H / R: The Slash Function
We’ve all heard of the “slash career.” Most commonly associated with millennials, the term describes people who do many different jobs at once. These workers take an unconventional and multi-faceted career path, often performing seemingly unrelated roles at the same time, like “Engineer / Author” and “Graphic Designer / Blockchain Enthusiast.” Yet in HR, “slash” means something different. Have you ever noticed that the HR department is often combined with other departments? For example, many HR job descriptions will call for a head of “HR/Legal, HR/Finance, HR/Administration, HR/Marketing, and HR/Travel Services.” In my experience, it is rare to meet an HR professional who can adequately perform all of these functions.
Why can’t HR just be HR? Why do so many other functions often end up folded into or under the HR umbrella?
I don’t disagree that there is overlap between these different functional areas and HR. However, you rarely find other departments forced to split their time like HR. Perhaps there is a view that the real, value-add work of the Human Resources department is not enough to justify its own focused department. This may have been true back in the days when HR acted as a “personnel” function whose main priority was to ensure that employees were paid and benefits were administered. But these days, HR departments play a crucial role in every facet of a company, including organizational design, enabling effective leadership and facilitating the workplace of the future.
I also realize that at smaller companies, sometimes there is simply no choice. The work has to get done somehow and HR often acts as a catch-all. Let’s explore why many companies see the value in having their HR departments perform multiple functions and better ways to approach things going forward.
Almost all aspects of the employee lifecycle require some level of documentation – from hiring to firing, and from promotions to disciplinary actions. Employment contracts, termination letters and the like govern the legal relationship between employee and employer. HR is also tasked with ensuring that a company abides by the local labor laws and relevant ordinances. But for most organizations, the scope of “legal” is much broader, extending well beyond the HR remit. It requires expertise and advice on things as far ranging as legal entity set-up, transaction due diligence, and assessment of business opportunities.
Employee payroll is the most common overlap between HR and Finance. At smaller companies, the Finance team may perform this task because payroll forms a critical part of their budget and fixed costs. Yet, on the flip side, it wouldn’t make sense for an HR professional to be doing financial reporting or the yearly tax audit.
In many small companies, the task of office administration often falls to the HR department. This can include things like ordering office supplies, stocking the pantry, searching for new office space or organizing company social events. These are often mundane, low value-add tasks that may be better suited to an office receptionist or secretary.
Depending on the size and structure of the company, HR may also be responsible for marketing or social media. This is particularly true if the company’s core customers are candidates. I don’t know many HR professionals with expertise in designing timely and relevant marketing campaigns, writing press releases, and maximizing their employer’s social media presence. This type of work is best done by marketing experts.
Employee travel often falls under HR’s remit because HR is typically involved in setting the travel policy, weighing in on what gets reimbursed, and getting involved when infractions arise. The debate about who is responsible for processing travel expenses and who should be booking business travel arose in some shape or form at all of my previous employers.
Ultimately, you’ll get more bang for your buck if your Human Resources department is focused solely on HR and is not forced to divide their time on areas for which they are not trained or comfortable with. Here are some other options you can consider before you convert your HR department into a “slash” function.
There is a misconception that outsourcing services can be costly. But with the improvements in various SaaS options, there are a multitude of low-cost ways to outsource different functions. Even your administration can be outsourced if you are comfortable with a virtual assistant (such as Bauhinia Solutions) or an offshore solution.
With the surge in gig workers, it’s easier than ever to find expert, project or contract based resources. Large freelance platforms like UpWork and Fiverr have become trusted resources. Companies like Axiom can source your legal expert, and virtual agencies like Coleegs or Catalant can quickly build a team of project specialists for functions like marketing and PR.
Of course, you could always hire an employee who is a subject matter expert in legal, finance, administration, marketing or travel services. But hiring a full-time employee brings with it all of the associated costs and risks. If the responsibilities are currently being handled by an HR professional who is essentially double-hatting, you can consider employing a flexible resource. This could be on a part-time basis, a fixed contract or a monthly retainer. Fleximums is a good option (they work with anyone seeking flexible work). Be creative and don’t get stuck in the traditional model of a full-time employee or no one.
Decide what makes the most sense for your business. As a CEO or business owner, it may be time to rethink your HR function and decide if your current structure is sustainable. If you are an HR Head, the start of 2019 is a great time to reassess your team’s resources and capabilities and make changes accordingly. All of us work better when we can focus on our core capabilities and deliver the best service to our clients.
Need help reviewing the structure of your HR team and ensuring they are operating in the most efficient way? Call RC HR Consulting to see how we can help.
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Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.
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