HR Department of One: How to Manage on Your Own

A well-run HR Department manages the functions that impact employees for a compliant workplace with a culture of respect and professionalism.

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HR Department of One: How to Manage on Your Own

Here's what you need to know about an HR department of one and how to manage on your own:

  • Managing talent is one of the most important tasks for an HR Department of One.
  • Although a customized handbook is ideal, tailored to your company and workplace, you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
  • You'd probably be saving money every week by outsourcing.

In some SMBs, the owner manages the HR function. For others, there’s a single dedicated HR professional who’s in charge. Whatever the company’s size, an HR Department of One provides service to every employee. Solo HR pros must be able to shift gears at a moment’s notice. Their responsibility is wide-ranging:

  • Acquiring and developing talent
  • Maintaining compliance
  • Recordkeeping
  • Administering benefits
  • In some cases, even managing payroll

Time is not a solo HR pro’s friend. In addition to all the tasks and responsibilities, HR needs to be available to staff members who need assistance at any time. When employees have problems, immediate attention is often necessary. Regularly scheduled duties are set aside to deal with whatever situation has arisen.

Managing an HR Department of One requires:

  • A high level of organization
  • Top time management skills
  • The ability to recognize what’s achievable
  • Determining what should be outsourced

Business owners who manage the function or solo HR professionals need to break down and prioritize tasks. With an organized plan, you can create a resource for employees and a manageable workload for yourself.

What does HR manage?

A well-run HR Department manages the functions that impact employees for a compliant workplace with a culture of respect and professionalism. HR touches every employee in the company at every stage of their employment – from potential new hires to tenured staff, to those ready to separate, HR is involved either directly or indirectly. Here are some of the most important tasks.


Before hiring your first staff member, you must know the laws governing employment at the federal level, in your state, and locally. Businesses must comply with all relevant employment legislation:

  • Equal opportunity
  • Minimum wage
  • Sick and leave time requirements
  • Harassment and discrimination
  • Safety regulations and others.

Become fluent in the legislation that affects your organization. Look to federal, state, county, and even city Department of Labor websites for information on what’s required and how you must comply.

There are online resources that provide complete handbooks or templates that you can use to create a version for your company and your staff.

Translate that knowledge into a company policy manual and an employee handbook. Mirror the language in the legislation — your company prohibits harassment or discrimination, for example. These will serve as guidance for you on compliance issues and for employees. Issue each staff member a hard copy or digital version of the handbook and access to the manual — they should acknowledge receipt of the manual in writing (including an electronic signature). Notify staff members they are expected to understand and comply with all policies and handbook requirements.

While a customized handbook is ideal, tailored to your company and workplace, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are online resources that provide complete handbooks or templates that you can use to create a version for your company and your staff.

Job descriptions

Many small businesses have evolved without formal job descriptions. Staff members have taken on tasks and roles as needed without listing what they do on paper.

Job descriptions, even those created after the fact, are necessary tools for business. They:

  • Outline what to look for in a new hire
  • Help management perform staff evaluations against the essential job functions
  • Guide employees about what is expected and required of them.

Job descriptions may not take first priority for many owners or solo HR professionals. Still, without them, all the work you do takes longer. With a current, accurate job description, HR professionals recruit the right candidate for the job. Without them, you may be guessing at what’s needed or end up with bad hires and turnover. Managers can perform evaluations using listed, objective criteria.

These overlooked tools are invaluable for every aspect of employee management. Get started on creating them with templates and examples for every role in your organization.

Recruitment and screening

You probably don’t ask candidates to mail you a resume and read through each one you receive. If you do, it’s time to outsource. Recruitment screening software is easy to use, low-cost, or occasionally free with job postings. It cuts the time you take to find candidates to interview exponentially.

Consider the number of hours you’d spend reviewing resumes versus the cost of automated screening. No matter your hourly wage, you’ll be saving money using software.

These tools allow recruitment professionals to hone in on candidates that meet your minimum qualifications — those you’ve specified on your job descriptions and postings. They eliminate time wasted on resumes and applications that don’t meet your needs, allowing you and hiring managers to focus on quality candidates. They can help make sure every new hire is a good hire.

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For some companies, onboarding is a short tour of the facility and a trainer to get the new hire started on tasks and responsibilities. A quality onboarding experience goes much deeper. Statistics show that about one-third of new hires will quit in the first six months on the job. Many do so because they’re unable to adapt to the new company.

