Definition

Human Resources (HR) Generalist

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: The essential guide to managing HR technology trends
Contributor(s): Emma Snider and Scott Wallask

A human resources (HR) generalist is an employee in the HR department who handles a wide variety of responsibilities.

With human capital management (HCM) software rapidly evolving, HR generalists now need technology skills to compliment the traditional duties of the job, such as benefits administration. As employee culture becomes a premium selling point for companies, HR generalists act as liaisons between workers, managers and executives in measuring employee engagement.

Generalists typically report to an HR director or manager. While large companies often have bigger, more specialized HR teams, smaller companies may only employ a few generalists.

Roles and responsibilities

Human resources generalists are often responsible for administrative, compliance-oriented and strategic duties.

Administrative tasks -- also known as core HR -- include maintaining employee records, administering benefits and payroll, and providing employee self-service.

Compliance-oriented duties include tax reporting and other documentation required by government regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It also typically involves providing employees with training in compliance with antidiscrimination laws, for example, or for certifications required to do their jobs.

The path to HR generalist

Strategic duties include tasks such as employee recruitment, managing performance reviews, retaining workers, and handling individual and organizational development and succession planning.

An HR generalist may also be in charge of selecting and working with human resource information systems (HRIS), as well as any other specialty HR technology a company might have, including workforce management software, talent management software or niche recruiting tools.

As some companies segue from yearly employee reviews to continuous performance management, generalists may help monitor staff performance by developing strategies and using technology.

An emerging trend is how corporate culture ties into employee engagement; in other words, the workplace environment's effect on how emotionally connected a worker feels to the company. Human resources professionals may find themselves at the intersection of those two factors, both in pursuing a positive employee experience and using technology to help monitor those efforts. Fostering employee wellness is a related area also growing in popularity in HR circles.

Qualifications and skills

General business knowledge -- such as strong communications skills and organizational ability -- plays a part in a successful HR generalist's career.

Additionally, these professionals should meet most, if not all, of the following HR-specific qualifications:

  • ability to handle and maintain confidential information;
  • knowledge about applicable local, state, federal and even multinational employment laws (e.g., the U.S. Affordable Care Act);
  • fluency in social media, particularly in researching and recruiting candidates through channels such as LinkedIn;
  • job candidate interviewing skills;
  • aptitude in overseeing employee benefits;
  • ability to develop and carry out manager and employee training programs;
  • capacity to analyze and work with important HR performance measures, such as employee headcount and retention rates;
  • end-user technology skills with HR software and platforms, such as HRIS or workforce management systems; and
  • ability to build team morale and promote corporate culture.

Many generalist job postings do not specify an area of educational study, instead simply requiring some sort of bachelor's degree. There are college degrees aimed at HR proficiencies -- such as human resources management or business -- which, in theory, better prepare a candidate for an HR career.

Salary

A typical HR generalist or specialist earned a median salary ranging from $64,000 to $65,000 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Factors that affect salary include experience and geographic location.

Statistics from June 2017 published by job recruiting site Glassdoor came to a similar conclusion, listing an average salary of $65,000 for HR generalists.

States with the most HR generalists employed include California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, the BLS reported.

Training and certification

Certification of HR skills may help generalists hone their professional development and earn a higher salary. Several organizations and associations offer certification programs; two commonly mentioned groups are the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). Both groups' certifications center on accredited, competency-based exams.

The SHRM Certified Professional (CP) designation is for professionals working in core HR, while the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SCP) program is for professionals developing HR strategies and analyzing associated metrics.

HRCI's Professional in Human Resources (PHR) program is its baseline credential. Further certifications include the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). HRCI also offers international certifications.

SHRM and HRCI require recertification for candidates every three years.

This was last updated in August 2017

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