GUEST POST: HR Department of One

Today we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It’s Holly DePalma. Holly is Director, HR Services at MidAtlantic Employers’ Association, a single source for HR services, delivering responsive, practical solutions to its members.

(Want to guest blog on an employment-law topic at The Employer Handbook? Email me).

* * *

Is this you? If it is, it’s not an easy task. More than likely, your organization has between 50 to 150 employees and you are responsible for recruiting, employee benefits, compensation, maybe payroll, training and development, overall HR compliance, and, of course, employee relations. Phew. That’s a lot and there are days that things seem overwhelming, I am sure. In this article we will discuss four ideas, that if applied solidly, should help position you for providing the most effective and efficient department of HR, with the purpose of deflating the overwhelming balloon that greets you every day when you walk in the door.


The first thing you need to do is equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to do the job. You are a RESOURCE to your organization, don’t take that responsibility lightly. I am really talking about your understanding of the business you are in as well as the profession that you are in.

The single most important thing to do when you join an organization is to understand the business that you are in. This will guide your decisions, recommendations and basically everything about the way you conduct your daily business. The best way to do this is to listen, ask questions, go to meetings, talk to leaders and floor employees. If you work in an environment that has shifts, be there for the start of each shift. Get to know your employees and your leaders.

In addition, you must know your craft. You must know the basics of HR. That is not to say you have to know everything about HR, that’s just not simply possible. But it will be very important for you to be able to answer questions and provide value to your managers, leaders and employees. “Do I have to pay overtime if Johnny works more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week?” “Can I ask someone if they have a car during the interview?” Consider taking the PHR or SPHR exam if you haven’t. These are great ways to remind yourself of the underlying knowledge that an HR practitioner should have.


I talk to so many HR practitioners whose main complaint is, “I don’t feel like I have a voice in the company,” or, “I feel like the police – my managers don’t want to listen to me.” My advice here is to think about your job not as prohibiting managers from doing something in order to protect your organization; but rather, helping managers accomplish what they need to accomplish while maintaining a compliant workplace. The first step in doing that, is erase the phrase, “no you can’t do that,” from your vocabulary.

Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. “Johnny came to me and asked for extra hours. He said I don’t have to pay him overtime. You know, that would really help my budget. Can I do that?” Anyone who has had a DOL audit is probably wanting to pull their hair out and if asked that question might be inclined to scream, “No Way! Absolutely not! What are you crazy?” And while I may not blame that response, think about what happens. The manager will get the opportunity to say, “HR doesn’t support my business, they are just the traffic cop.” Thus, your biggest complaint is personified. As alternative, if you talk to the manager about staffing levels; why is there a need for overtime? Does it make sense to add headcount? Are they down an employee and can you drive the recruitment process in a more efficient manner? And only after that type of dialogue takes place (dialogue which clearly indicates you are concerned about the business and the manager’s needs) you point out the reason why paying overtime at straight time to Johnny is a risk that is not a wise risk to take. The chances of a seat at the table, and being thought of as someone who is “here to help me accomplish my goals,” is much more likely.


Find them. Make them. They will enhance your ability to do all that you will need to do. In order to do what you need to do well, you will more than likely need some “muscle” behind you every now and again. For example, as a member of an employer association, you may have a strong partnership at your fingertips for compliance and general workforce needs. In addition, I would suggest that a strong benefits broker is imperative. With the ever changing face of health care, especially for small to mid-sized employers, your benefits broker is going to be your golden ticket. Make sure you get what you need out of him / her and that you have the necessary resources for your employees.

Depending on your available budget, it would be wise to consider partnerships in other specialist areas as well. For instance, if you don’t do a lot of recruitment, look for a partner to work with you and provide assistance in this area. Training and Development is another area in which to utilize resources outside your organization.


Without a doubt, organizational skills are imperative. This goes for your employee files, employee relations files, recruitment files, etc. There isn’t too much to say about this, but without it, your job is 100 times harder. Create a system and stick to it. It will increase your value enormously, to be able to give someone what they need in an instant, rather than having to get back to someone, if you remember, with the form that you couldn’t find when they needed it.

In summary, you have a big job, and it’s an exciting one. Hopefully these are some ideas that will help you navigate through with more confidence and a plan. But also remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just as important as attitude sometimes is making sure you deliver on what you promise. Don’t over promise, set reasonable timelines and expectations, and have fun!

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
Contact Information