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[2012; R-2013 | Keywords: Human Resources, Management, Personnel, Employee Skillset]

Human Resources (n.) People, especially the personnel employed by a given company, institution, or the like.

Who coordinates employee benefits at your business? Do you have an employee handbook? How about job descriptions and performance evaluations? Who makes sure your business is legally compliant for things like the Family Medical Leave Act? How do you manage human resources at your business?

If you don’t have someone managing human resources at your business, it’s time to seriously consider hiring someone. “I think the human resources function is probably more necessary today than it has ever been before, because you not only need to have someone who can manage benefits, but keep up with ever-changing legislation as well,” stated Lesley Sifers of Tax Favored Benefits, Inc. “At times it can seem overwhelming and almost impossible to keep up with.”

She added, “You are missing the point if you don’t have someone in place, especially if you are looking to expand in the future. You really need to get someone in place in order to keep up with everything going on.”

Skills & Characteristics

You’ve decided to go ahead and hire someone to manage human resources. What skills and characteristics should the individual possess?

First and foremost, Sifers feels that HR personnel must have a strong business sense. “Many look at human resources as a ‘helping’ profession, similar to nursing,” explained Sifers. “However, it’s not that. Human resources is about helping a business be successful, helping a business get the right people, and helping a business create an environment where people want to come to work because it’s well run and satisfying.”

She added, “In order for your HR function to operate efficiently, you must have basic policies and procedures in place. An HR professional should be able to establish that foundation before moving on to other areas like training programs and employee development activities.”

In addition to a strong business sense, the HR person must be organized and demonstrate the ability to multi-task. On any given day, he/she may deal with a benefit claim one minute, an employee’s personal issue next, followed by a question on a legal matter after that. The individual must possess strong time management skills and the ability to juggle a variety of responsibilities.

The HR person also must remain level-headed. “It’s important to have someone in place who can think things through without relying on their emotions,” said Sifers. “They need to be able to look at a situation rationally and not get emotional. A good example is discharging an employee. It’s a difficult thing to have to do and emotions cannot be allowed to affect decisions or actions.”

Sifers sorts out emotional people from rational people during the interview process by listening carefully to their responses. “People who make decisions based on emotion will often use ‘I feel’ to describe their idea or thought,” she explained. “Whereas the person who makes decisions based on other factors will generally say, ‘I think.’”

The ability to balance the needs of both employees and management is another important skill required of HR personnel. Sometimes they must make a decision to protect an individual and then must justify to management that it is also the right decision for the business. While employees expect HR to advocate for their concerns, HR also must enforce company policies, often requiring a delicate balancing act.

“When an HR person is a genuine professional, they understand that, of all the people in the management group, the HR person is the one who absolutely cannot have friends at work,” stressed Sifers. “While they can be friendly, developing social relationships with co-workers is not appropriate for an HR person.” When interviewing for an HR manager, Sifers recommends getting them to discuss their hobbies and interests outside of work to get an idea of their social life. If they have an active social life outside of work, it is less likely that they will feel isolated in an HR position.

Areas of Responsibility

Question: What areas should human resources personnel oversee? Employee benefits? Hiring and firing? Handbooks and job descriptions? Performance evaluations? Legal compliance?

Answer: All of the above and more.

“One of the biggest issues I see at dealerships is handing off HR responsibilities to an accounting person,” expressed Sifers. “While health plan administration and filling out forms tend to be clerical jobs, there are so many ins and outs to be aware of in human resources, especially when dealerships reach 100 employees and/or have multiple locations. It is important to have someone in place who understands all aspects of human resources.”

Sifers added, “At the same time, do not throw all human resources responsibilities at one person.” She recommends hiring an HR manager and assigning an individual to serve as an HR assistant to handle the daily administration tasks so the HR manager is free to stay on top of rules and regulations such as HIPPA and FMLA. “Benefits have become such a big issue, it’s nearly impossible for one person to handle the administration of benefits and all of the other areas of human resources.

One tool Sifers feels is most underused by businesses is job descriptions. “It is important to have accurate job descriptions for use in recruiting and hiring, as well as performance evaluations. A good human resources person will be able to put that into place.”

Another important HR tool is the employee handbook. “A strong HR person will not only be able to develop a good handbook with the tools available today, but get management together to review and discuss the handbook, since they will be the ones implementing the policies and procedures,” explained Sifers. “It’s important for the HR person to have a place at the management table.”

She added, “An experienced HR person will have the know-how to get themselves into a position where they actually make a good, real contribution to the business. This can only be accomplished by earning respect as a business person with HR expertise.”

Legal compliance is another key area of responsibility for HR personnel. They must stay on top of changing legislation to make sure the business is in compliance. This includes communicating policies to management and having the proper paperwork in place.

HR personnel should also be involved in the process of hiring and firing, “This should never be left up to a manager to do,” added Sifers. “You need to keep things legal and fair where everyone is treated the same.” An HR person makes sure the proper documentation is in place and that everyone gets a fair hearing and knows where they stand.

“Most importantly, the HR person cannot be an expert in everything,” emphasized Sifers. “However, they do need to be an expert at recognizing when they need to seek outside advice.”

Training

How does a good HR manager stay on top of the latest rules and regulations, while balancing the needs of the employees and business? Sifers recommends contacting local Human Resources Management Societies for networking and training opportunities. “Find local seminars to attend about federal and state employment law,” stated Sifers. “You can get a lot of information from a 1-2 day seminar and it’s very helpful to meet people who are not only from the same state, but the same field as well.” She also recommends subscribing to human resources newsletters and conducting online research.

Locating an Experienced Professional

How do you go about finding an experienced, rational HR person? Sifers recommends going to a headhunter. “The person you are looking for is more than likely working somewhere,” stated Sifers. “If they are good, they have got a job.”

Sifers concluded, “In order for a business to maintain a successful operation, it must have good people working for them. A building with machines in it doesn’t produce anything. People produce things and helping people succeed on the job requires the human resource element to be in place.”