Introducing the HR Dept of One

By Joel Peterson posted 01-21-2015 13:23


"Good morning, Joel. Do you have a sec? I just received a bill from my doctor and I think they over charged me according to the Summary of Benefits packet you gave me."

"Hi Joel. Sorry to interrupt but I have a question about how to roll over my 401k. Do you have a sec?"

"Have you set a date for the annual sexual harassment training session yet, Joel?"

“Why is my paycheck less than it should be?”

"Joel. Come see me as soon as you get in. We need to hire again and I want to go over what positions we will be adding. The job postings need to go up by end of day today."

Dear Joel: We need to meet. In private. Before noon. Regards, Employee X


Does any of that sound familiar to you? Or maybe this is your day:

Your day starts off with benefits renewals. At some random point in the process, you stop to answer a question about the company's leave policy, then take a call from a new hire before you return to your benefits renewals spreadsheets. But before long, you see that you're late for a meeting with your company's management team about mandatory upcoming training. So you sigh, set aside the benefits renewal paperwork, grab your notebook and head to the meeting. On the way there, you're stopped by employees with various questions and reminders which you dutifully write down on the notebook in your hand to follow up on later, quietly acknowledging that your To Do List just grew yet again.

If you are in any way responsible for the all of the above HR areas, then your EVERY day is a day like that. And you are an HR Department of One (HRDEPT1).

As an HRDEPT1, you are unique. You're not quite an HR specialist - the company expert in a specific area of HR. It's likely that you function more as an HR generalist – someone who has a strong foundation of knowledge about all the functional areas of HR but is not necessarily an expert in any one area of HR. Nevertheless, the buck stops with you with regard to all HR issues.

You might have formal training in HR but it's not uncommon that your background is entirely different and you landed in your role as an HR Department of One because of a connection, out of necessity or perhaps the skills you possess. On the day that your boss asked, "Can someone take over ...?" you were the only one who said, "Yes." Does this sound like you?

As an HRDEPT1, you are often in a category of your own at your company and even out in the world of HR. You are a juggler, connector, counselor, coach, technician, communicator, host, networker, diplomat, performer, teacher, detailer, problem solver, coordinator, manager, director, VP, and assistant all rolled into one.

Your role is diverse, challenging, and unpredictable. One day is never the same as the next and you get to do so many things that boredom is never an issue you face. That said, your role can also feel overwhelming, intense, and lonely.

To successfully navigate the role you are in, whether it was by choice or by accident, you need some unique "survival" skills. Three of the roles mentioned above that you play daily hold the key to your survival and successful execution of your job as an HRDEPT1. They are:

1) Networker
2) Juggler
3) Problem Solver

As a networker, you have the opportunity to connect yourself to resources both technical and human, out in the world, that when fully utilized, will provide you support and encouragement. How do you build this network of support?

As a juggler, you have the ability to manage your daily activities with an objective sense of urgency. How do you strengthen your juggler muscles without losing your mind?

As a problem solver, you are adept at honing in on issues and coming up with effective solutions to issues that arise for your company. How do you parlay this skill into a tool that you can use to effectively manage the often overwhelming work load you face every day?

Ah. You won’t be surprised when I say that someone's at my door with a question. It’s time to get back to my HRDEPT1. But this discussion is not over – in fact it’s just beginning. Look for my post coming out on in the next few weeks about the life-saving opportunities in building a network of support.

Until then, challenge yourself to look at each busy day ahead as an opportunity rather than a problem. And remember to breathe!

Talk to you soon.

(This post first appeared on 1/19/15 at