Five Best Practices to Succeed as an HR Department of One

Are you the sole human resources person for your organization? If so, you’re not alone—you might be at work, but you’re certainly not in the world of HR.

If you are or have been an HR department of one, you already know the enormous opportunity and responsibility of the job. You must be a strategic partner, learning and development leader, hiring manager, benefits manager, legal and compliance lead, and conflict diffuser, all in one. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or week to make it all happen.

Moreover, it can be lonely when you are the HR department. HR is by its very nature a team sport, which makes finding colleagues in the field beyond your company essential to thriving in this role.

What’s an HR Department of One?

An HR Department of One is exactly what it sounds like: a solo practitioner handling the human resources function for a company.

While it sounds lonely, solo HR professionals can find strength in numbers. There are thousands of small companies and organizations throughout the United States that rely on a single HR employee. In fact, according to SHRM, 10% of its 275,000 members nationwide work in companies with fewer than 100 employees—and many of these nearly 3,000 HR professionals are the only HR presence in their firm. Consider also that, according to the US Census Bureau, small businesses with 500 employees or fewer account for 55% of all jobs nationwide—and you can see how HR Departments of One might be more common than you think.

Challenges of an HR Department of One

Being a solo HR practitioner comes with great opportunities, like being able to define the role, work closely with leadership, and develop skills as a well-rounded generalist. But HR professionals who accept or are considering a role as an HR Department of One should know that the role comes with challenges. These include resource limits, work volume, a sense of isolation, and perhaps even the added responsibility of having to prove your worth. 

Every business is different, and so is every HR professional. There are a few best practices, though, to follow if you’re an HR Department of One. Here are five we recommend as key.

#1: Establish and document policies. 

You’re the head of HR, and your firm is looking to you to establish, document, and follow policies that create consistency for everyone. This includes:

  • Developing policies and procedures for quality hiring that keep your organization in compliance with federal, state, and local laws
  • Creating, reviewing, communicating, and following workplace policies and/or an employee handbook
  • Ensuring your organization’s workplace practices conform to Equal Employment Opportunity standards
  • Auditing compensation standards
  • Managing performance and reviews across the organization
  • Handling benefits, including communicating packages and annual updates

Accurate, thorough documentation and adherence to established processes will go a long way toward protecting your organization and its staff.

#2: Demonstrate the value of HR.

It’s not enough to just do the job well—as a solo practitioner, you also must be prepared to prove your worth. Doing so is easier when you can make a direct connection between the value of HR and the impact on the bottom line. Managing your budget with an eye to recruitment costs is a start. Understanding the direct and indirect costs of turnover can help, too, especially when you consider how staff departures or hiring timelines can affect business productivity.

It’s also important to stay current on how HR is increasingly considered a strategic partner. People are a company’s greatest asset across every industry and being able to draw a link between HR and business success will make you more prepared for any conversation about value.

#3: Partner with vendors.

Vendors can be a terrific resource for solo HR practitioners, so it’s important to develop and manage solid working relationships. Know the details of what services your vendors offer, as well as the terms of any contracts. Once a year, sit down with your vendors to review contracts and learn what extra value partners could provide. Some solo HR practitioners also prepare a request for proposal every three years to compare vendors against the competition and better understand where they could realize cost savings.

Vendors can also be a source of expertise if you’re looking for tools or evaluating software options. Consider reaching out to your payroll vendor or benefits broker to learn more as part of your research if you’re in-market for a solution or tool. 

#4: Use online resources and forums.

Even solo HR experts run into situations they need advice on from time to time. This is where online resources and forums can provide connections to colleagues outside your four walls. Associations like DallasHR and social platforms like LinkedIn can make staying connected easier than ever and help you monitor emerging trends and changes in best practices. 

#5: Build your professional network.

Being an HR Department of One can be isolating. Networking, attending events and conferences like HRSWC, and finding colleagues throughout the industry is essential to countering the professional loneliness you might feel. Building your network can also help you prepare for transition into a new role or open avenues to joining a larger HR department. Or, if your organization grows and it’s time to become an HR Department of Two, your network can lead you to the ideal candidate to join your growing team.

If you’re an HR Department of One, you’re not alone. Join DallasHR or attend The HRSouthwest Conference in 2022 to find new colleagues to connect with—and discuss the challenges of being a solo practitioner.

DallasHR is the third largest SHRM affiliate chapter in the nation. With more than 2,000 engaged HR professionals, the Chapter has been Advancing the Value of HR since 1939 through cutting-edge education, fun networking events and opportunities to share best practices with others in the field of HR. The Chapter powers The HRSouthwest Conference, one of the largest regional HR events in the U.S. Visit us at to join or to register and follow us at #DALLASHR, #HRSWC.