Navigating an HR Department of One

I know firsthand what it’s like to be in an HR department of one. For years, I worked for a small nonprofit and made the case to grow the operations, especially when it came to human resources; it took a backseat to the programs that any nonprofit pushed to secure funding. When it comes to holding down the department by yourself, fear not. Here are some key takeaways I learned from the experience:

  1. Prioritize the employees’ needs. I wanted to implement a different healthcare plan, while the employees wanted to look at a better return on their retirement plans. You may have had worthwhile ideas, but what good would that have done if they hadn’t spoken to the employees at that time? Hand out surveys and listen to common themes, both positive and in ways that improve their overall satisfaction within the organization. While you won’t be able to work on every idea they have, working on the bigger ideas will bring about more job satisfaction for the employees and also make them feel that they’re being heard.
  2. Seek outside help. I sought other HR professionals by joining national SHRM and a local chapter to build relationships; it was isolating being alone. I also brought in experts to help when I needed to take on bigger projects such as a compensation analysis or an executive 360 assessment. I didn’t just sit back and let the experts do all the work; I also studied from them, asked questions, took notes, and added my newfound knowledge to my toolbox, which served me well later on. It’s also important to find a mentor. Sometimes, you just need someone you can learn from to help you during those challenging times. They can offer advice in ways that your peers can’t.
  3. Recertify. If you have your SHRM certification, keeping up with your certification credits is important. The information is invaluable. You find out what is happening with state, local, and federal laws, you can talk to other HR professionals at chapter meetings to get advice, and you have the SHRM knowledge center for those quick questions you might be stumped on.
  4. Build trust across the organization. Being in an HR department of one can be isolating, especially when you’re the go-between for senior management and staff. Management wants to know they can trust you just as much as staff. Both sides want to know you have their backs, and while that may be difficult to juggle at times if you build solid relationships across the organization, you will be looked at as the go-to person people can rely on.

Do you feel like you need that outside help, whether you’re a department of one or an executive juggling it all? Reach out to Adria at