According to former HR manager Ashley Dugger, "There is no typical day in HR management!" Ashley, the program chair for human resource management at Western Governors University, explained part of the excitement of working in HR is that "every day provides new challenges, new opportunities, and a lot of gray areas that give you the chance to grow in many ways."
An HR manager's schedule depends a lot on both the organization and the industry. Ashley starts most days by checking her email and other messages. "I like to get an idea of how I will need to organize my day," she said.
It's not uncommon to wear different hats as an HR professional. "I always build in buffer time on my calendar because you never know what will pop up during the day as a high priority," she said. "You always want time on your calendar to handle those exceptions so you don't fall behind on regular tasks."
For managers overseeing a team, mornings are for checking in with employees. For Ashley, that also includes connecting with any stakeholders she is supporting and monitoring projects that may require her help during the busy day.
HR's evolving role.
Over the last two decades, HR managers have been taking a more strategic partner role in organizations, requiring them to be more visible and engaged than in the past. "I love being involved with decision-making on a deeper level" she said. "It's important for your leaders and employees to see you are ready to help in whichever ways are necessary."
For Ashley, building a connection with stakeholders by creating trust and rapport is essential because she says it "makes it more likely they will seek your help when they need it."
All in a day's work.
So what tasks are in an HR manager's workday? Here are just a few of their many responsibilities.
HR professionals are leaders in promoting employee relations, as they create a workplace where healthy communication is the norm. By preventing and resolving problems between employees, it is possible to increase engagement and productivity. This can be more difficult in the modern workplace with its combination of full-timers, freelancers, and telecommuters.
Companies have been moving from annual reviews to more frequent and less formal feedback. Employees need clear goals and open communication for ongoing performance management, particularly with telecommuting and flexible work arrangements.
An HR manager's role in recruitment depends on the organization's size. For instance, large companies usually have one or more HR professionals to handle recruitment.
On the other hand, the HR manager of a small business may handle recruitment among many other tasks. Technology and social media have changed how recruitment is managed, so managers should know how to effectively leverage those tools.
Training and development are key functions of human resources. Successful programs increase productivity, reduce turnover, and create confident, skilled employees who can handle the changing needs in the workplace. In the past, training was facilitator-led with everyone in the same room. New technologies have made it possible to add individualized training where people can learn at their own pace.
At one time, health and retirement programs were the main benefits in the workplace. Now, employees seek flexible benefits and competitive perks such as wellness programs, telecommuting, and tuition assistance.
HR's daily challenges.
While HR professionals may enjoy managing the variety of HR functions in the workplace, it's not always easy. HR managers must define policies and procedures and understand the changing laws and regulations to provide for workers while protecting the organization against fines and penalties.
Ashley explained, "Staying current on compliance as things shift constantly in the regulatory landscape can be a challenge, so you need to seek support from your network. That means regularly reaching out to colleagues and utilizing support available from professional associations such as a local or national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) membership."
Because they give so much of themselves while supporting other employees, managers must be careful not to transfer difficult emotions into their own lives. "Take care of yourself!" Ashley stressed. "Give yourself some grace, take time to step away and recharge, and create a strong support system."
For Ashley, building trust with employees and seeing the impact on the workplace is one of the best parts of the job. "When you take the time to get to know employees individually, they see you as a partner and know you have their best interests at heart," she said. "Someone once told me that I completely changed the way they view HR. That was the best compliment I have ever received in a professional setting."