The Personnel Function in Small Public Organizations

Article excerpt

Establishing a personnel unit and designating a personnel officer is dependent upon a number of variables including number of employees, type of organization, size of budget, and expectations regarding the personnel unit. A major variable is the number of employees. Although there is no magic number necessary to establish a personnel unit because of the many other variables, there is surprising consistency in the literature on the size of the personnel department according to the number of employees in the organization. Heisel suggests that a personnel department will employ one staff member for every 200-250 employees, a ratio of .4 to .5 per 100 employees.(1) Yodar and Standohar write that their research indicates one staff person can handle the personnel functions for an organization with 100 employees, and that a good share of the duties are clerical in nature.(2) Finally, Hays and Reeves indicate that public organizations with fewer than 200 employees normally do not have a full-time personnel officer.(3)

In many small and medium-sized public organizations, the concept of personnel administration as an important facet of management is not well developed. For example, a survey of 53 Illinois counties in 1991 showed that only 16 percent have a designated personnel officer.(4) Another 1991 survey of Illinois municipalities with populations of 5000 or over (except Chicago) revealed that only 55 percent had a designated personnel officer and only 47 percent had a central personnel department.(5) In small and medium sized organizations without a designated personnel officer, the essential elements of the personnel function, e.g., staffing, rudimentary record keeping, pay and benefits are handled by the executive director, line managers or the financial unit. The more complex and legal aspects of the personnel function tend not to receive much, if any, attention until there is a crisis.

Numerous personnel-oriented issues have surfaced in the past twenty-five years which have made the personnel function more complex and legalistic. The social equity movement in the work place and other movements have affected both large and small organizations. Such concerns as affirmative action, discrimination, comparable worth, sexual harassment, work force diversity, people with disabilities, and related issues impact all public organizations. Benefits and health issues such as day care, family leave, drug testing, AIDS, and smoking in the work place are surfacing as major personnel-related concerns. Finally, the productivity and motivation issues that have smoldered for decades, have taken on new meaning as the public demands more, or at least the same level of, services without additional resources.

In addition to the above mentioned issues, the traditional reasons for establishing a personnel unit to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of other organization units are still valid. Among the benefits of a centralized personnel unit are the following:

1. Allow line managers to focus on their major responsibility for the work of the unit.

2. Provide for the development of expertise through specialization and division of labor to improve the quality and efficiency of the personnel function.

3. Provide for a central point of access for personnel services for application, record keeping, filling out required and voluntary reports, etc.

4. Ensure relatively equal treatment of employees across the organization.

Thus, the human resource function is more critical than ever for the effective and efficient functioning of the organization.(6) Small organizations without a personnel unit are at an obvious disadvantage. They lack the expertise and focus that a designated personnel officer would provide in dealing with the personnel-related issues and problems the organization encounters. The line managers of organizations without a personnel unit would also tend to be less efficient in their line responsibilities as they must concern themselves with personnel-related tasks normally handled by a personnel unit. …