Human Resources - A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life.png

One inquisitive employee asked me recently; “So… what have you been doing here?”

Good question, I thought.

“Everything from making sure you get paid to ensuring your holiday request goes through. Then there’s recruitment, learning and development, data entry, making sure the lawyers are happy with our TUPE process. Countless meetings with employees, managers and providers. Checking on everyone’s benefits and updating various provider’s records.”

“Ah. Okay.”

Bit overwhelming of an answer. But working in Human Resources, specifically as a generalist, can mean dealing with anything under the sun.

What if I break it down on daily basis?

9am-10am:        Check emails (doesn’t everyone?)

Time to see what new mess has been created overnight. This is especially crucial when working within an international company. New developments frequently occur in different time zones. To save myself from the knee-jerk reaction of checking my email constantly for updates I make sure to set a hard-start of 9am and keep my email checking to within work hours as much as possible. This helps manage expectations regarding your work hours and response time. When replying out of those hours it’s important to only respond if urgent otherwise delaying the delivery until your work hours is an excellent alternative.

10am-11am:      Meeting with Third Parties

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Sucker of time and killer of productivity. I’m not a fan of meetings so I try to keep these to a minimum and to times when I know they won’t interrupt my work flow. Since they often produce more work I find having a morning slot for them gets them out for the way and frees up the afternoon to get some concentrated working time. Meetings for HR are usually regarding benefits (pension, healthcare, gym memberships – you name it) or payroll (aka. How you get paid each month). Sometimes it involves the provider making a visit in person but more often than not it’s a conference call to update on new benefit fees or rates or to make sure everyone working on payroll is on the same page that month.

11am-12pm:      Managing Leave

A great deal of time can be spent reviewing leave especially if you don’t have a software in place to manage it for you. My current placement involves an excel spreadsheet where I manually enter every employee’s leave request in separate country sheets. Sick leave is another excel and involves a rudimentary process whereby the employee either provides a word document with their self-certificate documenting their illness or a medical certificate from a doctor which is then recorded in the excel and filed in the employee folder. Other businesses I’ve been in have had everything from a lovely website giving the employees and managers ownership over their own leave to leave being documented on paper through a variety of wooden stamps. When you step up to maternity or paternity leave you can only image how much more complicated the manual systems become.

12pm-1pm:        Check Emails and Problem Solve

While others might head to lunch I prefer to leave myself with a shorter afternoon, so I continue my next work block with sorting out all the issues I discovered earlier in the day and checking my emails once again. Problems that occur in HR are usually regarding payroll, benefits, leave, disciplinary, or, for strategic HR, regarding a business issue such as employee turnover or learning and development. An employee’s tax code is wrong. Someone has been struggling in their performance. We’ve had 10% of employees resign in one week (it happens!). Any of these could be thrown your way so it’s important to keep a good to do list and a list of key contacts and stakeholders. This way you can be efficient under pressure and your future self will be incredibly thankful.

1pm-2pm:          Database Management

Probably the worst time for most doing this right before a late lunch but for me it’s motivation to get to a break as quickly as possible. Here I work on any employee changes that need updating on the various employee databases (pension provider, payroll system, health insurance provider, etc) and make sure that everything is up to date. Again, a to do list and excellent email management is key to making sure nothing is lost. Have a checklist nearby of all the places where details need to be updated when employee details change or during an onboarding process.

2pm-3pm:          Lunch glorious lunch

3pm-4pm:          Check Emails and Problem Solve, or Internal Meetings

Another round of problem solving right after lunch. I like to start this at a time before the day runs too late which helps to prevent the risk of overtime and, if something needs a response, still allows time for a reply within the work day. Alternatively this is an excellent spot to use for internal meetings. Be it meetings with management, employee disciplinaries, performance management meetings or an open office slot for employees to visit you in; I find this hour is perfect for spending in talks and gives enough time at the end of the day to get started on any item that comes up during the course of the discussion.

4pm-5pm:          Problem Solving and Next Day Set Up

This is my catchment hour. I spend this hour dealing with anything I haven’t had a chance to look at and reviewing my to do list. I spend at least 20 minutes clearing out my inbox as much as possible and noting any open cases on my to do list for the next day. I use excel for my to do list and keep it prioritised by ‘date opened’ so that any nagging issues that are taking too long are the first to catch my eye. Making sure I have a detailed list keeps me on top of things. Anytime I miss something or don’t get back to someone it’s almost always because it wasn’t properly added to my to do list.

5pm:                   Go home

Otherwise known as ‘Clare’o’Clock’ by my colleagues I try to leave at 5pm every day. I’m organised and usually have my work sorted so I’ll never leave anything undone but I find it crucial not just for me but for my colleagues to set an example by leaving on time. It’s not always easy to cut off work on time but with technology ensuring work follows you anywhere you go anyway I find leaving at least the office on time gives me plenty of personal time during the week. If I’m working from home I do the same. Shut down the computer and turn off the work phone. Plus people will learn that you are not available outside these hours and hopefully it will work in your favour setting expectations to reasonable work hours.


How do you manage your work day? Are you more flexible? What hacks do you have in your back pocket? I’d love to hear in the comments so please do let me know.