Top 5 Priorities for the HR Department of One

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CHICAGO—The HR department is responsible for so much more than just hiring and firing, and the solo HR practitioner is often pulled in so many directions that it's hard to keep up with changing priorities in the profession, said Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, president of OnCore Management Solutions in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Prior to the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition, she polled small-business HR professionals to identify the top issues they're facing in 2018. Here's what they said.

1. Employee Engagement

Employee engagement was the No. 1 issue identified by the HR professionals that were polled. "It is a challenge to engage employees across multiple generations and retain high performers to keep them motivated," one survey respondent said.

Employee turnover is at its lowest point in years, so companies are focused on ways to keep workers interested, Currence noted.

"Employee engagement never stops," she added, noting that businesses need to find ways to retain high-performing workers and create an energized workforce.

The top reason workers leave a job is because they are unhappy with their manager, according to a Gallup poll. That's a good reason for employers to invest in training managers on providing feedback, encouraging employees and becoming good leaders, Currence said.

HR can also add value to employees' jobs by offering learning opportunities, asking employees for their feedback, and giving frequent and personalized recognition.

2. Talent Acquisition

The low unemployment rate has made talent acquisition a top focus for 2018. Think about how you're bringing people into the organization, Currence said to attendees, noting that employers are increasingly recruiting through social media.

Employer branding is essential. HR professionals should ask themselves what value the business adds for employees. Perhaps an employer offers career development opportunities, employee discounts or pay-for-performance incentives. These perks can be used to attract job candidates.

3. Effective Leadership

Leadership and navigation involve the ability to direct and contribute to initiatives within the organization. This is about being more strategic, Currence said. "A lot of times when we are an HR department of one, we feel stuck doing all the tactical stuff instead of being on the strategy side."

A great place to start adding strategic value to the organization is through business acumen, she noted. For example, HR professionals can learn about the company's financial statements and how operating expenses like labor, training and benefits cost affect the bottom line. Understanding how the business makes money and how other departments in the organization operate can be very beneficial, too, she said.

4. Communication

Mallory Griffith, a conference attendee from West Des Moines, Iowa, is new to HR. She has been in other management roles, but HR is unique. She's hoping to pick up some tips at Annual Conference on how to effectively communicate with employees and establish trust with them.

She's not alone. Currence said effective communication was the fourth priority for the small-business HR professionals she polled.

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Leaders need to be as transparent as possible, she said. "If you don't tell people what's going on, they are going to make up stuff." She noted that HR professionals need to keep some things confidential but that they should share what they can.  They should also engage in active listening when employees are voicing their concerns.

When communicating with executives, it's a good idea to use data and facts to support a position. For example, if an HR professional wants to offer new benefits, explain why. Are job candidates asking for them? Are competitors offing similar perks?   

5. Relationship Management

Sixty-five percent of respondents to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management survey said that respectful treatment of all employees at all levels of the organization is very important for job satisfaction.

Asking employees for their feedback is a good way to manage relationships, Currence said. Employers may want to conduct entry, stay and exit interviews to see how employees are feeling at all stages of the employment relationship. Employers can also conduct surveys and polls, host focus groups, and create committees.

However, if employers are going to ask for feedback, they must be prepared to do something with that information, she noted. HR professionals should encourage workers to offer solutions to workplace issues. They can say, "Let's talk about it and fix it together."

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