Should Your Office Manager Also Handle HR Duties?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 19, 2023

By AMA Staff

In a small business, an office manager may have to assume the role of human resources manager. But before that happens, make sure that the individual is properly educated and has the appropriate tools to perform his or her duties productively and within the bounds of legal rules and obligations. A thousand things can go wrong if this individual is not aware of the potential liabilities inherent in HR management. Here are some guidelines to help you work through this situation effectively:

  • Understand the role of the generalist. A generalist may manage various duties and therefore will need to have an extensive knowledge of human resources. In a small business, the responsibilities will vary depending on the company's needs. But a generalist must also know his or her limitations and know when to consult a specialist. One person cannot do everything.
  • Decide what duties can be outsourced. Some responsibilities may be better left to an outside consultant. An office manager who recruits new employees, for example, may not have time to implement a training program. Outsourcing the training function could save your company time and money, but first you'll need to decide exactly what type of training is necessary. On the other hand, the office manager may be perfectly capable of supervising the hiring and supervision of various workers. Be sure to check out HR Outsourcing Basics for more information.
  • Train the trainer. Knowing what you don't know is a critical part of anyone's job, particularly for an office manager who wholly or partially handles HR duties. Therefore, an office manager must be familiar with all facets of HR management. An introductory course in HR management may be desirable. Such a program would offer information covering recruitment and selection; employment law; compensation basics; benefits; orienting and training employees; and performance management. Until an office manager becomes familiar with these areas, he or she cannot be expected to know when to call in a specialist.
  • Prioritize. In a perfect world, your office manager could handle everything and keep the company running smoothly no matter what. Yet the role the office manager plays depends upon the complexity of the work environment, the types of product and services being offered, and the company's customer base. Prioritizing will help the office manager avoid neglecting critical duties and responsibilities. If staffing up is a priority, then that may be where the office manager must focus his or her time. On the other hand, if you're concentrating on implementing new technology, then that's where this individual must spend his or her time. That takes planning, so it's important to first map out how these tasks are going to be completed.
  • Be both consistent and flexible. Just because an individual is multitalented and can juggle a hundred (or more) duties at once doesn't mean that he or she can always perform miracles. It may seem that way. After all, that's why many successful office managers are practically indispensable. But they are human, too. Changing their job functions from one day to the next is confusing and irresponsible. Moreover, that can undermine a company's productivity. It's best to implement a policy that allows the office manager to conduct the HR duties on a regular basis yet maintain the flexibility necessary to accommodate changing business conditions. In other words, give the office manager the tools he or she needs to get the job done but provide the leeway needed to bring in experts whenever necessary.
  • Compensate accordingly. If your office manager is going to assume HR duties, then it's incumbent upon you to compensate appropriately. If the office manager was originally hired for one purpose and then has several HR duties added later, he or she should be rewarded. Piling on one responsibility after another, particularly if one is untrained to handle these duties, can be disastrous for a small company.

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