What Does an HR Generalist Do? Defining the Day-to-Day Duties

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If you’re interested in a human resources career you’ve probably spent a little time looking into common HR job titles and roles. After all, it never hurts to understand where a degree could potentially take you. You’ve seen plenty of job postings looking for specialized positions like recruiter or benefits analyst—but what does it mean to be an HR generalist? Is the definition of this role really as simple as it sounds? What would you potentially be responsible for?

A human resources generalist is often a key member of an organization and is relied upon to provide a broad base of knowledge and expertise while tackling multiple specialized duties. In this article we’ll take a closer look at what duties you may be responsible for in an HR generalist role and what it takes to succeed in this field—no matter where your HR career leads you! 

What is an HR generalist?

Most of us are familiar with human resources departments—they’re the administrative staff that help organizations bring on and retain talented workers. But what exactly is a human resource generalist? As the title indicates, an HR generalist works in many capacities covering a broad selection of HR duties.

Where an HR specialist focuses on a particular aspect of human resources such as recruiting, payroll or training, an HR generalist takes on the whole picture. An HR generalist may have a particular experience in one area of human resources, but they are competent in all of a human resource department’s functions. Because of this breadth of knowledge, they can be a valuable asset to an organization—particularly small organizations that need resourceful employees.

What are the common responsibilities of an HR generalist?

An HR generalist typically works under the direction of a human resource manager to ensure all the needs of human resource department are met. Human resource departments support workers within an organization from their application process through leaving the company. Common duties for an HR generalist to potentially take on include:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Recruitment
  • Onboarding and training
  • Performance management
  • Compliance with labor laws
  • Exit interviews
  • Measuring employee satisfaction

So what do human resource generalists enjoy the most about their day-to-day work? No matter the specific task, what most commonly motivates the professionals we spoke to was knowing the impact a well-functioning human resources department has on individuals.

Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager at Resume Labs, says the ability to bring new talent into her organization and the challenge of continuously trying to improve overall employee morale is one of the things she likes most about the work.

“That mountain is very steep, but I relish the challenge every day. On a micro-level, trying to bring out the best out of each and every teammate in my group to collectively excel at our work is what gives me the most satisfaction,” Wieczorek says.

Where do HR generalists work?

Human resources generalists can be found working in practically any organization. Whether that organization is an auto parts supplier, a non-profit organization, a zoo or anything in between, the industry or focus area of an organization doesn’t really matter as long as there are employees with administrative needs to tend to. That said, generalist roles do tend to be more common in smaller organizations. Logically that checks out—a Fortune 500 company typically has a huge number of employees with needs to meet and the resources to hire entire teams of HR specialists. A small business or non-profit with less resources at their disposal may gravitate toward hiring generalists who can adequately cover a wider breadth of employee needs.

What skills do you need to be a successful HR generalist?

HR generalists need to have emotional and social intelligence. As professionals specializing in helping people do their job well, HR generalists need to understand what motivates and inspires many people of all backgrounds and experiences.

“As an HR generalist, you’re dealing with people all day, so you’d better know how to make them feel comfortable as well as understand their positions and perspectives,” says Pete Sosnowski, co-founder of Zety. “You need psychological acuity. If you’re taking care of many employees, it’s important to understand the motivations behind their actions and claims.”

Sosnowski says this skill is also the key to an effective employee selection process because HR professionals want to make sure the candidates they are about to make an offer to can live up to the expectation of their company’s values and culture.

“The only way to be sure is to become good at grasping the personalities of other people,” Sosnowski says.

HR generalists will also need strong administrative skills and knowledge of labor laws, benefits policies and best practices. All of these skills can be learned and further developed, but it is important that a prospective HR professional be interested in working with other people—the “human” part of the title should be emphasized. You’ll listen to a wide array of employee issues and will need to act in a way that builds trust. 

How do you become an HR generalist?

While it might surprise you if you take a quick scan of HR job postings, there are technically no standard educational requirements for HR generalists—unlike nurses or K-12 teachers, there isn’t a government body responsible for licensing all HR professionals and setting educational standards. That said, this role is likely to require candidates to have a college education, typically one focused specifically on Human Resources.

Experience is another factor for becoming an HR generalist that can get complicated. Broadly knowledgeable HR generalists exist at all levels of experience, so the seniority of the role and the size of the hiring organization will have an influence on experience requirements.

Interested in a career in human resources?

“If you are able to think strategically, listen critically, think quickly, and act proactively there are no boundaries to where a career in HR can take you,” says Bobbi Kloss, Director of Human Capital Management Services for Benefit Advisors Network.

No matter whether you hope to work as a generalist or specialist in your human resources career, there are fundamental skills needed for practically any HR role. A Human Resources and Organizational Leadership degree can help you develop those skills and provide the broad foundation of knowledge necessary for success. Learn more about what to expect in our article, “6 Facts About the Rasmussen College Human Resources and Organizational Leadership Program."

Anjali Stenquist

Anjali Stenquist is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about helping students of all backgrounds navigate higher education.

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