities.

HR professionals can become intellectual caregivers by investing in employee learning. Learning helps employees face their unconscious biases and adapt over time. Employee learning increases when HR builds tailored learning experiences, designs and delivers training programs with clear personal impact, and makes personal learning a major part of delivering a business strategy.

Spiritual (Meaning or Purpose)

Finally, people need a sense of meaning or purpose in their lives: purpose often progresses through a three-step logic:

  • Step 1 is happiness found from activity (what is done).
  • Step 2 is experience (how it is done).
  • Step 3 is meaning (why it is done).

This three-step evolution shapes how we respond to and feel about our world and how we fit into it, evolving from what we do to how we do it to why we do it. In all of these cases, meaning matters and moves us beyond simple engagement to real contribution.

For employees in a work setting, the same three steps apply.

  • Activity helps employees to be satisfied.
  • Experience builds employee commitment or engagement.
  • Meaning inspires employees to sustain personal commitment through the taking ownership of their work and finding real purpose from it.

HR professionals can become meaning caregivers by creating a purpose-driven organization that enables social citizenship. HR professionals can also help employees discover their personal values and how they fit (or not) with the organization. Leaders and HR professionals as meaning makers create personal and organizational abundance.

“Caregiving puts the human back in human resources.”


Change happens and creates demands and opportunities to become a caregiver. Being a caregiver is not easy. It requires you to serve others and help them through difficult times. Attending to the physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of caregiving, you can help your employees have the reserves to act on strategic decisions. Caregiving puts the human back in human resources.

What do you do to provide and encourage caregiving?

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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