Invest in human resources to empower your company’s greatest assets — its people

Photography courtesy of Merri Mai Williamson / Merri Mai Williamson
Photography courtesy of Merri Mai Williamson / Merri Mai Williamson

Fourteen years ago in October, the effects of the Great Recession were evident in businesses, large and small. Fifteen million people found themselves without a paycheck, and unemployment had crested at 10%.

You would think, with so much employee concern, that Human Resource (HR) departments would have remained fully staffed, to assist current and departing employees with the many changes. But that was not the reality.

Prior to the Great Recession, the "rule of thumb" was to have one HR professional for every 100 employees. However, HR positions were also culled during the Great Recession; and the new normal became one HR staffer for every 200 employees.

For medium-to-large companies, this meant twice the work for an already-stretched-thin HR department. For small companies, it was just "business as usual" for the solo practitioner.

All that might not seem too cumbersome for a one-person department, right? Fewer employees means less work, right?

Don't answer too fast. With many different HR functional categories and a multitude of separate tasks, a solo practitioner has "more to do than they can say grace over," as one of my early mentors used to say.

There is the recruitment of new employees. Compensation and benefits, to appropriately reward and compete with other businesses. Benchmarking behavioral competencies of current employees, to better predict the best candidate for a position. Establishing effective and efficient training programs. Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. Incorporating technologies to automate processes. Balancing the organization's needs while building positive employee relationships. That is a "day in the life" of an HR department of one.

In 1991, this was me: a department of one, working for a company with approximately 160 employees. Another coworker retained the tasks of compensation and benefits, and I assumed responsibility for all other duties. Starting somewhat from scratch, I was given the opportunity to install processes and expand offerings to employees. However, I also had obstacles to overcome.

I share this because HR staffers always have obstacles to overcome. The most obvious is having money in the budget to handle some of the most basic of tasks, not to mention instituting higher levels of offerings. A simple example is having no funding for recruitment, which means you are using free job postings that may or may not reach the target audience, which then leads to delays in filling positions.

Despite being responsible for an organization's most valuable asset, its employees, HR has historically been perceived as a non-revenue-generating department. This flawed perspective has led executives and business owners to be hesitant in adequately funding HR activities, to their own detriment.

This is but one example of the kinds of obstacles HR has to navigate. And the smaller the business, the bigger this obstacles tend to be.

So, I'm posing a couple questions: If we agree that people are our most precious asset -- that we cannot be successful without the right people by our side – then why not invest in the department that can make the biggest impact on our success? We have already whittled our HR department to half of what it was before the Great Recession, so are we going to further cripple its effectiveness by reducing its resources?

To me, the answers are simple. When it comes to HR, businesses cannot afford to skimp and cut corners.

Equipping your HR staff to manage your most valuable asset begins with proper training. Additionally, ensuring they receive the necessary support is crucial.

I also recommend having them join associations like Southeast TN SHRM, which offer abundant resources and networking opportunities. As a friend once said, "I don't have to know everything; I just need to know someone who does." And I can assure you, you'll find that "someone" within Southeast TN SHRM.

Even if you believe you are properly supporting your HR department or solo practitioner, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper and explore ways you can strengthen your HR offerings.

Merri Mai Williamson is a 30-year veteran in human resources, holds two national certifications at the highest level and is the founder of two Chattanooga businesses: Application Researchers and HR Master Consultants. She is a past president of Southeast TN SHRM ( and has been a member for more than 20 years.

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