Blog Post

Dear ReWorker: How Do I Manage a 100-Person Company as an HR Team of One?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

I landed my first job in HR a year out of college at a company that grew quickly. During this exponential growth, the team never had time to develop an HR department. They hired me along with a part-time consultant to create an HR department from scratch. At the time, the company had just under 65 employees. After three months, they decided not to renew the consultant's contract, and I've been heading HR as a department of one ever since.

I hit my one year work anniversary last month, and we now have 92 full-time employees! At this point, I'm doing full-cycle recruiting, managing benefits, on-boarding and off-boarding, payroll, timekeeping, annual performance evaluations, big-picture projects like updating our handbook, etc. I am constantly stressed out and overwhelmed! I've been begging my manager, who does not have a background in HR, to hire an HR Manager or Director, but he doesn't think it's necessary.

Am I just being a baby? Or is this job really asking too much of me? What do you think?


Too Many Hats

Dear Too Many Hats,

You're doing great. I think your company's CEO doesn't have a clue about HR. No offense towards you, but I would never hire someone straight out of college to head up an HR department. Not that you're not brilliant, but you're inexperienced, and your workload is over the top. This is bad for the business.

Why is it bad for the business? Because when you have an overworked and inexperienced head of HR, you're going to miss something important that is either going to land you in court or cost the company money in high turnover rates, inaccurate salaries or any number of problems. This is not to say that you aren't doing a good job. It's just that no one in your situation could do an adequate job.

As a general rule, I advise companies to have a full-time, dedicated and experienced human resources person on board before they hit 50 people. Why 50? Because that's when laws like FMLA kick in. By the time you're at 100, you should probably have two.

Now, a stable company with 100 employees probably doesn't need two full-time HR people, but one in rapid growth does. Companies experiencing rapid growth like to think they are hip and cool start-ups with a welcoming and trendy culture, except no one has time to mentor the new people and bring them into the culture. As a result, the thing that makes your company special starts to fade away and people become numbers.

So, what should you do, Too Many Hats? Well, you could find a new job and leave. Your resume would look awesome at this point! But as you've only been there a year, and it's your first job out of college, I would stick it out. Here are some ideas on soliciting help from the rest of the company and the senior team, and convincing them you need another member.

1) Join the executive committee

If you're not on it already, ask to be included. You can't plan for company growth if you're not privy to company info. You can't act as a business partner if you aren't involved in the company strategy. It works vice versa too: Executives should have a strong understand of their current talent pool, top performers and people strategy.

2) Prioritize your tasks, and assign the rest

There are things that should never leave your hands—like recruiting. However, other responsibilities can be shared: For example, managers can review resumes and select their own candidates for you to screen. Finance can take over healthcare benefits. Talk with the executive team about dividing some of your workload among the other teams.

3) List things that can be outsourced

Even with an experienced HR team, I would outsource things like the company handbook. Why? Because handbooks are actually legal documents that, if written wrong, can create havoc for a company. For instance, if your handbook language isn't precise, you can accidentally create a contract with your employees that destroys employment-at-will. You're not qualified to write a complete handbook, mainly because you're not an employment lawyer. Payroll is another technical area that should be kicked to someone else with more expertise.

If you can start with these things, you can lessen your workload and provide better services to the company. That's what you want to focus on when you pitch these ideas—how breaking up this workload will benefit the company overall, not just you. Ideally, they'll hire a more experienced person to be the HR director to help and mentor you, but until then, outsourcing and dividing workloads is the way to go.

Your ReWorker,

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady

Photo: Twenty20

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