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How to Thrive as an HR Department of One

Ask any employee what an HR department is responsible for and their answer is sure to mention a range of responsibilities. But, HR—quite literally a resource for humans—is there to support employees. To put it simply, an HR department is responsible for managing all stages of the employee life cycle (i.e., recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, and firing), as well as administering employee benefits. Employees and managers alike head to HR for answers about anything from company policies and procedures, to federal, state, provincial, and local laws, disputes, discrimination, safety regulations, payroll issues, and PTO tracking—to name a few. In a nutshell, it’s a lot.

And in spite of the fact that HR is sorta kinda everything, it’s common, particularly in small businesses and startups, to find an HR team of one managing it all on their own. Maybe you even entered HR “by accident,” as there are numerous situations where office administrators (with or without an HR background) find themselves suddenly faced with the responsibility of managing HR tasks within their organization.

Challenges come with the territory

The intricacies of your particular career trajectory aside, feeling overwhelmed is entirely understandable if you happen to manage HR as a superhuman team of one. No matter how well-honed your skills happen to be, it goes without saying that managing conflict, staying on top of payroll, keeping policies and regulations up-to-date, and heading all things hiring, firing and in between—while ensuring that everything remains compliant—can be exhausting, to say the least. Even if you do happen to be a talented multitasker and/or a seasoned pro.

Plus, as if keeping up with work-as-usual wasn’t enough as a team of one, it’s near impossible to dismiss the fact that HR teams in 2021 must contend with all of the above while also managing remote or hybrid workforces. It isn’t easy, especially if you’re on your own.

Tips for thriving as an HR team of one 

Despite the obvious challenges of running an HR department all by your lonesome, there are some very useful tips that can help boost efficiency, reduce chaos, and help you thrive in your current role. 

Keep the channels of communication wide open

One of the most direct ways to ease the stress of solo HR work is to stay in communication with management: request regular meetings that help you stay on top of any looming shifts in the business. Open communication can help you get your focus in line with company priorities, which can in turn help you plan for new hires, training and development, relocations, conflict resolution, or anything else that might arise. Not to mention, continual communication fuels positive relationships, which makes everyone’s lives easier—especially yours.

Cultivate a peer support network

Although you don’t have HR colleagues you can brainstorm solutions with, there’s a vast network of HR professionals out there ready to offer advice. Getting in contact with them is a great way to build your network, find answers to region-specific questions, and seek emotional support. Disrupt HR, for instance, has local chapters to help you connect with people in your area, and is “an information exchange designed to energize, inform and empower people in the HR field.” Local LinkedIn groups are also a great resource. Not to mention, if you’re a member of SHRM, you can gain access to their Department of One community board, a network of over 3000 of your peers ready to offer support.

Harness the power of HR software

A whopping 80% of small businesses in the US now use HR software or plan to use it in the next one to two years. Even if you’re an HR veteran and have been manually keeping chaos at bay for years, your life could be made a whole lot easier with the use of an HRIS or HR automation software. PurelyHR is designed with small businesses in mind and can be an invaluable tool to help you perform everyday tasks more efficiently while eliminating human error. You can save time by automating tasks like organizing and managing employee data, tracking PTO and policy renewals, and staying in touch with performance management needs—for starters. Be sure to do a full HR needs assessment so you can choose the software solution that best addresses those needs.

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Create clear documentation

Writing a quality employee and company handbook which outlines all the key processes associated with HR can help managers and employees better understand your company’s policies, and make hunting down information less of a hustle for you. It should include the different policies and regulations the staff must follow and will serve as a guide for every new and current employee. Additionally, consider writing a strategic plan to clarify how HR will implement and enforce the policies laid out in the handbook. The primary goal here is clarity. Do make sure the policies are in compliance with local, state/provincial, and federal employment laws, and review your employee handbook annually to make sure it’s up-to-date.

Hire an HR consultant and/or a benefits broker

Sometimes, there’s no such thing as too much help. If you can make the case for outsourcing some of the legwork, do it. The right human resources consultant can help with recruiting and hiring efforts, as well as help you come up with a strategy for successfully implementing HR processes, policies, and practices. Meanwhile, an employee benefits broker can help you decide on the insurance providers that best suit your company (health, life, dental, disability, etc.), help make sure the benefits on offer stay compliant, provide direct assistance to employees, and provide advice on how to reduce costs. After all, 51% of employers say using health and wellness benefits to retain talent and maintain employee loyalty will become even more integral in the next 3-5 years.

Delegate tasks

In other words, always get help as needed. It’s okay to ask (and even expect) company leadership to support the HR department by helping see to it that HR goals and policies are respected. You might have management take the lead on performance reviews as well as requests for raises and promotions since they should be having regular one-on-ones anyway. The finance team could feasibly head up processing payroll. Request that managers take the lead in team mentoring. Try to move in the direction of whatever makes sense given the particularities of your business. Chances are, the business as a whole will benefit greatly from the work being shared in intuitive ways. A well-oiled machine is an efficient one. 

Bottom line: if you’re the only person managing your company’s HR department, the first order of business is to resist giving in to the stress! Take a deep breath and use the above list to help evaluate your current HR practices. Believe it or not, no HR department is an island. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as an HR department of one, connect with other HR departments of one for advice, consider investing in HR software, outsource as much work as possible, and delegate tasks to others in ways that will make your job more doable while also deepening work relationships and enriching company culture. You got this.

The PurelyHR Team

PurelyHR is powerful modular software for your everyday HR. We want to give you more time by providing industry-leading tools for essential tasks like time and attendance tracking, performance reviews, infraction tracking, and more. The PurelyHR blog is your resource for the latest in HR, workplace trends & culture, and product updates.