Tips for Managing HR as an Department of One

I was fortunate to start my HR career at companies with HR teams. I always had others to talk to when I got stuck and needed help. Now that I have moved into HR consulting, I work with and talk to small businesses where HR is covered by only one person, not a department.

Tips for Managing HR as an Department of One

Those who manage an HR department of one are some of the hardest working in our industry because they must cover everything, including recruiting, benefits, training, employee relations, strategic planning and more. I recently discussed this issue with Corinne Clawson, PHR. Clawson is the People Support Manager at Premier Nutrition, a subsidiary of Post Holdings and got her start in HR at companies with HR teams; however, in her last and current positions, she has been the sole HR practitioner.


When putting out daily HR fires, it can be difficult to set aside the time it takes to focus on bigger picture tasks. Clawson says, “One of the biggest challenges is balancing both the administrative side of human resources (the HRIS data entry, file compliance, recruiting scheduling, payroll reports) and the long-term strategy. What will drive the most significant impact is the strategy, but you have to get the small tasks done to accomplish the larger goals.”

While a sole HR practitioner needs to be ready to switch gears at a moment’s notice, they can also block off time during the week to deal with specific tasks. It is OK to close your door once in awhile, so you can focus on the turnover and staffing reports you need to show your company’s owner in order to justify hiring more employees in the next year. Simply put a note up on your door explaining when you will be available. Remember that it is fine to tell people you are busy and to ask them to come back in an hour. Not everything has to be handled right away.

Build Your Resource Library

For anyone in HR, it is important to read about the latest HR and employment law trends. This is especially true for sole practitioners who do not have an HR team to turn to when questions come up.

Clawson says, “When I am stuck I look to both research, online resources, blogs, new case law and articles, as well as advice from mentors I have from my HR career to get their perspectives. Sometimes just talking through an issue can lead to a solution.”

Many employment law firms have blogs and also provide updates through email newsletters. There are also countless free and low cost webinars and in-person seminars put on by HR professionals and employment attorneys. Most seminars include printed or electronic versions of the presentation and related regulations, which are a great addition to any HR library. And don’t forget all the information available here at Blogging4Jobs.

Know When & Who to Ask for Help

HR professionals you know from previous jobs are a valuable resource. Do not hesitate to discuss the ways that state leave laws interact with the FMLA or other such questions with your HR network. It can often be useful to find others in HR to bounce ideas off of.

It is important to know your limits, and ask for help when things get challenging. Consider hiring an HR consultant that can be on call to help. Clawson points out, “When in a serious or complex pickle, always call your employment attorney.” Even small businesses should have a relationship with an employment attorney in case a situation is big enough to warrant legal help.

What are your tips for managing an HR department of one? Share your advice in the comments below.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


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