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How to Succeed as an HR Department of One

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Denise Stern

Are you an HR department of one? Small human resources departments face more challenges than those of large corporations.

A row of blocks with the outline of people on them with one block pushed out a little bit to represent one person working on something.

A person who runs a small business or company HR department by themselves wears a number of hats. As such, you are required to know “just about everything” that pertains to the jobs in your company. That means company procedures and policies as well as state regulations at the local, state, and federal levels.

It’s not easy to run an HR department in the best of circumstances, but when the job falls on the shoulders of a single person, doing so can be especially challenging. Following a few tips and strategies can potentially make the job a little easier.

What Does an HR Department Do?

For many employees, the Human Resources department is the “place” to go to lodge complaints, concerns, or disputes, discuss payroll benefits, and seek information on wages, overtime, job descriptions and responsibilities, and compliance.

HR professionals are often perceived as the middle-man between employees and management. While most in HR pursue a degree in the field and have the training, when it comes to running a small business, operating as the HR department happens on its own with limited formal training.  These days, that means you’ve been tapped to fill the position, even if you have no background in human resources. Additionally, small business owners may be required to lean on employees with limited HR education as well to run things.

An inexperienced individual who suddenly becomes the single human resources department personnel will be required to manage a number of challenges that include but are not limited to:

  • Safety and compliance regulations
  • Discrimination issues
  • Disputes between employees or employees/management
  • Management of employee benefits
  • Recruiting new employees and interviewing job candidates
  • Putting strategies in place for employee training
  • Tracking personnel and sick days
  • Processing payroll

Not all HR personnel are required to process payroll, but many are required to keep track of employee sick days, personnel attendance and job performance.

Compliance is Key to HR Management

Compliance with local, state and federal regulations is essential for any business, regardless of size. The HR department must stay up-to-date on changes in regulatory aspects of the business as well as employment laws. Stay on top of governmental agency inspections and scope of audits to ensure that your company maintains compliance with constantly changing regulatory mandates. Risk of non-compliance leads to penalties, damage to reputation, and if severe enough, closure of the business.

Among the most common compliance issues, especially for the one-person HR department, include:

  • Ensuring that everyone held accountable for compliance inside the working environment and is properly trained in their duties
  • Making determinations regarding an employees’ exempt or non-exempt FLSA status
  • Awareness of and enforcement of local, state and federal anti-discrimination laws in regard to the hiring process
  • Ensuring that employees complete Form I-9 to maintain compliance with immigration and customs enforcement audit standards (always keep these forms on file).

In your role as HR management, it is part of your responsibility to make sure regulations are being followed, not only to prevent penalties and fines, but potential lawsuits.

Tips for solitary or small HR departments

Because so much goes into running an HR department, it can be really overwhelming for those just starting to manage employees this way. With a small business, there are typically fewer employees to keep track of compared to large corporations, but it is still a daunting task to keep track of everything. The following tips can help you find your footing to run a solo HR team.

Set Time Frames for Dealing With Non-Emergent Employee Issues

When employees have questions or concerns, they are going to turn to their HR manager. However, this can take up a lot of time, and not all concerns will need to be handled immediately. Because there are so many aspects of HR, set aside specific times of the day when employees can come to you with non-emergent issues so you can set boundaries on time to help employees, but still get other work done. From there, deal with the employee requests and concerns in order of priority. For example, safety and compliance concerns should take priority over a desire for a new coffee machine.

Know Where to Access Legal Resources 

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available online to help you manage the HR department. The internet makes it so easy to join in on webinars and take advantage of opportunities to attend HR seminars. If your small business works with an online payroll provider, they may have forms and information you need to stay compliant. When you’re really lost, you can always turn to the IRS website for important legal information.

Put Knowledge Into Action

Implement what you have learned to encourage employee engagement, which not only boosts morale but also promotes productivity. As such, the Human Resources department plays a vital role in building and maintaining relationships among all staff members, including bosses. This is achieved by establishing a clear framework of expectations and resources for training from top to bottom.

Your business policies and procedures should clearly explain your business values, as well as mission and goals. Maintain open lines of communication with your employees, which encourages not only transparency and expectations of the position within the business, but also improves employee retention.

Take the time or tap experienced staff to mentor, train and coach every employee. This is just as important in a small business as it is in a large corporation. Make sure that every employee has what they need (tools, training, and support) to perform their tasks with confidence.

Improve lines of communication verbally through regularly scheduled stand-up meetings or private conversations, or through notices and memos. Effective communication is essential for any HR department, regardless of size.

Today, being in charge of an HR department is more than simply keeping track of payroll or employee attendance or managing people on-site. You may find yourself challenged on occasion,  but keeping employees informed and engaged is vital for success.

As a leader in human resource management, encourage every person on staff to know they can come to you with any issues, large or small.

In other words, make your HR department a model for employee and management support. It goes both ways Doing so provides benefits in training new employees as well as reducing conflict and confusion among employees and management.


Documentation is important in almost all areas of business, but especially important when it comes to HR items. HR can get complicated when serious employee matters come into play, like performance reviews and other more serious complaints. To keep a small business compliant, having proper documentation in place about employees and company policies is necessary. One of the most beneficial ways to do this is to provide an employee handbook that specifically defines all primary processes of the business – including policies like paid time off, sick days, information on payroll, and important safety guidelines regulated by OSHA.  You should also be keeping track of performance reviews, for both your knowledge and the employees. Should things get messy in the event you fire an employee, you may be required to have a reason.


When navigating any new uncharted territory, it’s helpful to stay connected to people from whom you can learn. Any HR department needs to maintain connections to knowledgeable resources and networks. Stay up-to-date on the latest changing affecting human resources processes. For example, join your local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and attend meetings whenever possible. Further your professionalism by obtaining HR accreditation, offered by the SHRM and the Human Resources Certification Institute.

Reach For Success as an HR Department of One

Working in human resources departments is challenging enough without having a roadmap to follow. It may seem impossible at first for an HR department of one to maintain responsibility for the hiring of new employees and effectively onboarding them, along with promoting strategic models and processes. Cooperation with the business owners and management staff will stand you in good stead when managing employee concerns. Do this through compliance with laws and regulations but also taking advantage of assistance from additional resources to make your job a lot easier.

Take advantage of HR technologies and support to promote your expertise as an HR professional and help your company or business reach its long-term strategic goals. Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed to aid your success as an HR department of one.

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This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. SurePayroll is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, SurePayroll. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. If you require legal or accounting advice or need other professional assistance, you should always consult your licensed attorney, accountant or other tax professional to discuss your particular facts, circumstances and business needs.