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In September 2000, I published the following article in the HR Professional Magazine. The challenges still remain the same however the workplace has become more complicated for the sole practitioner: we now deal with workplace violence and harassment and mental health issues which have become more prevalent. Access to e-learning and the vast resources on the internet have made keeping current much easier. A note - HRPAO is now known as HRPA.



The typical Human Resources (HR) department likely has one person handling the payroll and benefits, someone else managing worker compensation claims, and yet another person dealing with labour relations. In a smaller organization, at the sole HR practitioner, you are most assuredly a generalist. On any given day, you might start by working on a compensation claim, then prepare a report for the management meeting, followed by dealing with a payroll issue and ending the day advising an employee about the Employee Assistance Program.

The HR issues that occur in a small organization, while smaller in scale, are the same as those in larger organizations. An absenteeism problem is still an absenteeism problem and contract negotiations for 50 are as time-consuming as negotiations for 500.

As the only HR person, you can be privy to many aspects of an employee's life and employment history. Sometimes you are the first person in the organization to know of a martial breakup, a serious illness, or other life-changing event. Very often you are the sounding board; the one person in the organization that the employee feels will take the time to listen.

For the one-person office to function properly, it is absolutely necessary to keep current with HR issues and trends as well as pertinent legislation. This can be a difficult task where there is a limited budge for training and development. For instance, conferences are an important way to keep current. Meeting other HR professionals, establishing a good relationship with those who work in an organization similar to yours can be crucial to your success - and it certainly makes the task a bit easier when you can learn from someone else's mistakes. For a small organization,however, the cost of sending staff to a conference can often be prohibitive.

So, what can the solo HR professional do to ensure that networking occurs? Technology has certainly made the solution simpler. With technology, you can access a large group of professionals without ever leaving the office! Make time to access the HRPAO web site daily. By monitoring the HRPAO Round Table, you can post questions to other practitioners and see what issues are of concern to other organizations. And, with the internet, you can access government agencies and other HR resource sites.

Knowing how to prioritize in the one person HR office is an essential skill. Procrastination is your worst enemy. With the number of tasks that can be done, it is all too easy to put off that performance appraisal or some other task you have been avoiding.

One of the challenges to being the only HR professional onsite is managing to leave your office for extended periods of time. No one replaces you when you are on vacation. Except for absolutely essential tasks, the work is left undone until your return. Taking a 'vacation' usually requires working extra hours before leaving and extra hours when you return - just to get caught up.

Is it stressful? Absolutely! Managing stress is as important to the job as keeping up with legislation. Needless to say, a good sense of humour goes a long way. The one-person HR department requires patience and the ability to handle a multitude of tasks at any given time. However, for all the challenges that go with being the entire HR department, the enormous job satisfaction makes it all worthwhile.