The Disadvantages of Devolving HR Function to Line Managers
While line supervisors know their end of the operation, many companies obtain better results by assigning personnel matters to a human resources, or HR, employee or department. HR departments often recruit, interview and hire new workers and manage employee payroll and benefits. It's tempting with a small company to devolve HR functions to line management, but handing personnel work off to a supervisor can burden her with too much extra work outside her area of expertise.
HR departments interview prospective employees and handle their paperwork as part of their jobs. They know the paperwork and can better explain benefit packages and vacation policies to workers. They also must know some labor and employment law. Their knowledge frees the line supervisor to run his department without much peripheral work. A line supervisor may not be able to answer questions about health insurance or 401(k) packages, while HR deals with those matters every day. Human resources also takes care of most employee record keeping and payroll and has a better handle on tax deductions for which the worker is eligible.
With a HR department in charge of hiring, the company can expect to hire the type of worker it wants. The department vets applicants, checks references and administers tests to determine whether the worker meets qualifications. The department may ask line supervisors to assist in interviewing so HR can get feedback from the person who will be the applicant's direct boss. The orientation of these new employees is best handled by human resources, particularly when it comes to explaining company policies. A line supervisor may have too narrow a view of company operations to handle much of what's covered in orientation.
Line supervisors work in the thick of the action, so they're not the best people to handle personnel matters. A line supervisor's closeness to the situation may affect her ability to suspend or fire a worker. HR provides a buffer or distance between the supervisor and a troublesome worker. This impartiality shortstops many attempts by a below-average worker to get on his supervisor's good side to save his job. HR often offers another step in a company's chain of command; if an employee has a problem with a supervisor that is not resolved on the spot, the department can take up the matter.
HR employees know what's involved in maintaining a workplace free of unlawful discrimination and hostility, where a line manager might be more concerned with productivity and other pressures. Because of their specialized training, human resources employees know how to discipline or terminate a worker without exposing the company to litigation. An HR department investigates why a worker should be fired or suspended and often presents the company's case to the state unemployment office.