What HR Support you need, what HR support you want and what HR support you can afford should all be the same thing, but the reality is that very often, they are not.
Determining your need for HR Support (see Do I need HR?) is one thing; deciding how you get that support into your business is another.
There are four main sources of HR Support available to your business
Hire an HR professional
Depending on the size of your business and your future growth plans, this may be the most cost-effective solution. It is also a solution which can be used in combination with other options below. When hiring internally, you have someone, or a whole team, of people available when you need them. They know you, your business, your staff and your policies and procedures.
You could hire an HR administrator, someone who has a good working knowledge of the administrative element of HR and manages the processes such as starters, onboarding, references, sickness, annual leave etc. They may then be the contact when external assistance is required.
Alternatively, you could recruit an HR Manager / Business Partner who is an experienced HR professional and will be able to deal with 99% of the issues you come across on a day to day basis.
As you grow, you may have 3 or 4 people at differing levels, from HR Assistant to HR Director, who works at Board level and drives the People agenda across the business. If you grow even bigger, you would start to split out the various specialisations, so that rather than having HR Generalists, you hire a Recruitment Manager, a Training Officer, an HR Systems analyst etc.
All of the above could be hired on a full-time or part-time basis. They would be an employee, the same as the other employees within your business, with the policies they are developing, administering and managing applying equally to them.
Your Solicitor may offer employment law advice, available when you need it, or may go as far as having an employment law helpline.
I would strongly encourage you to use an employment law specialist, rather than a general practice solicitor. The experience and nuances which are required in employment law need to be lived and breathed on a daily basis to really be able to advise fully when it comes to employment law.
Employment solicitors will be able to tell you what the law says; they won’t be able to give you a wide range of business-focused options. They will also be able to focus on the employee relations element of your HR i.e. all those bits which have a legal element of discrimination, how much leave people are entitled to, a person’s right to flexible working, an employee’s entitlement to parental leave, disciplinary processes etc. They are less likely to be able to assist with training, recruiting, culture, values, employee engagement, pay and benefits etc. other than to ensure you are developing policies in these areas which don’t break the law.
An employment solicitor will advise and support you by phone and email, but it is very rare that they are able to attend meetings with you, speak with line managers or indeed your employees. They won’t interview you, and they won’t hold employee workshops etc.
One disadvantage with many solicitors, although not all of them, is that they have only ever advised. They have rarely worked in a business and almost never had to actually discipline or fire someone themselves. Therefore the advice they are giving you is theoretical – and we all know that people rarely behave the way we expect them to! If you want to work with a solicitor, as them when the last time they fired someone was, or the last time they performance managed someone. So will have and then are worth working with; most won’t have, so be aware.
HR Practice / HR Consultant
I differentiate between the two as follows:
- I define the HR consultant as a ‘one man band’ who may call in other consultants to help out as required
- And I define an HR practice, like a legal practice or an accountancy practice, as a business with a number of HR advisors of differing levels and expertise.
Both the HR consultant and an HR professional within a practice should be able to provide a full-service HR function and are usually experienced HR generalist i.e. covers the whole employee life cycle from recruitment to terminations.
The advantage of an HR practice is of course in the number of practitioners. If your HR Advisor is off sick, on holiday or just with another client, there are other members of the team who can support you. In a practice you may also have access to people with specialisations; so whereas you may usually use someone for day to day employee issues, there may be someone who can deliver training or recruit a member of staff for you.
There are also times when very unusual situations arise such as a merger between two businesses or redundancies. Many HR consultants have never encountered these more unusual situations which require specific expertise, so in an HR practice, there is a pooling of experience, rather than the reliance on one person.
Your HR advisor should be happy to work as an extension of your team. They should spend time getting to know you, your business, your values, your culture, your line managers and your staff. You have a right to expect to work with someone who cares as much about your business as you do.
HR Helplines / Subscriptions
These vary hugely in quality, price and service.
Most are reactive and you will rarely speak to the same person twice. The staff manning the phones are call handlers and anything unusual in your case needs to be passed on. They will tend to answer the questions they are asked without asking you loads more questions in return to really understand the situation. This means that you are not given all the information you need to take a fully informed decision because you weren’t asked for all the information.
They sell based on the insurance cover they offer you, but if you don’t follow the exact advice you are given, the insurance in null and void. We have seen cases drag on for years as the case is seen as too risky to be dealt with – this is from an insurance perspective, not the employer or the business perspective.
In many cases, we find our clients already have legal services insurance with their Directors and Officers Insurance or their Employers Liability Insurance, so you do not actually need the insurance these helplines sell on at all and can use any of the alternative solutions above and still be insured.
The helplines may be cheaper than other services, but it is a case of you get what you pay for and if you want a full HR support service, this is not the right solution. If you want someone to tell you what the law says or to give you a standard letter for you to amend, then this may be the right option for you.
You do also need to be aware of any tie in periods – the typical minimum contract term is 5 years and you are automatically rolled over onto a new 5 year contract 6 months before your current contract expires – always read the small print and only agree a contract which works for you.