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Who is HR’s HR? How to Address Problems as a Department of One

5 Mins read

As the future of work continues to evolve, employers and HR leaders are seeing a steady increase in the importance of how we treat the people who make up our organizations.

We have seen an emphasis like never before on employees’ mental health, how to survive The Great Resignation, and figuring out how to juggle a remote team. Naturally, the future of work highlights the wellbeing of the wider team, the company as a whole, even.

Unfortunately, the people we might forget to ask about are our HR leaders themselves. Where do they turn when they are the ones facing an internal conflict? What happens when the HR person themself needs to speak to someone? Who can they expect to be there for them when they encounter a bump in the road? Below are a few solutions that I recommend implementing if you find yourself in one of these situations.

Define the organizational structure

Many sources say HR should report to the CEO, others say they should report to the head of finance. In reality, we can assume there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to finding a manager for the people manager. In reality, even if you do find the perfect person to manage the HR manager– there is no guarantee this person will be capable of addressing the HR manager’s concern.

Like any other employee, the person running the people operations behind a business should have their own basis for workplace conflict solutions. However, it becomes more complicated when they are the ones experiencing a problem internally. And especially for HR managers working in small businesses, there may not be someone they can turn to since the next person on the hierarchy is the owner or another decision maker who could be part of the problem.

When an HR director is having an organizational conflict involving themself, they need to know when to outsource the problem, when to approach their boss, the business owner, and when it’s just time for them to quit.

Solution 1: Take it to an outside HR resource

The most glaringly obvious truth about this problem, is that there simply might not be an appropriate internal person to bring the problem to.

The issue that many small business HR people face is that they are a department of one. A company with more than one HR professional onboard could easily have the people operations team simply report to each other. With only one person on the HR roster, as is the case with most smaller and even midsize organizations, it can get sticky if there is only one person on the roster.

Something we have seen become more and more common for business managers is the hiring of an outside party to work in tandem with their company as the HR department. Most of these service providers cater to companies as a whole, with easy-to-use software containing all the resources an HR team might need, in one central location to manage people operations. In fact, research from Deloitte in 2019 shows that only 12% of HR leaders have access to a strong outsourcing technology.

In some cases, a full service people operations package might not be needed. But it’s important to note that many of these companies offer external HR professionals to service individuals at companies all over the world. If the one-man HR team does not feel comfortable going to someone on the internal team with a conflict, it could potentially be necessary to have outside assistance in case it is ever needed.

And then if that doesn’t suffice, take it to the legal team

Another option for businesses that have access to it, would be to take the problem to an outsourced legal team. If your company does not have the need for a full in-house legal team, outsourced legal advisors can be a great alternative. These experts are helpful to have on hand to provide speedy expertise only when you need it, and saves your company from paying out another salary for someone internal. Sometimes all it takes is an outside perspective and someone without bias who can share their insights and help you come up with a solution. When you are in the middle of a complicated and difficult issue, it can be hard to visualize what the next steps are and who you can trust with that sensitive information. HR experts need to know about regulations in order to be in compliance with employment laws, but legal professionals can also provide their insights from their point of view. Asking for advice can come in many forms and a legal expert can be an option.

Solution 2: Take it to the business owner

One solution that might feel like a no-brainer would be to take the problem to the top of the food chain– to the business owner.

It’s common for companies to have their head of HR report to the CEO. According to a study by XpertHR, 61% of companies surveyed use this managerial structure, with 13% reporting to the head of finance. Having this type of managerial structure makes a powerful statement to the employees of the organization, and ensures that the wider team’s internal conflicts are handled straightaway, by someone who understands the potential risks firsthand.

In a perfect world, this solution would immediately eliminate the conflict. However, as we all know by now, even our bosses don’t have all the answers. And even if they do, it might not be the answer we want, or need to hear in tough times.

Solution 3:  Take yourself to a new company

People managers tend to be very solution-motivated workers. After all, if they are in charge of handling all of the company’s problems, why wouldn’t they be able to figure out an issue they are experiencing themselves?

In their position they often develop unique relationships with their team members, causing them to feel a personal obligation to solving problems within the company. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t always out there. According to a LinkedIn study, the HR department sees higher turnover than any others at 14%.

There might come a time when the HR manager has to accept that their problem is not going to be solved, and it’s time to take their talents elsewhere. Of course, this should be a last case scenario if the other solutions are not able to be implemented.

It is important for employers to take a step back and put themselves in the HR director’s shoes. Above all else, business owners as head of the organization, should make sure the HR managers know who they can count on when they are experiencing a problem in the workplace.

Ideally, there should already be a process in place for conflicts our people managers experience. If you are on the HR team and aren’t aware of the process, ask for clarification; emphasize the importance of giving everyone on the team, including yourself, support from the company. No one should be exempt from feeling like their voices are being heard, and especially not the person amplifying everyone else’s voices.

Lora Patterson is the Senior HR Advisor at TriNetZenefits.

Human resources stock image by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

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