The HR Hat Dance

by Theresa J. Allen

I wear lots of hats” – Sound familiar? I feel certain I hear this at least once a week from either a client or a prospect who manages human resources. After listening to their list of many, many, many job responsibilities, I realize this is no exaggeration. This person is trying to fill more roles (in this case wear more hats) than is realistically possible.

My company offers numerous human resource tools to our clients. Partnering them with the resources which best fit their needs is vital. In doing so, I need to know all I can about their daily tasks. So, I go through a checklist of questions. Naturally, their hand goes go up when I ask “Who handles your company’s day-to-day HR responsibilities?”, “What about payroll?”, and “Recruiting and onboarding?” These are the given responsibilities of the HR Department. But, I begin to get concerned when their hand continues to rise when I ask “What about special projects or wellness?”, “Workers Comp?”, or “OSHA?” At that point, through an almost embarrassed smile, they utter the line that I so often hear, “I wear lots of hats.”

There are some valid reasons for this sad, yet very common, situation. At the top of the list – inadequate staffing. When a company does not have the appropriate staff to handle the responsibilities of the personnel department, without them also handling something like loss control, those duties, perhaps through osmosis, are ultimately assigned to a lone unfortunate employee. Another common reason could be that the employer simply underappreciates the critical concept of human resources. They have limited understanding of HR, regardless of how much recognition and respect the widely popular SHRM organization brings to the field. Maybe management downplays the importance of human resources because of ROI…they believe you cannot quantify the value of the department. Regardless of the reason, they find themselves in this situation and the HR hat dance begins.

Is doing more with less really a big deal? It depends on who you ask. On a regular basis, I have conversations with those, let’s call them, “hat dance employees.” Some have little or no previous experience in the HR arena, whereas, some are well-established and certified. Though their backgrounds may differ, their work situations are all too similar. The common ground is their respect for and commitment to their employers and also an inherent work ethic which can be deceiving – tricking them into believing they can, as a one-man HR shop, perform a well-choreographed synchronized HR hat dance day after day. They find themselves handling an insurmountable number of duties and their time management keeps them from doing any of them well. It is a paradox – something as simple as prioritization leads to indecision which leads to frustration. They begin to struggle with self-worth and job dissatisfaction creeps in, which could ultimately lead to morale issues.

If the employer continues to ignore the situation, eventually employee allegiance can morph into burnout. Forward-thinking employers will not let that level of employee dedication get out the door. Reality check: Overworking employees is counterproductive.

Yet from the employer perspective, doing more with less could be out of necessity. Small businesses may have to rely on all their staff members to wear many hats – not just the HR department. Businesses, regardless of size, may be forced at times to downsize during an economic slump or during their own industry’s predictable slow season. Regardless of why, if an employer makes a decision to overlap HR duties, they should be prepared to face some consequences that could put their company in jeopardy. Other departments and other jobs may suffer (perhaps accounting is overlapped); important tasks that may be overlooked or not handled timely or accurately (annual reviews come to mind); and the ever important aspect of compliance (remember IRS reporting?). Noncompliance exposure can be costly especially where the government is concerned.

Harvey MacKay is a syndicated columnist who offers career and inspiration advice, and is the author of three number one bestselling books. He once said, “Employee loyalty begins with employer loyalty.” Mr. MacKay’s advice is vital for a company in understanding the importance of the human resources department, regardless of whether the department employs six or sixteen people.

If your company finds itself having to make hard decisions that require scaling back and doubling HR workloads, give the double-duty employee reassurance. Let them know that you recognize the challenges of wearing many hats and you realize and appreciate that they make extremely important decisions on a daily basis. Be certain to keep the lines of communication open. Be open-minded. Trust their instincts, especially when they inform you that it is crunch time – time to hire an assistant or time the company takes drastic steps to create a more sophisticated HR department. By doing so, chances are good your company will retain a hardworking, enthusiastic, devoted employee.

Theresa J. Allen Coordinator, Client Resource Team Regions Insurance

Theresa J. Allen
Coordinator, Client Resource Team
Regions Insurance