Friday, July 30, 2021

Five Key Focuses for an HR Department of One


Running the human resources function of a business as a department of one can be challenging, let alone do so effectively. Attention gets pulled in many directions, and it can be tough to determine what to prioritize and how to tackle the tasks at hand. Depending on the nature of the organization, the business needs can be very complex and several areas may need your attention. From my experience, success as a solo HR practitioner relies largely on five key areas., which I have outlined below.

  1. Recruiting

First, focus on recruiting. People are the key to the business. Finding and hiring the right individuals for positions within the business takes awareness and strategy. Is the company currently in (or anticipated to be in) a growth mode? If so, what does the current recruiting landscape look like? It is important to know where to find candidates for the positions you’re seeking, as well as the internal and external factors that will affect the search. Depending on the positions being sought, sourcing locations can vary from colleges/universities, local job boards, national online job boards, or may even require the assistance of outside help from a specialized recruiting agency.

Prior to starting the sourcing process, it is important to have a solid understanding from the hiring manager on the type of candidate being sought, and what skills and qualifications they find most important. This information should also be found in company job descriptions. Besides finding candidates with the desired skills and experience, it is also important to find candidates to fit the company culture. Once candidates have been identified from the selected source(s), it’s imperative to work closely with the hiring manager to screen and bring in qualified individuals to interview. Bad hires are detrimental to any company, but can be especially hard on small to mid-size businesses, as the effects are usually more apparent and costly. Aligning expectations with hiring managers will start the process off on the right foot and cohesively work towards filling vacant positions with the most desired hires.

  1. Training and Development

Second, focus on training and development, which includes new employee onboarding. Now that you’ve recruited your new employee, the onboarding process becomes their first look at the company’s training program. A well-developed onboarding program starts the employees off on the right foot by integrating them into the company, the team, and the culture. The full onboarding process should be an effort that takes multiple months, which starts with orientation preferably on their first day. It is important to use the onboarding time to instill the company’s mission, vision, and values in all new hires.

Continuing education opportunities for employees and managers are often desired. Not all small to mid-sized companies have the ability to offer tuition assistance, which would be a great investment, however, many employers have the opportunity to offer some type of continuing education and/or development opportunities. It’s especially beneficial if continuing education credits are required for employees to maintain certain certifications they hold. There are countless resources online to support in this endeavor. A few of these options are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), local conferences, free online webinars from reputable sources, soft skills training through a selected online learning platform, etc. Membership to professional associations can also provide great resources for development.

Another component of training that should not be overlooked is any required or mandated training, including OSHA/Safety, Harassment, HIPAA, etc. Human Resources would be involved in identifying training requirements and sourcing for solutions, including the possibility of conducting the training in house. Effectively tracking these training requirements and employee completions assists in keeping compliance for the company.

  1. Compliance

Third, and of significant importance, is compliance. There are many laws and regulations affecting the human resources function, from candidacy through post-employment. Some of the major players in this category include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A solid understanding of these laws and regulations is a necessity for any human resources professional. You should also be aware of the laws of the state or states in which your organization operates. Employers operating in multiple states have the obligation to be in compliance with the laws in each of those states and localities, along with keeping up with the everchanging laws and regulations on the federal level. Ensuring the required federal, state, and local labor posters are accessible by all employees is a legal requirement. Electronic poster service subscriptions are a great option for remote employees.

Handbooks and supplemental policies are essential for any company as they are used as guiding documents for employees and managers on the company’s policies and procedures. Regular updates to the handbook and supplemental policies, which should be reviewed by legal counsel, is required to keep up with the everchanging laws.

Conducting an internal audit would be helpful to determine what compliance items are being captured already and where there may be gaps that need to be bridged. With a little research and the vast resources available online, there are readily available lists to work off of for the audit. Most helpful would be customizing a list for your business from the research. For example, my current company operates in 17 states and I would want to make sure I have an audit checklist that would include state and local law compliance. One of the items would need to be harassment training laws. One of the states in which we operate recently passed a law requiring harassment training be provided at least once a year, as opposed to our normal policy of providing such training biannually. To be in compliance, we now need to ensure we are conducting annual training for those employees.

  1. Total Rewards

Total rewards for employees consist of base compensation, along with any added compensation items such as bonuses and/or commissions, in addition to retirement benefits, health offerings and contributions, work-life benefits, developmental opportunities, service and performance recognition, and other meaningful benefits that are used to attract candidates, as well as motivate and retain current employees. Because of the broad range of compensation and benefit offering possibilities, it is important to focus on the needs and wants of the workforce. Some aspects of total rewards are more valuable to certain employees and prospective employees than others, so it’s important to strategically determine what to offer and how those offerings align with the company culture you have or are looking to create. By offering competitive compensation and possibly some not so ordinary, well thought out and desirable additional benefits, it can help set your company apart from the competition.

For employees to understand all benefits offered and the value they hold, it’s important to have effective communication. Some companies revert to total rewards statements, which provide employees detailed information about their compensation and benefit offerings in a transparent manner. These statements assist employees to look beyond salary to find value in other aspects of their benefits and compensation package that make up their total rewards package.

  1. Employee Relations

Employee relations refers to an organization’s efforts to create and maintain a positive relationship with its employees. By maintaining positive, constructive employee relations efforts, organizations aim to keep employees loyal and engaged in their work1. Open door policies and frequent conversations with employees at all levels will assist in employees feeling included and heard. In relation to more frequent conversations, conducting annual performance reviews is becoming less popular as more constant communication around performance is desired. An effective employee performance management strategy that works for the company should be well thought out to include emphasis on timely communication from both managers and employees.

Stay interviews and employee engagement surveys are great tools to gain insight from employees to be proactive and stay ahead of potential issues. It’s imperative to follow-through with addressing items that come up through these communication avenues, so that employees feel that their voices were heard and they continue to participate in these efforts. Exit interviews are great for insight, as well, but it’s most helpful to have feedback prior to the conversation initiated by employee leaving. Employees who are happy and satisfied with their employment situation are more productive. When employees are engaged and turnover is low, that is the most desirable situation for employers.

At the end of the day, the human resources function is an indispensable part of the business. The attention for someone in the human resources function as a department of one is going to get pulled in the direction of the business needs at the moment. Human resources professionals in small to mid-size companies often wear many hats and juggle multiple priorities at any given time. Focusing on the five areas above, along with prioritizing daily tasks and pop-up items, will assist in the opportunity to spend precious time on the bigger-picture strategic side of the human resources function for the business.

Leigh Medina

Leigh Medina is currently a graduate student in the Human Resources Management program at Rollins College. She has worked in human resources for over 10 years in departments of either one or two HR individuals for small businesses. She currently serves as the Human Resources Manager for a medical device company, and has PHR and SHRM-SCP certifications. Contact Leigh at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


What is the definition of Employee Relations? (n.d.). Retrieved from

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