The exact duties of an HR generalist are different at every company. Small start-ups might have generalists working alone to handle every HR — and many finance, management, and operations — duty in the company. Fortune 500 companies might assign generalists to one or two specific job duties for their entire career. In general, here are some of the functions every generalist will perform at some point in their career.
One of the most enjoyable elements of HR work is helping employees thrive. A generalist with a passion for wellness or nutrition might end up administering an employee wellness program. This could involve coordinating EAP benefits, promoting healthy workspaces or bringing in live musical performances. It can also involve streamlining HR procedures to minimize employee headaches. A strong HR department can make a strong case for the business benefits of increasing employee wellness efforts: Happier employees are more productive and less likely to resign, leading to greater output for the company.
Every business has a culture. Onboarding is teaching new employees how to adapt to the culture. Human Resources workers need to explain dress codes, time off policies, smoking policies, internet usage policies and many more. This is a crucial first experience with an organization and can determine how employees view a business for the rest of their tenure at the company. HR staff must balance a firm stance on policy adherence with a welcoming attitude. Typically, multiple generalists will walk new employees through orientation sessions so that no single presenter gets overwhelmed by the work. Large companies might have onboarding sessions once a month; smaller organizations might offer individualized onboarding to every new employee. Either way, HR specialists will need to stay on their toes to answer any questions.
Remember the early episode of “The Office” when Dwight was put in charge of everyone’s healthcare and upset all of his coworkers? If nothing else, that episode shows the importance of HR generalists who understand the basics of discrimination law and organizational psychology. HR departments must select and administer benefits like health insurance, retirement funds and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Staff must weigh program costs and outcomes as well as employee retention. One constant task in HR departments in small businesses is running employee payroll to make sure everyone is paid on time. In larger companies, this might be outsourced to the accounting department.
A key task for HR generalists is keeping businesses out of legal trouble. Sometimes, this means ensuring hiring practices aren’t discriminatory. Often, it involves addressing employee complaints. An employee might feel that they’ve been sexually harassed or a victim of illegal discrimination based on membership in one of the classes protected by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If these complaints aren’t handled to an employee’s satisfaction, the worker might lodge a formal complaint with an external government agency or even file a lawsuit. Some HR employees may discount individual employee complaints, but any generalist or specialist in HR should remember that a company’s success often depends on its employees’ happiness.
Specialization can help with some career paths. For an HR generalist, flexibility is key because every new company will require a new portfolio of job tasks.