Open diary of an HR practitioner for 20 employees

By Posted August 3rd, 2015

Open diary of an HR practitioner for 20 employees

spinifexIT-1When I worked for larger multinational companies, I always thought being an HR professional for fewer than 20 employees would be a walk in the park. There have been days that it is like I imagined, but in my first days, weeks and months, I have adjusted in a way I have not done before. And the experience has taught me a couple of new things I would not have learned in a big company with hundreds of employees.

In the books, (at least the ones I have last read) the correct ratio of HR to employees is 1:60. When I joined SpinifexIT Philippines, the ratio was 1:10.

In my first weeks, I was confronted to two daunting questions as an HR Practitioner:

1. When is too much and when is it a little less than enough?

I “grew up” in an HR space where everything should be documented. For example, I release a paper and you sign the receipt. Every single document – any little stuff that goes out of the HR door – should be documented. How do I do that when I don’t even have an “HR Room” (which I don’t mind – just so I am clear)? I remember doing an HR induction for 2 new hires and I was debating with myself whether I should ask them to sign a receiving form for two gel pens that I have issued. In my HR Admin heart I knew I had to do it. But then I asked myself, am I overdoing it?

SpinifexIT Philippines is very particular on Employee Welfare which includes providing free goodies for employees like fruits, coffee and other pantry supplies. In my first weeks, I went bananas (pardon the pun) over the budget that was provided to us. I bought lots of fruits of different kinds. I was thrilled with the idea that they were given for free. First to go on the first day were the bananas, next day still bananas. The week was about to close but the apples, kiwis, grapes that I bought were left untouched in the fridge. Then I asked myself, did I over do it again?

As a company, we love to keep a certain degree of flexibility for employees. We strive to follow the Trust Principle. We try to keep core working hours but what matters more is the output an employee is able to produce at the end of the day. I have to admit that being molded in a somewhat traditional HR way, I thought that this is a very risky route to take. It is a good selling point for employees but the somewhat traditional HR in me would always be cautious in watching for red flags or when the “maximum flexibility level” line has been crossed. And, just like in any other companies, the guys (including myself here) will be oblivious to the fact that the line has been crossed. So as HR, do I raise an issue? Do I impose what’s written in the handbook (do we even have that in the handbook)? Do I ask the manager to do coaching? Or am I overdoing it again?

2. Is it my job to provide or is my job to teach?

As I mentioned earlier, I have worked for large companies where it was not humanly possible to interact with every employee or to always provide what each individual needed. At a recent employer, I’d be lucky to get a hello from employees in the elevator. We had a system there employees sent an email to HR and I responded. Issue closed. They probably knew me by name but not by face and I bet they couldn’t care less. Most of the time, I guided them how to find an answer from their manager, from the HR tool or from other avenues. And in some ways, it worked perfectly well for me. I had to be that HR in the HR room who is able to get things done with less drama and sadly less warm interaction. Do I miss the face-to-face interactions? Yes! But then again, I thought what matters is I am able to do my job well.

Can I do that in a company with less than 20 employees? No. But then again, the revolutionary HR person in me would also want the employees to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Do I baby them? No. But I don’t want to be the cold transactional HR that they need. So where do I hit the balance?

Technically, I only have to support 3-4 managers. And in an ideal HR world, they should do the people management and I manage and guide them while they do so. But in a relatively small and stable organization, managers appreciate if HR is involved in the people management instead of just being the referee. They might even wonder why I am here if I will not support them in the micro level.

In my first weeks, the debate in my head went on. I had to take a step back and think in the perspective of the employees who were so excited to have an HR person but may be as clueless as I am on how I am able to contribute in such a small team.

Almost a year in this role, I have somehow found my way through these 2 questions and other sub questions that spirals around my day-to-day activities.

I have learned that in a small organization, trust and communication are two very important things that shouldn’t be missed. In a larger group, these may be concealed or these may take a different form, but when you come to the office, you greet everyone with “Good Morning” or when all of you can eat at one time during lunch break, these two things will always be glaring.

When do you say too much or less than enough? I say before actually attempting to answer this question, one should take time to speak to the people. When you handle this small group, it’s not bad to ask what they need and see if it’s valid and find a way to meet at midpoint.

My receiving copies – I still keep track of them but when it’s HR document I make sure they receive them. Or we safe keep it in a common drive.

The fruits – I could have saved some money if I only asked them and I could have maximized my budget if I got what they really wanted.

For attendance, the same principle applies. If the maximum flexibility level has been reached ask them, talk to them. I realized I need not complicate it. I simply had to communicate. These are mature individuals and a piece of paper is not always what they need.

Do I always provide? Only if there’s no other way. I just need to ensure they can easily view my references and self-aid files. Our company size is not an excuse for employees not to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Again I am dealing with smart and mature individuals. No need to overthink.

So what’s the difference between being an HR of a small and big group?

I’d say that it’s almost the same but everything you do is magnified a thousand times more. What makes it easy is you can always tap the guys and discuss things and get a task done in no time.

And no overthinking. The basic should do. With a bit of HR warmth and a flexible process or policy as a backup, I should be ok.

Plus, it’s always fun to be surrounded with these weirdos. I actually miss them on weekends and holidays, that should mean we are doing something right. Right? 

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