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What am I supposed to do as an HR Department of One? Help!

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Being understaffed, underfunded, and under-understood is not a new game for HR folks. But there is a particularly vulnerable version of HR departments that tends to spring up in smaller and midsize companies: the HR department of one.

If this is you – or a colleague – we see you, and we recognize you. Read on to learn how you can maximize your support.

When the Helpers Step Up…

It’s a familiar story that takes a few different forms. Your smaller company needs to hire more employees. You’ve worked there for awhile, so your overextended boss asks if you can develop a hiring process for them. Or a midsize company starts to offer health insurance for the first time, and you sign on with your newly minted Bachelor’s in HR. Maybe an HR manager leaves, and their assistant takes on all the responsibilities of the department.

One way or another, you ended up here: an HR department of one.

You likely feel saddled by one or more of these thoughts on a regular basis:

  • “I’m not being compensated enough for what I’m doing.”

  • “It’s concerning how inexperienced I am and how my mistakes could cost the company so much money – or worse.”

  • “My Imposter Syndrome is giving me hives.”

  • “I’m overwhelmed and have no one to bounce ideas or brainstorm solutions with.”

  • “It’s hard to stay organized when I have so much to do.”

  • “I feel that our company is overstaffed for having such a small HR department… Is this even legal?”

  • “I don’t feel understood by the higher-ups. I’m always fighting tooth and nail for the support I need.”

I’m sure you can expand the list. The bottom line is: you need support and resources. But while you might not find that in the office next door, you can reach outside of your organization to find tools to make your life easier.

Resource #1: SHRM Is Your Best Friend

If you don’t already know about the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), this is your first stop. Anyone working in the HR industry, including students studying it, can become a SHRM member. Membership benefits include access to a suite of resources. To name a few:

  • Compliance training materials (i.e. customizable powerpoint presentations)

  • How-to guides

  • Sample policies, interview questions, and job descriptions to help you model your own

  • “Ask an Advisor” service – chat up a more experienced HR professional with your struggles and questions

  • Printed HR materials for your office

  • Conferences and seminars to grow your knowledge base, confidence, and network

You can also join your local chapter of SHRM, which will give you access to a group of friendly HR colleagues in town – whether you need to compare harassment report protocols or just blow off some steam at the end of the week.

Resource #2: A Not-Exhaustive Book List

Part of the power of a multi-person team is the combination of their varied experiences. As an HR department of one, you might feel limited in your experience, even if you have several years under your belt.

Reading can be a simple, effective, and relatively cheap way to equip yourself with the knowledge and experience gleaned by other HR professionals. Try these books to start:

  • The Little Black of Book of Human Resources Management

  • 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees

  • The Anatomy of Peace

  • How to Say Anything to Anyone

As for carving out quiet, unbothered time to read during the day? That’s a whole other blog post. Reinforce staking out that time with the reminder that supporting yourself allows you to support your people.

Resource #3: The Employers’ Association

Similar to SHRM, TEA comes from a slightly different tact, addressing common HR needs of employers rather than HR professionals in general.

They still cover much of the same ground, offering information and research on workplace wellness, training, and people management. This includes an entire section on HR resources, like toolkits with common forms and local or virtual roundtable discussions.

Resource #5: Lattice

Sort of a “SHRM Lite,” Lattice compiles resources for HR professionals online. Its friendly interface, diverse webinars, and low price deserve a mention here.

Resource #6: Your Worker’s Comp Insurance Broker

You may be surprised to learn that, if your company has worker’s compensation insurance, you can find HR technology solutions in the same place. This often takes the form of advising or consulting, which may be just what you need when you feel really stumped about an issue.

Resource #7: Online Training

You know that HR training has to be done in any company that’s going to last, whether that’s annual compliance training for sexual harassment or teaching soft skills to clumsy leadership/management – and that falls on your shoulders.

Developing training on your own can feel like a daunting behemoth of a task. Where do you even start? And how do you get the hours in the day to do it?

Several companies offer online courses that you can buy off the shelf, with various degrees of personalization for your company:

If your budget and time resources are very limited, these can get the job done.

If you’re looking for something between developing compliance training from the ground up for thousands of dollars and a boxed, online training course – we offer that middle ground at Lynch Learning. You have the convenience of purchasing our courses with a click, but we don’t leave you hanging. We provide the focused support to customize our course to your company, giving it real traction and longevity at your company for years to come.

You’re Not Alone – We Have Your Back!

Remember why you got into HR: it’s all about the people and caring for them. And while your company may not have all the resources you need, you can reach outside of those walls to gain support from experts like Lynch Learning, who know what it’s like in the trenches.

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