Onboarding helps new hires assimilate and provides the tools they need to start their journey with an organization and foresee a long-term relationship.

For many HR Departments of One, onboarding means taxes, paperwork, and enrollment. Expand the process — include tours, and assign a buddy. Look at the onboarding process from the point of view of the new hire:

  • What did you want/need to know?
  • How could you have felt more welcomed?
  • What helped you learn?

Add these components to your onboarding process to help retention, particularly in those first critical months.

Payroll automation

For an HR Department of One, payroll is a pain point. You’re much better off leaving the time drain of conducting of multiple calculations to the experts for functions like:

  • Employee hours
  • Taxes
  • Benefits contributions
  • Sick and vacation time used/taken
  • Leaves of absence and more

Consider how much time it takes to run payroll: is it an entire morning or afternoon bi-weekly? Then consider outsourcing the function. For an HR Department of One, wasting time on rote payroll tasks is not cost-effective.

For an HR Department of One, wasting time on rote payroll tasks is not cost-effective.

Third-party payroll services accurately calculate wages by allowing employees to enter their hours digitally — you or the direct supervisor simply approve what’s entered, and the math is done. The program calculates and pays taxes and employee contributions and administers and tracks sick, vacation, personal, and leave time. You simply approve the payments and fund the accounts. With a few keystrokes, you can reclaim that bi-weekly chore and get on to more productive work. If you don’t think it’s worth the nominal fee, calculate your wages against the cost. You’d probably be saving money every week by outsourcing.

Payroll budgeting software

For many SMBs, payroll simply evolved. As you needed more staff, you hired more employees. There was never a ‘payroll budget’ or plan – payroll is a cost to do business.

As your company grows, defining payroll and having a budget in place is a critical HR function. You can’t determine the cost per item without payroll data. Similarly, you can’t calculate the necessary headcount per shift without knowing the expense.

If you’re still running payroll with spreadsheets and a calculator, planning and projecting can be time-consuming but not impossible. However, all the data you need is easily downloadable if you’re using a payroll service. Use that information to determine cost-per-goods — you may find you’re undercharging customers. Use the data to plan for employee raises or evaluate compensation and equity in your organization. The information is there for today’s budget and tomorrow’s forecast.

Talent management

Managing talent is one of the most important tasks for an HR Department of One. Beyond recruitment, your goal is to retain workers. Being available and responsive to needs, concerns and growth is your duty as well as the employees’ managers. When staff need assistance, HR must set every other task aside.

Performance evaluations are important tools critical to talent management. They affect employee:

  • Engagement
  • Retention
  • Satisfaction

If supervisors manage evaluations, you’re undoubtedly sending reminders and ensuring they’re completed. Sometimes, HR works with the manager to create and discuss the reviews. In other cases, HR is asked to handle evaluations completely.

Training and development

Employee training and development is another task for the HR Department of One. Upskilling and reskilling have been crucial as we move toward a more tech-dependent workplace. Soft skill development is also key:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

HR is tasked with ensuring organizations have the skilled talent they need today. They’re also responsible for planning to grow and develop their staff for the future. As a result, you may be:

  • Sourcing online classes
  • Developing internal training
  • Facilitating coaching and mentoring programs or providing other methods for employee and manager growth

Talent development should be a high priority. Staying competitive today and into the future is critical.

Benefits administration

One of the most significant responsibilities and time wasters for SMBs is benefits administration. The time spent on this task is daunting, from enrolling new employees to managing annual enrollment. When you add the hours spent trying to assist employees with problems, advocate on their behalf, and resolve issues, benefits admin may seem like the bulk of your work.

For many HR Departments of One, annual enrollment means little or nothing else is done. The work involved is too detail-heavy and consuming. Wasting 45 days per year is a costly, inefficient use of time that would be more profitably outsourced.

Third-party benefits providers manage all enrollment, including special enrollments, when an employee’s status changes. They’re experts in benefits, easily helping employees understand their coverage and resolve any issue.

These providers may even be able to give staff wider access to benefits packages and options. Most importantly, they manage open enrollment digitally and more efficiently every year. If you aren’t outsourcing benefits administration, your HR Department of One is wasting time on this burdensome task.

Add greater value to your company

An HR Department of One can run smoothly and efficiently when you prioritize tasks. Talent acquisition, development, and management is your most important role. If it’s taking a back seat to mundane tasks, look to outsource wherever you can.

Spend the bulk of your time on high-value work. Your employees (and your boss) will thank you.


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